Forget Materialism, Seek Contentment

Forget Materialism, Seek Contentment

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure to hear Canon J. John, storyteller, teacher, motivator and communicator.  He’s an incredibly funny, wonderfully profound speaker and man of God.  He was speaking about the tenth Commandment – do not covet, which in today’s world could be called materialism.  As I listened, it struck me that his message is applicable to everyone no matter what your belief, culture or religion.

Our society seems to have a never-ending, ever-expanding need to have more and be more?  Corporations expect more, even when there are fewer resources. As consumers we want more, spending billions on things we don’t need and usually don’t use, often because the media makes feel like we’re not good enough without it.  So, I agree with J. John, coveting in today’s world is materialism, and it’s killing us.  We’re burned out, stressed out and very seldom satisfied. “We lose our health to make money, then we spend our money to get well.”  It doesn’t make sense.

Money and wealth aren’t evil, the love of money is what’s evil.  I’ve seen it firsthand.  I was working at a great company which had had tremendous success, a pioneer in its industry on many fronts.  Then, the company went through a corporate transaction which changed everything.  There was huge money at stake and in a matter of a few months, the culture of the company completely changed.  Open dialogue became passive-aggressive gossip. Collaborative partnerships became distrustful, cover your ass conflicts.  Friends became back-stabbers. It was all about the money. I watched a lot of good people sell their souls for the promise of more.  I don’t think the promise was ever fulfilled because the company has struggled ever since.  I was lucky, I got out.

I believe materialism is the root of many ills.  People will lie, cheat, steal, and worse to get ahead and have more.  J. John suggests that the anecdote to materialism is contentment.  Some think the easiest way to find contentment or happiness is to change something, but the never-ending pursuit of happiness is really not that different than materialism.  Here are J. John’s six ways for cultivating contentment in your life.

Be Grateful for What You Already Have

Get rid of ‘when’ and ‘then’ – as in, “When I get that promotion, then I’ll be happy.” No one ever wins at this game because the ‘then’ is elusive and the ‘when’ is  constantly changing.  You’ll be so much better off if you simply appreciate what you already have and are grateful that you have it.  “If you have money in the bank, you are in the top 8% of the country.”

Recognize the Limitations of Wealth

Things in your life may be a little easier if you have money, but there’s no guarantee they will be better.  If money bought happiness the wealthiest people would be the happiest, but we know that’s not the case – look at Michael Jackson, Chris Brown, Lindsay Lohan, and on…  “Money talks, but it doesn’t always talk sense. Money can buy medicine, but not health; a house, but not a home; a companion, but not love.  True contentment is not found in everything you want, but in not wanting everything.”

Focus on People, NOT Possessions

Focus on the relationships in your life instead of the things in your life.  Possessions can’t compensate for unhappy relationships.  “Our children need our time, not our things. Children need our presence, not out presents.”

Look Beyond What’s Temporary

Don’t focus on what you see today. Focus on how you’ll be tomorrow.  It’s a matter of perspective. What’s the benefit of gaining the whole world if you lose yourself and alienate your loved ones along the way?  J. John recounted a story about a man who died and at the funeral someone asked, “Did he leave much?” The response from the man’s son was, “Yes, he left it all. He left everything.”  No one at the end of their life says they want more stuff, they almost always say they want more time.  Use your time wisely; you don’t know how much you have left.

Be a Giver

J. John suggests that giving is the anecdote to materialism.  In today’s “it’s all about me” culture, generosity is definitely lacking.  I’m talking about true generosity which goes beyond just giving money to a worthy cause. It’s also being generous with your time, using your talents to help others, being loving and kind – simply showing up and giving your best to the world. The bottom line is “you can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.”

Find Significance

I’ve often said we are all more alike than we are different – we all want our work and efforts to be meaningful, we want to be acknowledged for our contributions, we want to be paid fairly, we all want opportunity. Find your purpose and you will find your significance in the world.  Don’t let materialism or the never-ending pursuit of the ‘next best thing’ keep you from being the person you are meant to be or from doing what you love.  Let your light shine.

I’ll close with J. John’s twist on an old adage, “The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence.  The grass isn’t greener on this side of the fence.  The grass is greener when (and where) you water it.”  What are you watering in your life?

Are you content with what you have? Share your struggle with materialism or your path to contentment in the comments or via Twitter, Facebook, or Youtube.

Passionate advocate for the advancement and empowerment of women. Prior HR exec and co-founder of Ask Ajna - helping women find their voice in the workplace.

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