Material Contentment: How Much is Enough?

Contentment is something I have found myself wrestling with lately. What do I need to be satisfied? I don’t have the income to satisfy all my current wants but what if I did. Would I be satisfied or would my desires continue to outstrip my ability to satisfy them. Is there is a standard of living that I could be content with regardless of my income?

 Contentment is not an American ideal. The American dream is to climb the socioeconomic ladder during your lifetime. We celebrate the stories of people like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Eminem, and Barak Obama who with hard work and a little luck catapulted themselves to the top of society. They remind us that it could happen to anyone.

While we may not actually be able to become as rich as Mark Zuckerberg, we can try to imitate him. Goods made cheaply in China allow us not to life more thriftily but to buy more. Companies are happy to perpetuate this idea and we are happy to believe it. The ads which prey on our insatiable drive for more only mirror our own mindset. So to with our continual desire for upgrades.

Trying to be content with less is to swim against the current of American culture. Actually if more people tried to be content with less than it would probably ruin our economy. Think how well Apple has done by releasing a new iPhone and iPad each year, designed to make our perfectly adequate devices look obsolete. To live with material contentment require a change of mind. Here are few things that help.

First, value people not things. It is a truism that the only God will satisfy you. I think this is wrong. There is a God shaped hole in us, but people are necessary to fill it. John’s first letter makes this clear. God is a relational being and has made us relational beings in his image. Satisfaction only comes when we are living in right relationship with Him and others. Material possessions and money do provide satisfaction, but they are transient and temporal. They become holy when they are used as means towards a better relationship with God and others. This often makes the simplest of things the most powerful, bread and wine, a wooden cross, a cup of coffee or tea.

Second, is generosity. The medievals recognized that a miser was just as guilty of sin as a spendthrift. Both have an inordinate love of mammon or money and possessions. The former displays greed by excessive hoarding of mammon, while the latter does so through excessive pursuit of mammon. Living below ones means is no guarantee of contentment. Generosity frees us from the hold of things. Contentment becomes easier when this bond is broken. As Americans we often complement ourselves on our generosity. However, our generosity and hospitality have much room to improve. The early chapters of Acts provide some excellent examples of this.

There are likely other ways to promote contentment. These are only a couple I could think of and I have found them to be work enough for myself.

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