When my daughter was five, she wanted a cat. By the time she was six, she wanted two cats. Her 7th year brought–guess what?–she had the desire for yet another cat.
At the time, I thought it was cute that all her heart needed for happiness were a few rodents defecating in a box in the basement.
Sadly, her desires didn’t stay so non materialistic.
“I want a nice house like Tina. She has a two-story loft playhouse with a wrap-around porch and a garage for her motorized Jeep,” my daughter proclaimed. “Why can’t I have a house like that?”
Why can’t I have a house like that? I wondered, too.
How do you answer a child who believes that everyone else has nicer things than she has? Is it a matter of perception? Materialism? Priorities?
“Tina’s dad is a drug dealer,” I didn’t say. But I thought about saying it.
“She lives in quite a house,” I agreed instead. “What’s it like inside?”
My daughter described the palace. It sounded like Solomon’s Temple with a little more gold thrown in for good measure.
Here’s the reality: If you plan to be content once you have everything, contentment will remain out of reach.
Contentment isn’t based on what you have; contentment is having gratitude for what you have, even if it’s less than what others have.
I remember some sociological research from the 1950s about the rising crime rates in rural areas. Theories were all over the board, ranging from increasing boredom of teens to the increased birth rates following World War II. The findings were quite simple, though. The researchers concluded that the popularity and proliferation of television sets extending into rural attitudes served as the catalyst.
No, televisions sets did not commit strings of robberies. However, television served as a delivery system to tell the HAVE NOTS that they were indeed HAVE NOTS. Once the HAVE NOTS knew what they were missing out on, they felt cheated. Resentment grew. Eventually, those who were criminally minded decided that they deserved nice things, too, so they stole to get the things that they could not afford.
If you look around at your STUFF and decide that you don’t like or that you want new and better stuff, you are likely to do one of two things. One, you can work hard, adjust your priorities, and set your sights on getting better stuff.
My friend, Scott, did this in college. He was a typical kid. One night sitting with friends, he saw a TV commercial for the new Dodge Viper. His heart skipped a beat. Scott fell in love. But he was not joking. He started saving every penny. He cut back on dating. He spent next to nothing on entertainment. And within 4 years, Scott owned a Dodge Viper. He chose the best option when he felt a twinge of longing: he worked his butt off until he earned what he wanted.
There’s option two, though, the option most people choose. Option two involves moping around, feeling sorry for yourself, griping, complaining about how life isn’t fair, and suffering attacks of ingratitude. And once you lose contentment, your glasses become smudged. Even the nice things that you have seem dingy, nasty and chintzy. You can’t enjoy them. They are tainted by your attitude. Even if you don’t steal to get the things that are causing you to feel discontent, you have robbed yourself of happiness.
A firebrand minister from the last century used to say “When gratitude dies on the altar of a man’s heart, that man is well-nigh hopeless.”
I think he was right.
Now stop looking around at what everyone else has, and enjoy those things that you have. If you want better stuff, change your priorities. But realize that having all of the cool stuff in the world won’t create contentment. Because contentment comes from within.
Oh, and by the way, the title of the blog is “Teaching Children Contentment.” But it’s not really about children, is it? It’s about what’s in the heart of every man, woman and child. It’s about fighting to remain grateful for all that you have instead of cursing all that you haven’t.