At first glance, discontent is a state of mind that seems negative, and should be avoided. When we grouse, gripe, blame others, and indulge in self-pity, we are not performing helpful, constructive acts. That sort of discontent is not a good foundation for a life.
There is another variety of discontent that often lingers in even the most positive-minded people. It is a nagging sense of restless discontent that tells us all is not quite right. There is a discontent with the status quo of society or about some tool we use in our daily lives that could be made better. This type of discontent inspired Thomas Edison to say, “Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”
It is both sides of discontent that figure into my annual evaluation of discontent. Like most folks, I experience both types of discontent. I want to decrease the negative discontent, and pay attention to the constructive discontent.
At the top of the constructive discontent list are my unenthusiastic approach to diet and the state of disintegration of civil rights in the world. There are encouraging developments in both of these cases but there is the overwhelming feeling that a great deal of work needs to be done in both instances, too.
It is discontent that provides the fuel for continued efforts to watch what I eat. It is discontent that motivates me not to become cynical and lose hope in the civil rights arena. The discontent nudges me to do something meaningful in both instances.
There is still another trap to found, even in positive discontent. That is, feeling satisfied and content in my discontent. It’s easy to believe that just because I’m discontented with a situation that automatically I’m making real progress in resolving it. This attitude only enables procrastination and inaction. It is important to take the unease of discontent and make it inspire actual, physical effort to remedy the problem. We must earn our E’s for effort.
There’s another balancing act to remember. If we are feeling happy about our progress or state of being, we tend to stifle positive discontent as a way of settling for the status quo. Just because my life may be going along reasonably well, doesn’t mean everyone’s lives are necessarily also going along reasonably well. Sophistry can lead us to harbor feelings of indifference and even hostility towards people who are struggling.
In the ongoing, seemingly infinite, struggles to diminish discontent there needs to be acknowledgement of our discontent and the sincere conviction to correct wrongs by doing the right thing. That’s when creating lists is finished and the doing commences.
It’s important to remember that negative discontent is fuel for the tyrants and demagogues of the world. They use their followers’ perceptions of unfairness to seed further discontent. That discontent can give rise to mob rule and civil unrest whose aim is to foment mayhem and destruction. We must be careful about which bandwagon of discontent we ride on.
There are bandwagons worth getting onto. Those bandwagons are driven by curiosity, passion, and wonder about honest betterment of all people and the planet. It is the loving discontent and restlessness that help us achieve an authentically better world for ourselves and everybody.
Now is the time to update my assessment of personal discontent so I can better focus on what issues truly deserve my precious time and effort. It is also the time to express gratitude for things that make me feel content.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes His Holiness the Dalai Lama. “When you are discontented, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes–I already have everything that I really need.'”