Contentment as a Substitute for Money

extreme contentment

Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, but I find myself becoming more content with my life. It’s not that anything has changed greatly in recent years. I haven’t won millions of dollars, bought a new house or car, or taken a fancy vacation. In fact, very little that’s happened in the last few years has revolved around money. Instead I’ve been taking joy in the many wonderful things I already have in my life. My family and friends, my pets, work that I enjoy, hobbies that enrich my life, and an appreciation for nature are all increasing my contentment level.

As a result of finding this peace in my life, I find that I spend less money. While I didn’t spend a lot before, I find that as I’m more able to appreciate what I already have, the less new stuff I need. Or want. It’s a good feeling. I don’t have that grasping, stressed out feeling that comes with seeing new stuff in stores and wanting it. Contentment has replaced money as the thing that brings me happiness.

While it’s taken me a while to get here, I’ll admit to being amazed (and a little sad) that it took so long. Most of us that live in “first world” countries don’t have many reasons not to be content. Most of us have a roof over our head, friends or family we can rely on, and access to resources and opportunities that people in other countries can only dream of. Most of us have “enough.” We may not have everything we want or be satisfied with every aspect of our lives, but we have enough to sustain a reasonable life.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we are going to be happy and thrilled with life all the time. There are always going to be challenges and things that make us angry. Rude people abound, traffic jams are still plentiful, people get sick and die, and we may not love our jobs. Contentment, though, goes deeper than having everything go your way all the time. Even when things are going wrong, being content means that you realize that the bigger picture is still good.

When I was less content, I sought to fill that void with stuff or expensive experiences. I know many people are the same way. They’re always thinking that the next great electronic gadget, handbag, or vacation will make them happy and content. But of course any happiness gained is short lived. Long-term contentment comes from appreciating the deeper things in life. A handbag may bring you joy for one season. Learning how to appreciate your spouse can bring you joy for decades.

Finding contentment isn’t easy. Admittedly, I’ve sort of stumbled into it. The last few years have had their share of challenges, culminating earlier this year when I spent quite a bit of time flat on my back, barely able to move. While lying there, I had a lot of time to think about what I really wanted and enjoyed in life. It turned out that I had everything already. Maybe my things aren’t the newest and best, but they’re mine and I enjoy them. I chose them carefully and they all have their purpose. The bigger things in life really showed through in family and friends that helped me while I was down and in simple joys like watching the sun rise, or petting my dog. Simply going out for a walk became a huge pleasure again. Nothing at Target will ever make me feel as good as the first day I was able to get back outside.

If you’re looking for contentment, I wouldn’t recommend extreme pain as a way to get there, although nothing makes you realize what’s important faster than a medical challenge. You can try prayer if you are religious. Maybe meditation or a meditative exercise like yoga can put you in better touch with the things that center you. You can also try journaling about the good things you already have in your life. Seeing them in print may make you realize how important they really are. You might try not spending on anything but essentials for one month and filling your time with other things that are meaningful to you. Or you can always compare your standard of living to that of someone in another country, or another historical period. There’s nothing like realizing how good you have it compared to others to bring you to contentment.

Being content doesn’t mean that I never want anything. Of course I do. In most cases, though, when I really think about whatever it is, I realize that it’s not something that will make me any happier than I am now. I’m able to walk away and leave it on the shelf, knowing that my life is already pretty darn good without the latest gadget.

(Photo courtesy of exfordy)

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7 Responses to Contentment as a Substitute for Money

  1. Barbara says:

    What a great article!! Glad to hear you came through your medical challenge and are better for it. Definitely planning on sharing this with my husband, because he has been stressing over ‘things’ lately.

  2. deana says:

    I think that learning to be content is one of the most critical steps that most people need to learn to get their finances in order. The truth is is that we really don’t need all that much. People always think that it’s things that are going to make them happy, when in reality it isn’t the things, but what you have around you. When you realize that always wanting more isn’t going to make you happy, it’s a lot easier to find the happiness without spending a lot of money.

  3. benny says:

    The problem with this is that it goes against the “American Dream” of bigger and more stuff than the generation before you. When you become content, you no longer need to spend money on stuff, which goes against what advertising is telling you.

  4. michael says:

    Not being content is a sure sign that you have some type of “Keeping up with the Joneses syndrome. When you look at what others have instead of what you have, you’re never going to be satisfied.

  5. david says:

    Can I just comment that that is an awesome photo in this article! when I reached the point that I feel that way, I know I will have succeeded :)

  6. jenny says:

    Contentment also has a downside as it means that you don’t strive is hard to make yourself better. I’m not sure that I ever want to be content.

  7. Gail says:

    Being content isn’t the same as settling for second best. I love to sew. I feel content when I do, but as I learn new techniques I feel even more content that I have the time to learn and try out new things and then share them others in my blog. When I was physically able I would feel a great deal of contentment when baking bread, rolls, coffee cakes, cookes, etc. from scratch. Part of the contentment was doing something I throughly enjoyed, but I always kept trying to make what I did better. Working towards being better isn’t the opposite of contentment. It is just a greater feeling of satisfaction with life when you have achieve something special.

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