Chapter 51

  1. Discontent

“Thinkest thou the man whose mansions hold

The worldling’s pomp and miser’s gold

Obtains a richer prize

Than he who, in his cot at rest,

Finds heavenly peace a willing guest,

And bears the promise in his breast

Of treasures in the skies?”

— Mrs. Sigourney.

The lot of the discontented is, indeed, wretched; and truly miserable are those who live but to repine and lament, who have less resolution to resent than to complain, or else, mingling resentment and complaint together, perceive no harmony and happiness around them. They discover in the bounty and beauty of nature nothing to admire, and in the virtues and capabilities of man nothing to love and respect. A contented mind sees something good in every thing, and in every wind sees a sign of fair weather; but a discontented spirit distorts and misconstrues all things, resolutely refusing to see aught but ill in its surroundings.

The spirit of discontent is very unfortunate; it is even worse, for it is wicked as well as weak. The very entertainment of the thought is enervating, paralyzing, destructive of all that is worthy of success, in the present business of the entertainer. To accomplish any thing beyond what the common run of business or professional men perform requires the utmost concentration of the mind on the matter in hand. There is no room in the thoughts for repining over the misfortunes of one’s self, or wishes for an exchange of places with another. Indeed, it might be truthfully predicated that the indulgers of such wishes would fail utterly in the new sphere, could they achieve their desires.

Nearly every one we meet wishes to be what he is not, and every man thinks his neighbor’s lot happier than his own. Through all the ramifications of society all are complaining of their condition, finding fault with their particular calling. “If I were only this, or that, or the other, I should be content,” is the universal cry. Open the door to one discontented wish and you know not how many will follow. The boy apes the man; the man affects the ways of boyhood. The sailor envies the landsman; the landsman goes to sea for pleasure. The business man who has to travel about wishes for the day to come when he can “settle down,” whilst the sedentary man is always wanting a chance to flit about and travel, which he thinks would be his greatest pleasure. Town people think the country glorious; country people are always wishing that they might live in town.

We are told that it is one property required of those who seek the philosopher’s stone that they must not do it with any covetous desire to be rich, for otherwise they shall never find it. But most true it is, that whosoever would have this jewel of contentment (which turns all into gold; yea, want into wealth), must come with minds divested of all ambitious and covetous thoughts, else they are never likely to obtain it. The foundation of content must spring up in a man’s own mind, and he who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing aught but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he proposes to remove.

Contentment is felicity. Few are the real wants of man. Like a majority of his troubles they are more imaginary than real. If the world knew how much felicity dwells in the cottage of the poor, but contented, man—how sound he sleeps, how quiet his rest, how composed his mind, how free from care, and how joyful his heart—they would never more admire the noises and diseases, the throngs of passions, and the violence of unnatural appetites that fill the houses of the luxurious, and the hearts of the ambitious.

Enjoy the blessings if God sends them, and the evils of it bear patiently and sweetly, for this day is ours. Always something of good can yet be found, however apparently hopeless the situation. There is scarcely any lot so low but there is something in it to satisfy the man whom it has befallen, Providence, having so ordered things that in every man’s cup, how bitter soever, there are some cordial drops—some good circumstances—which, if wisely extracted, are sufficient for the purpose he wants them—that is, to make him contented and, if not happy, resigned.

Contentment often abides with little, and rarely dwells with abundance. “Peace and few things are preferable to great professions and great cares.” Such was the maxim of the Stoics. Nature teaches us to live, but wisdom teaches us to live contented. Contentment is the wealth of nature, for it gives every thing we either want or need. A quiet and contented mind is the supreme good; it is the utmost felicity a man is capable of in this world; and the maintaining of such an uninterrupted tranquillity of spirit is the very crown and glory of wisdom. The point of aim for our vigilance to hold in view is to dwell upon the brightest parts in every prospect, to call off the thoughts when running upon disagreeable objects, and strive to be pleased with the present circumstances surrounding us.

Half the discontent in the world arises from men regarding themselves as centers instead of the infinitesimal elements of circles. When you feel dissatisfied with your circumstances contemplate the condition of those beneath you. One who wielded as much influence as was possible in this republic of ours says: “There are minds which can be pleased by honors and preferments, but I can see nothing in them save envy and enmity. It is only necessary to possess them to know how little they contribute to happiness. I had rather be in a cottage with my books, my family, and a few old friends, dining upon simple bacon and hominy, and letting the world roll on as it likes, than to occupy the highest place which human power can give.”

Some make the sorry mistake of confounding under the term contentment that fatal lack of energy which repels all efforts for the improvement of one’s condition. Improvement can only be won by continuous efforts for advancement, and a true contentment is not to rest satisfied, to hope for nothing, to strive for nothing, or to rest in inglorious ease, doing nothing for your own or other’s intellectual or moral good. Such a state of feeling is only allowable where nature has fixed an impassable and well-ascertained barrier to all further progress, or where we are troubled by ills past remedying. In such cases it is the highest philosophy not to fret or grumble when, by all our worrying, we can not help ourselves a jot or tittle, but only aggravate an affliction that is incurable. To soothe the mind to patience is, then, the only resource left us, and thrice happy is he who has thus schooled himself to meet all reverses and disappointments.

When ills admit of a remedy it is the veriest sarcasm upon contentment to bid you suffer them. It is a mockery of content not to strive to improve your condition as much as possible. True contentment bids you be content with what you have, not with what you are; not to be sighing and wishing for things unattainable, but to cheerfully and contentedly accept the facts of your position, and then, if the way opens for improvement, to accept it at once; not to sit moping over your ill luck and many misfortunes, but, having done the best you can, rest content with the result; not to be murmuring because your lines are not cast in as pleasant places as your neighbor’s, but strive to discover the pleasures and happiness to be found in your present condition, and with a manly and contented spirit dwell therein until providence opens a more excellent way, when it is your duty to embrace it. But do not make the fatal mistake of hiding behind the word contentment your lack of energy and pluck.

Contentment is the true gold which passes current among the wise the world over, while supine satisfaction is but the base counterfeit of the nobler metal, and brings its possessor into scorn and contempt.

, In, pager

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