American culture tries to keep us discontented with almost everything. If something is good, more is better. If something is bad, there is always worse. Things that are new – well that was yesterday; today you need this because it is newer and therefore better. We are not to be content with our jobs, our income, our possessions, or our marriages. We need more, better, different, more exciting, more efficient, more expensive, more fashionable, or to excel in yet another area, and on and on and on.
But hidden deep inside most of us is a longing to be content. We harbor a secret need to be at peace within ourselves and to be accepted just as we are.
The problem is, I am wired to notice the faults in others, and so are most people I know. We feed our egos by comparing us to them in ways that give us the advantage. We are quick to see that he’s overweight, (and we are disgusted at the same time that we are proud we maintain a proper weight); she has no sense of fashion, (and we feel superior in our trendy clothes); he can’t organize his time, (the fact that we are efficient makes us a much more valuable employees than he); her grammar keeps her from getting a higher paying job, (and we enjoy our arrogance because high school and college were easy for us – and she didn’t even go to college). This built-in negative comparing makes us restless. We want to escape, to go where people are “like us.”
It also makes us hard to be accepted and loved.
Contentment works backward, really. It’s like the old saying, if you want a friend, be one. If you seek personal contentment, learn to be content with other people the way they are. I’m not saying that you allow abuse or misuse of power or anything like that. But I am saying that if you dwell on what you would change in others, if their “faults” attract your attention more than their personhood, you breed your own discontent. The golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do to you is good advice. Only this isn’t doing, it is thinking, feeling, and reacting.
Our attitudes make us who we are. If you want to be content and accepted as you are, well, you have to be that toward others. It’s that simple – and that hard.