I read an article entitled “How Your Contentment is Killing Your Future“recently. The post challenged the motivation of the minimalism movement and, if I’m honest, left me feeling a little defensive. The heart of the article is for people to discover their purpose, and this is a noble effort. Yet I wanted to set the record straight on a few points. 🙂
Is contentment a threat?
The article basically asks if our pursuit of less—a smaller life, as we like to call it—is causing us to settle for a mediocre, unremarkable existence. This question ruffled my feathers, but it is worth pondering for all of us who choose this path of mindful moderation.
After careful reflection, my answer to the author, and perhaps my encouragement to you, dear friend, is no. Unmistakably, living small results in a life of awareness, purpose and clarity. Let me back up and explain my reasoning.
Contentment is not the same thing as settling for less
Contentment in circumstances can be misconstrued as settling for mediocre. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I agree with the following statement: “Contentment doesn’t mean we shouldn’t desire more, it means we’re thankful for what we have and patient for what’s next.” –Dale Partridge
Contentment has served me well as I’ve been frustrated with life circumstances over the years. I’ve learned how to stay content when my circumstances were less than ideal. I’ve learned the fastest ways to kill contentment. I’ve wrestled with what it looks like to remain content when I truly, deeply yearn for more. Truly there is nothing bad to be said about contentment. But settling for a moderate life out of fearful reasons or laziness? That would be tragic. Living small is not “settling” for average. Living small is making choices on purpose to make room for extraordinary.
Living small is not “settling” for average.
Living small is making choices on purpose to make room for extraordinary.
That doesn’t mean we’ve made it. Dan and I have unrealized dreams and desires. We could spiral into swamp-green unhappiness pretty quickly if we allowed ourselves to dwell on what we want or on the abundance that others clearly enjoy. But our story isn’t over yet. Neither is yours. Your reality probably doesn’t match up with your wildest dreams. I’d argue that not only is that okay, that’s normal.
But the reality-dream gap doesn’t give us a ticket to throw our hands up and stop striving to make a difference. Oh, no. If anything, contentment allows us to take risks more freely, knowing that we can be joyful in all circumstances through Jesus Christ. Contentment is a powerful tool which protects against apathy and bitterness, while we wait for direction and a work towards change in circumstances.
Comfort not a main priority in living with less
In many ways, living small and minimally is forgoing comfort so that our awareness will not be buried. Our lives can be more alert and outward focused when our eyes are open to the needs around us. Purposefully limiting comfort is one way to accomplish a wider vision. Having four kids in one room is not always comfortable. We have to be creative with space. Our kids must share and give grace when an upset sibling wakes them up in the wee hours. I’m not complaining; I’m simply saying that we chose to buy a house which would limit traditional American comforts because we see great benefits in living close together. Similarly, minimalism is all about letting go of the unnecessary to make room for the paramount. Living with less limits comfort in order to welcome passion.
Living with less limits comfort in order to welcome passion.
Our family has more direction and passion now, after years of learning to let go of all the comforts that may have been distracting us from our purpose. Living with fewer comforts allows us to live with more clarity.
Contentment with “average” is severely relative
The article also suggested that choosing to live with less is resigning to an “average” life. Proper perspective reveals that he is really referring to”average” in this instance is “first-world-affluent-average”, which equals inconceivable ease and wealth compared to the rest of the world. The fact that we can choose to live small shows our actual prosperity. The fact that we are offered the decision to live beneath our means means that we are already uncommonly well-off. The fact that we can sit back and say “we have enough” means that WE HAVE ENOUGH. Compared to most of the world, the average middle-class American lives in unprecedented wealth. This knowledge awakens gratitude, compassion, and generosity in my life. The idea that we could be somehow settling for sub-par is a dangerous ingratitude of the affluence we enjoy whether we realize it or not.
Ironically, our lives feel larger, fuller, more connected and brimming with purpose since beginning to intentionally live small.
Is it possible that minimizing possessions could lead to minimizing dreams? Sure. That’s something that people will have to consider in their own hearts. Most of us who choose to live minimally would agree—living small leads to living large in all the areas that matter.
Is contentment a threat to our future? Oh, no. Contentment is the secret to a more fulfilled, more joyful, more appreciated future.