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Who does not want contentment? Yet in our modern lives there is an epidemic of discontent. it is the tragedy of our times that no matter what we achieve, how much money we earn, or how many blessings come our way, more is never enough. For every desire you fill, another one always follows just on its heels. You may own a house in Aspen and make more money than God or Bill Gates, but still the feeling of fullness keeps slipping away. That's because contentment is not the result of what you have or even what you do in life. Contentment isn't out there. Well, maybe there are small tastes of it out there, but those tastes stop satisfying after a short time and then you hunger for more. And try as you might, no amount of possessions, power, or prestige satisfies for long.
Consider a time when you were really content. Nearly everyone can think of moments when their inner yearning was filled. Maybe you were watching your child eat his first birthday cake or take her first steps. What a satisfying, fulfilling experience! Perhaps you were out fishing on a tranquil mountain lake or walking peacefully in the woods, far away from the deadlines and pressures of work and the insistent nagging of chores around the house. Contentment can also occur in workthose times when you seem to fall into rhythm with your tasks. instead of glancing up at the clock every few minutes, you engage fully with what you are doing, and time slips by. Attainment of a goal may bring Contentment for a while.
But such moments fade all too quickly. Often you don't know that you have walked across a corner of heaven until days or weeks later, when you becomenostalgic for what is missing. Then you try to reproduce the conditions that led to your contentment. You bake another cake or return to the woods. But it's never quite the same.
Contentment is hard to maintain. These days, how does one realize inner stillness, satisfaction, and peace of mind?
Our society teaches us that the only reality is the one we can hold onto. it values outer experiences and material possessions. Accordingly, we look for contentment "out there" and live with a "just as soon as" mentality. "Just as soon as I get my work done, I can relax." "Just as soon as I get married, I will be content" or, conversely, "Just as soon as my divorce comes through, I will be content." "Just as soon as I earn enough money I can spend time with my kids." "Just as soon as I get a nicer boss, a better job, a bigger house, a new car...." And so our contentment slips through our fingers like quicksilveranother time, a different place, a better circumstance.
"Just As Soon As" should be printed on dollar bills, replacing "In God We Trust" as the great American slogan. What a painful way to live!
Powerful Purveyors of Discontent
Madison Avenue understands our hunger for contentment and uses it as the basis for modern advertising. Soup, automobiles, life insuranceany and all things are sold with a promise either of the satisfaction they will bring or the discomfort they will help us avoid. Advertising infiltrates nearly every corner of modern life, from television and radio commercials to newspapers, magazines, bumper stickers, billboards, park benches, T-shirts, the Interneteven our home telephones. All these messages are designed to manipulate us into craving some product or service. We are pulled by desires and pushed by fears. Madison Avenue and the mass media are powerful purveyors of discontent.
The great twentieth-century novelist James Joyce, in reflecting on the role of art in society, pointed out that propaganda is designed to create feelings of desire or loathing in the mind of an audience. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something, while loathing urges us to abandon, to go away from something. Joyce contrasted this with art, which he said should elevate the human mind, create an inner stillness, and connect us to what is "grave and constant" in the lot of humankind.
In this way of looking at civilization, much of popular culture today, not just advertising, is simply propaganda aimed at stirring up our discontent. How do you avoid the constant hammering of propaganda in modern life? A good first step is to recognize that chasing after new or different things is never going to satisfy, and your contentment is too important to be lost in an endless cycle of getting and spending, desire and regret.
As you probably already have discovered, doing more of what you have already done up to now is not the answer. More consumer goods, more work, more vacations, more lovers will not lead to more contentment. instead, you need to develop greater self-awareness and personal understanding. Contentment comes from the inside.
Part I of this book explores the meaning of contentment and what its loss has meant for us. Part 2 presents a timeless story to help us understand psychological problems of our age and. to suggest some remedies, while parts 3 and 4 present practical techniques and tools for realizing contentment in daily life. It's never too late to drop "just as soon as" and instead begin to realize a more contented life.Contentment
. Copyright (c) by Robert A. Johnson . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.