Simplicity, of course, means many things to many people, but for me contentedness is at the core of simplicity. It’s about being content with less, with a simpler life, rather than always wanting more, always acquiring more, and never being content.
Simplicity means examining why you want more, and solving that issue at its root. At the root of wanting more is not being content with what you have. Once you’ve learned to be content, you don’t need more. You can stop acquiring, and start enjoying.
Now, I won’t claim to never want stuff. I wanted a Macbook Air and I got it. It’s helping me to write this post and this book right now. (However, in my defense, I waited more than a month before buying it to make sure I needed it.) But while I am not immune to wants, I have learned to catch myself now and then, and to examine why I want something. And then I try to tell myself that I already have everything I could possibly want and need. And that contentedness leads to simplicity.
Really this is the same as simplicity, but I wanted to show it from a financial angle. The reason we get into financial trouble, oftentimes, is that we buy more than we can afford. And the root of that buying is buying things we want instead of only things we need, and the root of that is not being content with what we already have.
Finding contentment with the stuff you have and with a simpler life can lead to buying less, to buying things we need instead of want, and to only spending what we can afford. I know this first-hand, as uncontrolled spending led to debt for me, and contentedness led to me getting out of debt.
Many times it seems that we’re never satisfied with our significant others. They don’t behave how we want them to. That’s often at the root of relationship problems, as many-headed as those problems may seem.
Instead, learn to be content with the person you love, just as they are. This isn’t always easy, as we are usually trained (by our well-intentioned but never-satisfied parents, and others around us) to do just the opposite — to try to change people. However, you will only find trouble if you try to change your significant other. You might get them to change their behavior (but most often not), but they will be unhappy, and in turn the relationship will suffer.
I will admit to having a problem with this at times, but when this happens, I try to remind myself to love my partner as she is, for who she is. She is a beautiful person, just as she is now, and there is absolutely no need to change her. This has always led to a better relationship for me.
As mentioned above, parents are often not satisfied with their children. They need to be cleaner, better behaved, better in school, more organized and studious, more courteous and kind and compassionate, better groomed and better at sports. Well, that leads to the relationship problems mentioned above, later in the kids’ lives, as they have learned to never be satisfied with others and to try to change them.
It also leads to inferiority complexes in our children, in unhappiness, and in bad relationships with them. Instead, we should learn to love our children unconditionally, to accept them for the people they are, and to let them know this through not only our words but our actions.
Accept children for who they are, and they will be happier, and so will you.
Should we be content with our jobs? Well, I won’t say that you should stick with a dead-end job and a boss that treats you like dirt. If you’re unhappy with your job, change it. That’s been my approach and it’s worked for me.
However, I have learned that being a content person in other areas of my life, and being content with my life in general, has generally helped me at any job. Discontented people tend to be complainers, or grumpy, or negative. That leads to problems at the job. People who are content tend not to complain and tend to have a more positive attitude, and in my experience that almost always leads to more opportunities, both within the job (promotions, new projects, etc.) and outside the job (job offers, networking, etc.).
I’ve heard some writers say that people like me, who preach happiness and contentedness and a positive outlook on life, are teaching people to accept social injustice and not strive for change. I disagree completely, and as someone who would like a freer society than the one in which we currently live, I have given this much thought.
My favorite social disrupter, Gandhi, had two seemingly contradictory quotes on the subject of contentedness. The first: “Man’s happiness really lies in contentment.” And the second: “Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress.”
This might seem confusing until you look at how Gandhi brought about change. He was discontent with the system of oppression in his country, so he sought to change it. However, he was content as a person, with who he was and what he had in his personal life. This inner content allowed him to have the inner power to face (and eventually beat) the very powerful authorities in his country at the time. He could face them because nothing they could do to him could take away his happiness. They could take away all his possessions, throw him in prison, take away even food, and he was content.
He taught his fellow countrymen the same lesson, to make the best of what they had in India (making their own simple clothing, making their own food) instead of wanting the commercial goods from foreign countries. Being content with such simplicity would give them the independence from foreign commercial powers, and eventually (as they are part of the same organism) foreign political powers.
So social change can still happen if you are content with yourself, with your life, but not content with the system of oppression around you. This system, in my opinion, is responsible for holding us down, for the deaths of millions of people in Third World countries … but it isn’t until we learn to be content with what we have, and free ourselves of our dependence on commercial goods, that we will be able to change the system for good.
“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow