Contentment is the state of being satisfied with one’s lot. The contented man is pleased with what he has. He does not make himself miserable by envying those who have what he has not. Such contentment breeds happiness. It is, therefore, worth cultivating; and this can be done.
Even the Apostle Paul could say, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content”; and he had a hard life. In his own words, he had been “in labour and travail, in watching’s often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness”. We can learn contentment by dwelling on the blessings we have, rather than on what we lack; and by comparing our lot with the lot of such as are less blessed than we.
“Then he that patiently want’s burden bears,
No burden bears, but is a king, a king!
O sweet content! O sweet, O sweet, content!”
Discontent is an ugly thing. It brings nothing but unhappiness. A discontented man is unhappy himself, and his constant grumbling and bad temper make all round him unhappy too. He is always comparing his lot with the lot of those better off than himself. His envy of them makes him bitter. He hates others for their greater success and prosperity. He is a miserable wretch.
Yet there is a contentment that is wrong, and a discontent that is right. No doubt half a loaf is better than no bread; but it is folly to be content with a half loaf when by a little effort we could get a whole one. All contentment that arises from laziness, carelessness, or a low ideal in life, is wrong. To be contented with second best when we could have the best; to be contented with partial failure when we could have full success; to be contented with work half-done, is wrong.
There is, too, what Carlyle called a “divine discontent”. He who sets himself a high ideal in life feels it. The great writer, or artist, or poet, or musician is never contented with his achievements, however excellent. They never quite reach his ideal of excellence. His discontent with what he has done ever goads him on to still greater efforts. He who climbs up to Mussoorie is content at 6000 feet up; but he who would conquer Everest is still unsatisfied at 25,000 feet.