If you learn to manage this special “currency” well, it will help you to avoid financial ruin.
In the public marketplace we often hear about purchasing power, buying power, and how strong the dollar is. These references are to our ability to buy things. But there is a far more important currency that, if properly understood, is a powerful tool in our financial tool box.
Contentment is that peculiar quality of being satisfied. I say peculiar because it's rare to see anyone that is satisfied in our current consumer crazy culture. We are more likely to be content for the first 5 minutes after we get our new phone than 2 years after we've had it.
Real contentment is the ability to appreciate what we have, and resist the urge to want more. We learn to recognize the value in what we already have and how our possessions meet our needs.
Contentment is a key ingredient in our ability to accumulate wealth and be in a financially solid position.
People often talk about happiness. Happiness is the tabloid talk of the day and every pseudo-author and television host wants to share the secret, the recipe for happiness. But happiness is most often circumstantial. In this, happiness is also temporary and fleeting.
Happiness says, “I'm so happy I got a new car,” or, “My new phone is the best.” But as soon as the car needs repair work or the next model of our phone is released, the happiness fades. As happiness fades, the desire to buy (consume) more stuff grows. This has led to our current consumer culture where making sure we have the latest, greatest everything reigns supreme.
Contentment, on the other hand, is linked to joy. Joy is lasting, enduring. Joy is not circumstantial because joy is linked to gratitude and contentment. Joy says, “I'm grateful to have a car when so many can't afford one,” or, “I'm grateful to have a phone with so many useful tools.”
Contentment fueled joy sees “stuff” as tools to be used for our pleasure and productivity rather than status symbols to drive our self-worth. In this reality my car can be slightly older, with a few miles and dents, and I can still be content and joyful for the fact that I have a car.
Happiness is often the impetus for debt. In order to achieve that high of happiness we need to take that vacation, buy that car, eat at that restaurant three times a week, install that pool, get that boat, etc. On and on the reasons for incurring debt continue with the idea that despite crushing debt, we will somehow be happy.
And when the vacation is over, the car has miles, the food is gone, the pool is cold, and the boat is too small, the happiness is gone. Without our happiness high the “stuff” is now a burden as we still have the debt we initially ignored in favor of the happiness high. With only debt to occupy our mid, our anxiety and stress drive us to seek a new happiness high by acquiring more stuff (with more debt). And banks are only too happy to help us refinance so we can get more stuff and incur more debt.
A very wise man once said that the “borrower is slave to the lender.” This truth, spoken by King Solomon more than 2,500 years ago, is clearly seen in American culture where mounting levels of debt continue to burden families. Everything from student loans and car payments, to home equity lines of credit and credit cards have created an illusion of happiness.
But rather than take a step back and reevaluate the craziness of chasing happiness, Americans rack up more debt buying the latest iPhone or Disney vacation package. A pointed article explaining the need for contentment commented:
“In today's society it's not normal to step down. Once a certain level of income, spending, and lifestyle is attained, most will go into debt in order to maintain that level. Stepping down to an affordable level is considered failure. Yet, contentment can't be achieved without personal discipline...”
There it is, contentment. An enduring sense of peace and fulfillment not linked to stuff and circumstances. But contentment is also linked to self-control. The ability to restrain ourselves from making poor decisions simply for a temporary happiness high. Avoiding happiness in favor of a self-controlled contentment can lead to joy. Joy is lasting, enduring.
Don't worry about being happy. Seek joy through contentment.
Practice being content by finding joy in things that don’t cost money. Go on a picnic in a beautiful spot and enjoy the scenery. Sit on your deck and be thankful for the colors of the season while you enjoy good food and conversation with your family. Listen to music that speaks to your soul and be thankful for such creativity. Some of the finest pleasures of life don’t cost anything and bring a profound sense of contentment.
Click here for Article 1 in this series.