Contentment vs. Complacency

A teacher once praised me that I stood out from my peers because I didn’t complain like they did. His statement took me by surprise because it wasn’t something that I had ever intentionally worked on or noticed before.

Perhaps it was a byproduct of being raised with out a lot of money and realizing no amount of complaining was going magically produce dessert or a new TV. Perhaps it was being raised by an immigrant from post World War II Netherlands, who told stories of his parents during Nazi occupation and the starvation that followed. Perhaps it was simply a genetic propensity for contentment and complacency.

I wasn’t some kind of idyllic child.  I know I complained about eating brussel spouts, my younger brother’s constant pestering, and finishing the rows of weeding in our potato patch before playing with neighbor kids. However, for the most part, I was pretty content.

Contentment can be a great strength when there are circumstances beyond your control. Paul spoke about being content in whatever the situation he found himself, hungry or fed, living in plenty or in want. As a general American culture, more contentment is something that we desperately need. Materialism and ambition seems to be the driving force for a lot of society. Contentment with what we have when we have so much compared to so many other people and it would go a long way in solving the problems of greed, debt and divorce.

As with all strengths, there is a weakness that comes with it and for me, its complacency. With situations that I should work to create change in my own life, I often am complacent and don’t do the hard work to change things for the better. Mix complacency with fear, and I get stuck in holding patterns, frozen with fear and too complacent to work to overcome it. Add in a good dose of the long taught Evangelical thought that I don’t deserve anything and I am not worth anything as a human, and it is a recipe for stagnation and apathy in my life.

I struggle to find the balance. In the theory of Motivational Interviewing, which we use at my employment, we try to build discrepancy to help parents see where they are verses where they want to be and therefore motivate them to develop steps to help them get to their goal. I find my problem is seeing any difference in where I am and where I want to be. Sure my room is a mess, I have put on 15 pounds, and I really should try to talk to my husband about more than what his day and my day were like, but I am ok with it. I have no motivation to change.

Recently, I found I couldn’t fit into a single pair of slacks I owned and my eczema was flaring up like crazy. Finally this pushed me to change one thing in my life. I started an elimination eating plan to change these two things. In some ways, it was like a light switch has gone off. In being able to change one area of my life, I have begun to slowly change others. I decorated my office (only six and a half years after moving in) and I have hauled out my summer clothes to the front of my closet (it’s only July).  I know these things seem like tiny changes, but after  months or years of being “fine” with them the way the are, I wasn’t content anymore and I changed them.

Herein lies the problem. If contentment is a virtue we should strive for, what creates motivation to change the things we should change?



2 thoughts on “Contentment vs. Complacency

  1. I’ve wondered about this. I think like many things in the Bible, its a balance. Contentment needs to be balanced by a genuine ambition to make things better. I think contentment is more not giving in to the impulse to hoard and to consume beyond our means. While healthy ambition (would that be “making the most of every opportunity” – in the context of “living wisely” as stated in the previous verse in Ephesians 5 and “whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might”?) I think is the earnest desire to improve what we can?

    How does having an eighth pair of black pants (which maybe for some it does, just not for me in particular) improve my life? It doesn’t really. All the classes I teach are on Tuesday/Thursday this term, and even at max, I only teach classes five days a week. A couple pairs as extra might be okay, but there comes a point where it gets ridiculous and I am just junking my closet and not benefiting my life at all. If anything it’s making it harder to sort through and maintain everything.

    But limits are something that differ from person to person? What might be a good limit for me, might not be for someone else, and what might be perfect for me, might be excess for someone else? It’s up to us to find those limits?

    • Joy, I liked that you reminded me that like most things, it’s a balance. I have a tendency to think in black and whites, all or nothing and have to constantly be reminded of the gray areas and the balancing act that we all must do. I also appreciated the reminder of Ephesians 5. What great encouragement!

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