"Contentment is one thing; happiness quite another. The former results from the want of desire the latter from its gratification."
—L. F. Ward
"Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."
— Philippians IV, 11
The spirit of contentment is what each and all of us should seek. There never was a time in the history of our country when true contentment was more needed than at present. On every side we perceive its contradictory — discontent. Murmuring and fault-finding daily ascend to heaven as the only prayer that we, as a nation, seem capable of offering. Discontent apparently reigns supreme. We are bent on bestowing our maledictions upon everything. We not only find fault with our fellow-men, no matter how conscientiously they try to perform their duties, but Providence, too, comes in for a share of our disapproval. The weather is a prolific cause for grumbling. It makes no particular difference what kind of weather it may be, it is seldom just right. If it is stormy, we are greeted with, “What miserable weather this is! It seems as if we would never have fine weather again." If fine and warm we may have to listen to the following: “How unseasonable this is! Such weather is so productive of illness."
We lose all rest and enjoyment in the present by forestalling the future. If it is fine today, we are sure it is only a weather breeder. Our weather prophets employ their time in predicting storms of wonderful magnitude, and if a slight shower comes, or a little snow falls, they plume themselves on their superior knowledge. A weather prophet is never so much in his element as when he is predicting some catastrophe that seldom comes to pass. The fact is, his time is so much taken up with predicting storms that he never finds time to predict fair weather and thus, while we get storms in profusion, it is seldom fine save by accident when the storms are blown out to sea, or are dissipated before they reach us.
This is but one of the various mental conditions that surround us. We have prophets other than the kind mentioned, but they are nearly all of the foul-weather type. They create a mental atmosphere that becomes surcharged with storms of every description.
It is far from pleasant to dwell upon these different phases of contradictory thought but the seeker after truth discerns the real only as he contrasts it with the unreal. The shadow is the finger-post that points to the reality.
The writer earnestly desires to show the reader that what is termed wisdom in this world, is but the contradictory of the higher Wisdom that is latent in all souls; and that what passes for knowledge and understanding, are the basest kinds of counterfeits.
In this nineteenth century we hear much of "practical common sense." It is a favorite expression with people of the world — one that is heard every day, and with those who use it, it carries great weight. And yet, back of it there too often lurk selfishness, cunning, and greed. Were the mask torn away, it would be found that this term is often only a cloak to cover a multitude of sins.
The practical man is often one whose mind is bent on doing things in a conservative manner, and conforming to the things of this world. His common sense consists in keeping on in the old ruts, and acquiring as much as possible of the goods of this world, thus following the traditions of the past, and in no way being willing to receive the light of the present. Here, the word common is a very fitting prefix to sense. Yes, common sense is of the earth earthy; it pertains to the things of this earth, and when once we enter its domain, we become enslaved by its worldly darkness. It is a bondage that keeps the mind in mental and spiritual darkness, and is far more to be feared than mere physical bondage.
A peaceful mind and a healthful body can never be acquired, if we are always seeing things to find fault with. We must learn that under any and all circumstances it is essential for our well-being to be content not but that it is perfectly right to desire things beyond what we now possess, but we must learn this lesson: that blessings cannot come to us if our minds are filled with doubt and discontent. The highest that can come into a man's life is not attained through possessing an abundance of the things of this world. His chief pleasures will come through the acquirement of a knowledge of spiritual things. Contentment of mind is of far more value than worldly possessions. It cannot be acquired through the things of the outer world the victory must be attained in the world of thought. It is possible for us to acquire a dominion there which will be productive of the highest good. No matter what station in life we may occupy, let us look upon it as a sacred duty devolving upon us, and every duty will become a pleasure, because everything will be seen to work together for our own good and in time each of us can say as heartily as Robert Browning:
"Let one more attest, I have lived, seen God's hand through a lifetime, and all was for best."