How to Be Content
One of the main secrets to building wealth and being financially successful is to learn how to be content with what you already have. Of course there are other important factors, but if you can’t be content with what you have and you always feel a driving need for more gadgets, more toys, more stuff—better stuff—then you’re going to struggle at winning financially. And simple math is the culprit. As much as virtually all of us would like to have all the money in the world to both buy the things we want and do the things we really should do for our financial stability and success, the truth is that most of us simply don’t have the money for both.
While we may live in one of the wealthiest—and the wealthiest, in many respects—eras of the world, we also have no limit to the sheer number of things we can spend our money on. It can be mind blowing and soul numbing at times. Advertisers do all they can to make us give up all of our hard-earned money—and then some—by spending more than we make and going into debt. But if you want to be wealthy, if you want to be financially independent when you’re older, then learning how to be content is one of the most important factors, and in some respects may be the most important factor, to reaching that goal. Because no matter how much money you earn, if you don’t save and invest a substantial amount of it, you’re likely to always be broke, living paycheck to paycheck and never getting ahead in this financial game we all get to play.
The Apostle Paul taught, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). That is one of my favorite scriptures because of the simple and beautiful principle it teaches: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Now, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be ambitious at all or that you don’t need to continually strive to make your situation better. It just means that while you work to make your situation even better, be happy with what you have. And especially when it comes to money and the stuff that it buys, be careful that you don’t get into the downward spiral of never quite being happy or fulfilled because things could always be a little better, your home a little bigger, your car a little nicer, your clothes a little trendier, and so on.
So what can you do to learn how to be content with what you have and not always want more and better and shinier stuff? Read on to find 9 powerful principles for how to be content.
1. Know that your stuff doesn’t define you.
One of the most important factors for learning how to be content is to realize that your value does not come from your stuff. I know that sometimes we do tend to tie our identity to our career, or even our large home, luxury car, designer clothes, and so forth. But when all is said and done, how much does all of that stuff really matter? What if your child or spouse or best friend were gravely ill, and the one thing you could do to save them was to sell everything you had to buy the medication that they needed? Wouldn’t you do it without a second thought?
If you had to choose, which would you rather have? All of your nice stuff, or your family and friends? What about your faith in God or a higher power, or your spirituality? How about the beauty of the earth around us and your connection to it? Isn’t it those things that really matter?
It is your values, family relationships, friendships, and love for and service to others and the way you treat and care for them that has true and enduring value in this life because that is what can bring true, lasting happiness.
2. Recognize that as long as stuff is what makes you happy, you’ll chase happiness all your life and never truly be fulfilled.
Another important principle for how to be content is to realize that acquiring stuff will not bring lasting happiness. Because you can always buy a larger home, a nicer car, a fancier smartphone, if you let yourself get caught up in the love of stuff, you will always be unfulfilled. There will always be a part of you that feels empty and unhappy. Your life will never be quite good enough. When it comes to a love of possessions or material things, it’s not really a question of whether you can afford something or whether you feel you deserve it, but rather what will bring you success in life in the areas that matter most. And in virtually all cases, money spent on material things in and of itself won’t bring true success or lasting happiness.
3. Find deep financial peace by learning how to be content with what you have.
You can find a deep financial peace and well-being not from always buying more but from learning how to be content while living within your means—while spending less than you earn. By being happy with what you have based on what you can truly afford, you won’t have to worry about being able to pay all of your bills. You won’t have to lie awake at night worrying about your medical debt or mortgage or car payments. You won’t have that persistent, nagging guilt about the things you know you should be doing like paying off student loans and consumer debt, saving for emergencies, investing for retirement and for your kids’ college, paying off your mortgage, saving for large expenses and purchases such as car and house repairs and a car replacement, and so on. And you will be able to live in peace without the continual stress of debt, late payments, and more month than money as you barely scrape by, always living paycheck to paycheck.
4. Keep more options available in life by deciding to be content with less.
When you learn how to be content with less, you can save more money. Sometimes a lot more money. (Check out these people who do just that and as a result are able to retire in their 30s and early 40s—literally decades younger than the norm!) Living on less and saving more makes many more options available to you throughout your life. If you are happy to live below your income, you will be able to do things such as the following:
- Retire with dignity.
- Take a lower paying but more fulfilling job.
- Retire earlier or work less if you choose in order to pursue various dreams and goals.
- Pay for or help pay for your kids’ college.
- Stay home to be with your children or to take care of elderly parents.
5. Learn to appreciate the little things.
Part of discovering how to be content is learning to value the simple things in life. This will help you live on less than you make and also find greater joy in life. Enjoy walks, bike rides, or hikes with your family. Do simple crafts and activities. Read together and play family games. Go camping and enjoy more staycations to really appreciate your own beautiful part of the earth. Spend more time talking to your spouse and kids and laughing with them and just getting to know the wonderful people that they are.
Another way to appreciate the little things and live within your means is to turn what are probably now regular occurrences to occasional, mindful splurges. So, for example, instead of eating out regularly, choose one night a month to take the family out to an inexpensive but fun restaurant. Instead of buying the kids toys or video games or electronics regularly, save them for birthdays and Christmas. (And while you’re at it, lower the expectations for Christmas and birthday gifts, too. And don’t feel guilty about doing so! Use the money you save to pay for your child’s college education or even your own retirement, and your children will thank you down the road.) Instead of going to the movies every weekend by default, choose just a few of the best movies of the year to indulge in (or just wait till they all come to Netflix or even the local library—that’s what we do!). Instead of buying the latest and greatest smartphone, use the one you have until it dies.
6. Remember that there are so many fun things you can do with your family for free or cheap.
You can find many ways to be content without spending a bunch of money. You don’t need to spend $10 each to go to see the newest movie or $20 to take the family out for ice cream or for fast food. Instead, spend most of your leisure time on cheap or free (even better!) activities, and leave the more expensive activities for the occasional splurges mentioned above.
Need ideas for free and cheap activities? Here you go!
- Enjoy outdoor activities like walking, biking, hiking, running, fishing, camping, swimming, playing at splash pads, visiting the park, going on picnics, going to parades or festivals, and so on.
- Get a group of friends and play a sport such as Frisbee, soccer, football, basketball, kickball, or softball.
- Visit museums and zoos, aquariums, aviaries, and more, especially on days that are free to the public or when you have reduced-price tickets.
- Visit the library. If you haven’t been to your library lately, you’re missing out! Many libraries have awesome activities like free movie nights, board game nights, crafts, sports, youth nights, reading hours, and so much more.
- Enjoy free outdoor concerts and movies during warmer months, and indoor concerts all year round.
- Go and see free Christmas lights and exhibits during the holidays.
- Make inexpensive (and even edible) crafts.
Want even more great ideas? Check out this list of more than 70 free and cheap activities.
7. Cultivate gratitude for what you already have.
Another thing that will help you learn how to be content and that will help ensure you have peace and joy in your life is to develop an attitude of gratitude. If you are reading this blog article, you probably have power, running water, shelter, and all the necessities of life. You probably have a lot of what you want as well, like a nice home or apartment that you are living in, a nice car or two, nice clothes, high-speed internet, smartphones, and so on. In fact, you probably have everything that you need, and much of what you want. Collectively, I would wager that the people on the earth have never had so much wealth as we have now. And when we remember that, when we remember how truly blessed we are, it makes it easier to say no to a daily latte or eating lunch out every day or buying a nicer car or buying one more toy for your kids’ already overstuffed playroom. It also makes it easier to then work toward the financial goals that we know we should be working toward, like saving for an emergency fund and for retirement and for larger purchases so that we can avoid debt.
For more on this topic, read this article on the power of gratitude.
8. Learn to recognize the difference between wants and needs (and then decide to want less).
Another big factor in learning how to be content with what you have is to learn to honestly differentiate between needs and wants and to then be content with wanting less.
It’s always funny to me when I hear others say things like “Well, we needed a new car because the old one was becoming unreliable” or “We needed a bigger house” or “I needed to get a (new) smartphone.” You may want all of those things, and it may even make sense for you to have some or most or all of those things, but that doesn’t mean you need them. You need shelter, but you don’t need a larger or nicer home. You need transportation, but you don’t necessarily need a car, and you definitely don’t need a new car. And I admit it would be really inconvenient and I wouldn’t generally advocate it, but you don’t actually even need a cell phone, let alone a smartphone. 🙂 (You would just have to plan and coordinate better, like they did in the olden days.)
By giving up or doing without some of your wants, you can make big strides toward reaching your financial goals.
Read more about differentiating wants and needs here.
9. Choose to be content.
And here is perhaps the biggest factor when it comes to learning how to be content, and that is this: happiness and contentment are to a large extent a choice that we make. You really do decide your own happiness. You can choose to find happiness in having more stuff, or you can choose to find happiness in having less stuff. You can choose to find joy in spending money, or you can decide to find joy in saving and investing money. You get to choose—but the fate of your family depends on those choices, so choose carefully.
I know the temptation to spend all your money (and then some) is strong. There’s so much stuff available to buy, and it might seem like all of your family members and neighbors have everything they want. That can make it even harder. But if you want to reach your own financial goals, you’re going to have to get over worrying about what your neighbors have and the trips they’re able to take and the stuff they’re able to buy, and just focus on your own financial future—your best financial future.
The financial peace—a real, deep, lasting financial peace—will come as you get out of debt, save up a large emergency fund, and save for purchases and expenses so you can pay for them in cash. That peace will come when you know you have enough in your retirement fund to provide for yourself comfortably throughout the remainder of your life. It will come when you realize you have money that you can give to worthy causes or you have a financial legacy you can leave for your children. It will come when you are able to control your money, and your lack of planning and your debt don’t control you.
Invitation to Share
Was there something in this article that inspired you to change something about your money? Are there ideas or tips that you feel could help a family member or friend or people in general? Would you please take a minute to share this article via email or social media? I would love your help to share these principles of financial well-being with others. Thank you!
Join our closed Families for Financial Freedom Facebook group to get support and share ideas for how we can all improve our financial well-being by earning more, spending less, saving more, and investing more and reach our financial goals. You can do this! And we are here to help.