“Discontentment is the key to success.”
I saw that write-up on a sticker my cousin pasted on the door to her kitchen. I saw this message as far back as 2004 (when I went for a visit to Kaduna during my NYSC days) but it refused to leave my mind. In fact, I got struck by it then because it loudly disputed the usual saying about being contented with whatever we have. Then, anytime I passed that door, I would stop to read the message and ponder at it. My cousin noticed this and told me that she got the sticker from the wrapper of a toilet tissue and pasted it there as a reminder that she shouldn’t relax with whatever she has achieved. I believe she took that message to heart because her achievements today speak volumes for it.
Till date that sticker has been one of my driving forces. It made me realise that being contented isn’t what a lot of people interpret it to be. According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, contentment is “a feeling of happiness and satisfaction”. People look at these two keywords – “happiness” and “satisfaction” – that occurred together and misinterpret them greatly. One of the entries for “happiness” in this same dictionary shows that the term means emotion or feeling of pleasure while “satisfaction” is “the good feeling that you have when you have achieved something or when something that you wanted to happen does happen.” So, what then does it mean to have a “feeling of happiness and satisfaction”?
I’ll give my own opinion of what contentment is but I want to describe what some people think it means.
- A lot of people think that contentment is being ‘ok’ with what they have. By being ok, I mean that they no longer see a reason to strive for more things or results. As for this group of people, they have ‘arrived’ at their final ‘bus-stop’ and do not see any reason for going further. This group believe that they are already successful and if they are asked to seek for more achievements, they will say something like, “I already have this and that, what else do I need?”
- There are people that believe that contentment means that they shouldn’t be greedy. To this group, if you strive to get more than you have, you are either avaricious or covetous and will therefore do anything legal or illegal to amass wealth. This group always say things like, “I am ok with what I have. I won’t steal because I want to have more”.
- There are people that assume that contentment is synonymous to gratitude. To them, if you strive to get more, you are being ungrateful to the people that helped you and your creator. In fact, this group believes that they don’t deserve what they have so they shouldn’t seek for more because that will be a sign of ingratitude.
- Contentment to another group of people means living a stress-free life. To them, if you are not contented, you are going to face much stress obtaining more. This group of people are the ones that tell people to be contented with what they have and not go on stressing themselves because life is too short. Women are mostly the members of this group.
- The last group I want to mention here are those that believe that contentment is accepting a predestined Will. They assume that fate has decided for them and has given them what they needed; so going any further means “they are on their own” and will suffer along the line (and may even fail in their ‘quests’). For that, they will want to stay in the confines of their ‘destinies’.
If you look deeply into these different opinions and views of contentment as a concept, you will notice that they are not altogether wrong; but they are not encompassing. For example, you will face stress when you go farther than your present state, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t still face stress if you decide to remain where you are. More so, you have to be grateful for what you have but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to get more things. So there is a need to widen the horizons of these different groups for them to see what contentment truly is.
The dangers of wrong interpretation of contentment include mediocrity and poverty. I see a lot of these among Nigerian working class and small scale business owners. Those who strive to rise up may find themselves branded with different negative names and characters and may sometimes be discouraged from doing so. This is one of the major reasons Nigerian civil servants are not developing professionally (because they are ‘contented’ with their meagre salaries and ‘unprofessionalism’ and do not see the need to develop themselves). Consequently, only a handful of civil servants and small scale business owners manage to get to the ‘next level’.
With these, I’ll define contentment as “the satisfaction one experiences from achieving a particular goal”. Contentment isn’t an end in itself; it is the beginning of greater achievements. The happiness and satisfaction you have for being able to achieve something should be the propellers that shoot you up to the next level. It should give you the morale to strive for greater things because you already know that you can truly achieve a goal. In fact, to be honest, if you are happy with your current achievement, you will want to obtain more.
So, instead of sitting down to give yourself a pat on the back for achieving a desired result, get up and give yourself more challenges. Remember, “discontentment is the key to success”.