Back before Carnation Dairy was taken over by Nestlé, their evaporated milk cans featured the slogan, “from contented cows”. I sometimes wondered how farmers ensured that their herds were contented. Wasn’t there a discontented cow or two to be found? Wasn’t there even one cow that was a troublemaker? What did they do with malcontented cows?
These days there are entire industries designed to foster discontent. The best known of these is advertising. They sow the seeds of our unhappiness with our possessions by advocating their replacement with newer versions with attractive features. Sometimes advertisements promote the idea that we should make our neighbors feel envy. Buy the new luxury item and your friends will be beside themselves with jealousy.
An insidious practice is political speech. This is blatantly used to create discontent with a current state of affairs. We are often given a list of grievances as to why we should be dissatisfied with incumbent politicians and parties. Sometimes the level of public discontent becomes so high that we become unaware of serious problems with the group that disseminates the propaganda.
On and on it goes. We have the manufactured discontent, plus we put up with our innate feelings of discontentment we normally have because of human nature.
Our minds are rarely contented with the way things are. We often want to transform our present state of life into a more ideal way of living. How often do you say to yourself, “If only such and such could be more like so and so”? Fill in the suches and sos with your own pet peeves and hopes.
Sometimes we are told that unhappiness with our present state is a good thing. Thomas Edison said, “Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” Writer Oscar Wilde said something similar. This is not the type of discontent I’m thinking of today.
What Albert Camus once said is closer to the point. “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
When we quietly observe our own minds, we notice that we condemn and compare. We validate our unhappiness with our discontent. Sometimes we get caught up in the habit of discontent and continually find fault with everything in our environment. The end result is extreme cynicism.
We are living in times of extreme discontent. We can see this is true because we have Nazis marching openly on the streets of America. These are people who have whipped themselves into a frenzy over their unhappiness with life in a pluralistic society. They do not understand that even if they lived in a world that contained no Jews, Muslims, liberals, gays, and non-white people, they would still be unhappy. If they are discontented with one society, they will not be content in any other society.
Even with the awareness of discontent, there is discontent. I am unhappy with the amount of discontent in the world. This only increases the amount of discontent in my personal world. This is not to say that I condone Nazism, bigotry, homophobia, jingoism and other forms of hatred. It is only an awareness of my own discontent.
There is the dilemma of being discontented with discontent. How does a person diminish the level of discontent without becoming apathetic or cynical? As an Internet meme says, “Thoughts and Prayers are unhelpful.”
Somehow we find the balance between our natural discontent and the necessity of acceptance. For as long as there are human beings, there will be discontent. In my opinion, for as long as there are human beings, there will be a need for acceptance.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the philosopher José Ortega y Gasset. “The essence of man is, discontent, divine discontent; a sort of love without a beloved, the ache we feel in a member we no longer have.”