Keeping up with the Joneses.
Bigger is better.
We are constantly surrounded by messages that life tell us our lives will be better when we have more toys and our homes are filled with certain objects.
There’s a strong undercurrent calling the bluff, proclaiming that more stuff actually makes you less happy and living small is better for you, everyone else and the environment. But it’s still the undercurrent and even if you share these ideals, living them out in a materialistic world can be hard.
Left to my own devices I would still be under the thumb of my American ideals, working towards owning a large home and filling it with stuff for me. I would still want to live abroad so I’d probably only want one car, not two. Even as a Christian the cultural messages can drown out the words of Jesus.
By God’s grace I am not left to my own devices. Through living in small-town, rural Hungary and and in a tiny apartment in downtown Ottawa, both on limited incomes, I wasn’t able to pursue the American dream. (You can read more in the first installment of this series, My journey with money). My mindset had to change. I couldn’t want more stuff. I had to learn to be content.
Along with giving, learning contentment has been hugely influential in helping me to live with less and stop searching for value and security in the number of my possessions or the size of my bank account. Cultivating contentment in my life has made it easier for me to live a life of relative simplicity in a society that always wants more.
Here are some way to cultivate contentment in your life:
- Cut off sources that make you dissatisfied: TV, magazines, certain stores: Most advertising is meant to make us dissatisfied with our lives so we’ll buy this thing that will make us sexy or happy. Constant exposure makes our lives look pathetic in comparison to what they ‘could’ be. Carefully guard what messages you take in and how often. Shopping can do this as well. I have a hard time remaining content while strolling IKEA — Anthropology and West Elm are killer. So I don’t go to these stores unless I have to.
- Surround yourself with people who share your ideals: I’m not suggesting you only spend time with people who share your ideals; that’s never a good thing. But when we are with people who also choose to live with less and appreciate what they have it’s easier for us to do the same. Because this goes against the cultural norm it’s good to have a little support and encouragement.
- Be thankful for what you have: This is the big one. When we see the things we have as gifts and are truly grateful for them we are less likely to continue seeking more and more. And people who practice gratitude and thankfulness are happier. I suggest keeping a gratitude journal and intentionally thanking God and others for the blessings you receive throughout the day.
- Don’t desire what other people have: This is the hard one and definitely where I struggle the most. It’s easy to see a friend’s new house and cute outfit or hear about her vacation and want the same for ourselves. But we’re not doing ourselves any favors and it’s the most effective way to sabotage thankfulness. Choose to be happy for your friend and grateful for what you do have. It might not be as glamorous but that doesn’t make it any less valuable.
If we look to things to make us happy we will always be accumulating; no matter how much or what we have, it will never enough. Contentment is an important piece of the foundation of a life that values people, simplicity and less. When we cultivate it we free ourselves from the lies our culture tells us an can instead live our lives in gratitude to God, who supplies all our needs.
How do YOU cultivate contentment? What benefits do you see in your life when you’re content with what you have?