One of the seventeen principles of success in the book Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude by Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone is that of “inspirational discontentment.” The idea is that a person needs to be just discontented enough with his or her income or standard of living that it inspires them to greater success. At first glance there is a lot of logic in this statement, and probably most self-improvement comes about ultimately because a person isn’t happy with the status quo.
However, the greatest self-improvement book of all time, the Bible, makes the statement that “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” We probably won’t arrive at a consensus as to what constitutes “godliness,” but think about the rest of what this statement says. Contentment is valuable! A person who has contentment has something that equals great gain, or wealth.
Everyone has heard stories of multi-millionaires who were never satisfied regardless of how wealthy they became. They always had their heart set on the next dollar. The very essence of a joyous life eludes people like this. Discontentment inspires them to work hard and achieve wealth, but there is a very real possibility they will never advance far on the fundamental quest we all have for happiness.
Every individual needs to answer this question for themselves. With what aspects of my life am I discontented? How can this feeling inspire me to improve in these areas? And how can I taste the joy of living right now, in spite of the imperfections or even needs in my life?
The popular radio personality, Dr. Laura (Schlessinger) wrote a book called Ten Stupid Things Men Do to Mess up Their Lives. One of the stupid things she writes about is “stupid ambition.” Ambition in and of itself is a good thing – a very valuable thing, in fact. But it becomes stupid when pursuing ambitious dreams takes up so much time that the more satisfying things of home, family, and relationship are crowded out. Sometimes self-help writers push the idea of saving some time out for oneself, but Dr. Laura says that the busy career oriented schedule is already dedicated to oneself! What about the spouse and the children? The time spent building relationships will ultimately contribute just as much to the overall quality of life.
Here are some suggestions for living now while pursuing lofty goals. First, schedule in some time each week for a date with your special sweetheart. Make it a priority. You don’t want to succeed in business but miss out on life. If you have children, you can schedule an evening or afternoon to play games and spend time with them. Start this habit now. Don’t wait until you meet your next financial or career goal.
And, yes, there is a place for self-time. It can include your daily time of spiritual reflection or prayer, exercise, or other things you do to be good to yourself. The thing to remember is that it is possible to let yourself be content in some areas of life, while pursuing a greater level of skill or performance in other areas. One thing that helps a person develop contentment is the old-fashioned attitude of gratitude. Take the time to count your blessings often. Then let discontentment inspire you in areas where growth is needed.
A very tangible example of this principle from my own life is in the area of neatness. It is possible for me to enjoy my family while little by little building habits that help me keep things neater. I don’t have to sacrifice people for personal growth!
Complete Audio Holy Bible: King James Version (1st Timothy 6:6)
Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude by Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone
Ten Stupid Things Men Do to Mess Up Their Lives by Dr. Laura Schlessinger
Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson