He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have. – Socrates
What does that mean?
This quote is a variant of a few other of his quotes, so I imagine it is possible he said this at some point in his life. There just wasn’t anyone taking notes at that time, I guess. 8)
This quote is about the battle between contentment and desire. The basic premise is that if you are still looking for more, what makes you think that you will ever find the proper amount to be content?
Some people have a hunger, a desire to get more and more. When this desire is uncontrolled, we call it greed (or gluttony or…). On the other hand, if you can be content with what you have, having more would be better, but not necessary.
I believe this quote is a call to us to examine what we want, why we want it, and what it truly takes to be content in (or with) our lives.
Why is contentment important?
Contentment, or the act of being contented, is simply desiring no more than one already has. There are content people living in shacks, and there are people who are not content who live in mansions. Stated the opposite way, being content isn’t about what you have, but what you desire.
Those who desire much will not be easily satisfied. Perhaps you know one of these people. They keep setting their sights over the horizon. When I get the right job, I’ll be content. When I get the right partner, I’ll be content. When I get the right car, I’ll be content. And on it goes.
Are they ever content? Perhaps for a brief time. Then the shiny wears off of their latest desire, and a new hunger begins to form. They need something newer, something better, something different. For them, it is the conquest, not the having.
Hopefully you have outgrown that stage. Yes, there may still be urges, but you know deep inside that you would be just fine with what you have. You don’t need anything else. It just might be a little more fun. You are contented with what you have and where you are in your life.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that you should never want better for yourself. I just recommend that you know why you want more. Are you looking to try to find the contentment missing in your life in this new thing, or is it something useful, a tool to better your life?
If you want a new car because the shiny wore off your last car, that’s the behavior the quote is warning us against. If you need a new car because your old one is unreliable and too expensive to fix, that’s a different matter. Or you might need a truck because your hatchback really isn’t good for hauling plywood or landscape plants.
What do you have, and how is it doing? Are you content with whatever it is, or do you need to update or upgrade it? Do you need something new and completely different? Those are not the big questions. The big question is “Why?” Why do you desire the upgrade or new thing?
If the reason is sound, then you probably aren’t caught in the “I need more shiny” trap. You are not in the grip of desire, but of a soundly based need for the item. Basically, it is about justification. Could you make a business case for it? Could you convince a stranger that it was necessary?
As an example, about two years ago I upgraded my laptop from a Pentium M based unit to an i7. Yes, it was new and shiny. However the old laptop was very poorly suited for the task of writing blogs on the go. It was slow, had a small memory (already maxed out), and a tiny hard drive.
Yes, I got a nearly top-of-the-line replacement, but saved money by finding a factory refurbished unit. And it has been doing quite well for me since then. Even after the shiny wore off, I am still content with having it. Yes, there are moments when I have desire, but contentment always wins out. Where in your life are you overly desirous?
Where in your life are you having trouble being content with what you have? Take a moment to consider why you are having difficulty being content. What would it take for you to be content. Now pretend you already have that. Are you content, or are you still looking for more?
This quote is about knowing yourself, and controlling your desires. If you can do that, you can learn to be content with what you have. And when you are not content, it isn’t because of desire, but of necessity. And that is one of the steps towards becoming the master of yourself.
From: Twitter, @philo_quotes
confirmed at : http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Socrates#Unsourced 25th entry
Photo by Dave C
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