Contentment is a learned trait (Ph. 4:11). It is a disciplined trait (1 Ti. 6:8). It is a commanded trait (He. 13:5). Yet, it is such a rare trait! Some, like Dr. Rick Hanson, have written elaborate explanations for how contentment is a science, a matter of utilizing the neural capacity of the brain to hardwire positive experience into “contentment, calm, and confidence” (Hardwiring Happiness, New York: Harmony, 2013). What he relegates to science, which we would attribute Christ as the creator of (Col. 1:16-17), is something even more and higher. It is something we learn from living life as His disciple. It is a spiritual discipline, gained from imitating Christ and His blueprint for living in this world. That said, we must watch out for the landmines to living the happy, satisfied, and fulfilled life God intended for us whatever circumstances we face in life (cf. 2 Co. 12:10).
- Envy. Envy is “a state of ill will toward someone because of some real or presumed advantage experienced by such a person” (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the N.T., 1996, p. 759). It is hard to be content with my circumstances when I am focused on how much better I think someone else has it. In fact, I will be full of resentment rather than contentment. Ironically, feeding this mindset makes joy and satisfaction impossible!
- Ungratefulness. Paul marked being ungrateful as a sign of “difficult times” (2 Tim. 3:1,3). Have you noticed how some people, however hard life beats them up, remain upbeat? Maybe you conclude that they are just naturally inclined to be positive. But what about people who seem miserable and dissatisfied despite countless advantages and blessings? Gratitude, like contentment, is a learned discipline. When we don’t learn it, we darken our hearts with the evil of ungratefulness. Not being thankful is a link on a deadly chain that leads one to a lost state. Paul said some knew God, but “they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21).
- Greed. You will notice that some of heaven’s harshest words are reserved for the greedy (Lk. 12:15; Rom. 1:29; Ep. 5:3; Co. 3:5; 1 Th. 2:5; 2 Pt. 2:3,14). It is lumped in with the most despicable of behaviors. What is it? It is a desire to want more than others whether we need it or not. We think in terms of material possessions, and while that is a significant aspect of greed it can extend to the relationships, perceived happiness or popularity we witness others having. Our society tells us to pursue “top dog” position, letting no one have more or be more than you. That mentality kills contentment.
Whatever science is involved in contentment, there certainly is also an art. Better said, it is a spiritual discipline. You incorporate it only through diligence and persistence. Be aware of the enemies of contentment and root them out! You will be the beneficiary, and so will everyone who knows you.