Dr. Richard Swenson, in his book, A Minute of Margin, writes, “Half a century ago, my grandfather might reasonably have predicted that advances in affluence, technology, education, and entertainment would bring a commensurate increase in contentment. Such has not been the case. Instead our society is marked by ‘inextinguishable discontent,’ observes historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Satiety largely does not exist. ‘Give a man everything he wants,’ said Immanuel Kant, ‘and at that moment, everything will not be everything.’”1
You and I are living in the most blessed of times and yet, quite honestly, the most discontented of times. Never have so many had so much and yet been so discontent. An old French proverb says it simply and succinctly: “He who has everything is content with nothing.”
Economist John Kenneth Galbraith said, “The urgency of wants does not diminish appreciably as more of them are satisfied … When man has satisfied his physical needs, then psychologically grounded desires take over. These can never be satisfied or, in any case, no progress can be proved. The concept of satiation has very little standing in economics.”2
Gregg Easterbrook, author of Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, said, “The men and women at middle-class standards in the United States and the European Union now live better than 99.4 percent of the human beings who have ever existed. So why don’t Americans behave as though they believe this? Why do so many walk around scowling rather than smiling at their good fortune?”3
“We live in McMansions, drive SUVs, snap up the latest plasma television sets, travel anywhere relatively cheaply, think and do pretty much what we choose. And yet research indicates that more of us felt happier in the 1940s, when a third of the population used outhouses,” says David Myers, a sociologist at Hope College in Michigan. The reason? “By the end of the 1990s, we were excellent at making a living but too often failing to make a life.”4
Ronald Inglehart, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, said, “You would think that people that have 20 times the income might have 20 times the happiness, and they don’t have anything close to it.” What people are discovering is happiness has nothing to do with having more stuff, and an ever-increasing plethora of possessions won’t provide peace of mind. Never have we had more self-storage facilities for our stuff and yet have such shallow and empty lives than we do today.4
So what’s the answer? It’s a secret. In Philippians 4:11-12, Paul writes, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
How can we learn the secret of being content in any and every situation? First, we must understand contentment is a continual pursuit. It never ends. It’s also a continual enigma — a never-ending puzzle. Some things we must be content with; some things we can’t be content with.
As Christians, there are some things we should never be content with. Especially, if we are serving in some kind of leadership ministry within the church. For example, we should never be content with our walk with the Lord. It can always improve. Likewise, we should never be content with our work for the Lord. It should always improve as well.
To put it another way, while our ministry can be very satisfying, we should never become satisfied.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
Social scientists have discovered faith, friendships and being in committed relationships (Connect Groups) have a lot to do with our contentment and happiness levels. In fact, research shows membership in a faith community (a local church) greatly improves your chances of contentment and fulfillment in life.
If we could learn the secret of contentment, we could live blessed every day. We could also be a blessing to a lot more people. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”
Ultimate contentment comes not from the accumulation of more cash or creature comforts. Rather, contentment comes when we realize we can trust God to provide for us and take care of us, no matter what. His sovereignty eliminates our insecurity.
How does He do it? It’s a secret.
© 2015. Barry L. Cameron
1 Swenson, Richard A. “Inextinguishable Discontent.” A Minute of Margin: Restoring Balance to
Busy Lives. Colorado Springs, CO: NAVPRESS, 2003. 67. Print.
2 Galbraith, John Kenneth. The Affluent Society. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1958. Print.
3 Easterbrook, Gregg. “Why the Good News Scares People.” The Progress Paradox: How Life
Gets Better While People Feel Worse. New York: Random House, 2003. 80. Print.
4 Madigan, Tim. “The Burden of Materialism.” Star Telegram [Fort Worth] 17 Mar. 2004: n. pag.
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.