“Contentment makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.”
These words from Benjamin Franklin ring as true today as they did in the 1700s.
Finding financial contentment has always been a challenge, and that’s especially the case right now. Thanks to the illusion of wealth that is portrayed on social media, the instant gratification of same-day delivery, and the advent of credit cards that allow us to live beyond our means, our appetite for “more” can feel impossible to satisfy.
But it’s not just our hunger for more.
It’s also about our self-worth — or in some cases, our lack thereof.
From a young age, we’re taught that happiness and self-worth are linked with our accomplishments. We were pushed to get good grades, audition for band, and try out for sports teams. The more accomplishments we had under our belts, the more praise we received from parents, peers, and teachers, and the better we felt about ourselves.
Now let me be very clear: there is nothing wrong with dreaming big and having specific goals to accomplish those dreams. In fact, that is what creating a budget is ultimately about — fulfilling your financial goals.
However, when we tie our self-worth and happiness to our accomplishments or, even worse, the dollar amount in our bank accounts, then our contentment plummets dramatically.
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When we compare our possessions and “status” with our neighbors, it’s easy to get sucked into a rat race of wanting more to impress who we think might be paying attention.
And when we postpone happiness into the future (e.g., “I’ll be happier after I get my holiday bonus” or “I’ll find joy when I can upgrade my car”), we miss out on the very real opportunity to experience true happiness right now.
How to Find and Practice Contentment Every Day
Contentment and happiness in this moment are not excuses for complacency or mediocrity. Instead, contentment is permission for yourself to enjoy every hill and every valley of your financial journey. No matter what is happening, you can find contentment because you have the power to shape your financial picture.
This is why I love the quote by Benjamin Franklin: “Contentment makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.”
Franklin is as accomplished as they come. Think about it: Benjamin Franklin was a Founding Father, inventor (lightning rod, bifocals, and swimming fins, among many other things), author, illustrator, and is even featured on the $100 bill.
If someone of his caliber knew the importance of contentment, then it is a lesson for all of us to study.
So what steps can be taken today to find contentment and happiness on our financial journey?
Just as personal finance is, well, personal (meaning that everyone’s journey will look different because of their own unique goals and circumstances), the way you find and practice contentment will be incredibly personal as well.
Still, no matter where you are in life, there are several methods you can use to shape your frame of mind consciously.
Consider implementing the following tips:
Practice gratitude daily
I know this may seem cliche, but gratitude is inseparable from contentment. For most of us, the one day we conscientiously think about being grateful for the things we have is on Thanksgiving, but how would our lives change if we practiced that level of gratitude on a daily basis? This mind shift is profound because you will begin to focus on the good in your life instead of focusing on the things you don’t have. When that happens, contentment will be easier to come by. Here’s the best part: you don’t have to limit gratitude to only your financial life. Whether it’s your kids or an unexpected kind gesture from a friend, allow yourself to truly feel and express gratitude on a daily basis.
Now let’s talk about one of the benefits of daily gratitude in terms of your financial life. When you are grateful for what you have and content with what you have, you are able to operate out of a place of peace, not fear. In other words, any financial decisions you make will be based on your budget, your family, your goals, and your intellect. Financial decisions made in fear result in chaos, but decisions made with a level-head allow you to reach closer to your goals.
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Pause and stop buying material items you don’t need
This may be the hardest method to practice. Why? Because we’ve been conditioned to address discontentment by purchasing the item(s) we think will make us content. For example, if you’re dissatisfied with your wardrobe, we’re conditioned to “fix it” by purchasing more clothes.
First, we must break this habit by pausing and practicing gratitude (this is why gratitude is step #1, the foundation for all the practices that come after it). But just because you practice gratitude, it doesn’t mean that the discontentment will automatically go away. It’s up to you to dig deep and figure out exactly what is causing the discontentment to surface in your life. Most of the time, it’s not the actual lack of a material item but our perception of what that item will bring to our life.
Breaking the needless spending habit will help you find contentment as well as help you stay in better control of your budget!
Yes, life is tough. Many things can happen to us that are outside of our control, including unexpected medical bills, divorce, or even identity theft. Fortunately, you always have the power to take ownership of your attitude and how you respond to any challenges that arise. Someone who lacks contentment will blame “the world” and use hardship as an excuse for poor financial decisions.
Someone who takes ownership of their life, on the other hand, realizes that they are behind the steering wheel. Sure, there are road bumps along the way, but those won’t distract from the final destination. Though simple, this may be one of the most profound lessons that anyone can ever learn.
Stop ‘keeping up with the Joneses’
Do you know what it means when you keep comparing yourself to your friends or your neighbors? It suggests that you don’t have any goals of your own. After all, why would you keep comparing yourself to others if you were focused on achieving your own financial goals? If you find yourself constantly comparing your “status” to those around you, I challenge you to check in with your own goals and vision for the future. Is it really your vision? Or is it a competition with others?
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And remember, we typically compare the worst side of ourselves with the best outward appearance of others. We almost never know the true financial situation of those we compare ourselves to. Are they in credit card debt? Was their money inherited? Do they even keep a detailed budget? There’s nothing inherently wrong with looking at other people for inspiration, but jealousy has no place in a healthy budget.
Help others by giving back
One of the things all the richest people in the world have in common is that they are incredible philanthropists. Many have their own nonprofit organizations, while others donate to causes that are important to their hearts. Some pessimists may claim that the rich only do this for tax write-offs, but the reality is that giving back is more about who you are as a person than it is your finances.
Giving back doesn’t necessarily mean donating to a cause, though, of course, there is nothing wrong with that! Giving back can be as simple as volunteering or sharing what you’ve learned with others. You see, only someone who is happy with their own life and content with what they have is able to truly help others. In the process of helping others, you may even find that you find a greater appreciation for not only what you possess but for who you are as a person!
You should be content with what you have, even if you haven’t reached your financial goals. However, you should always want to have a growth mindset. There’s always more to learn, understand, and experience. Even the most “successful” person in the world has room for improvement. Don’t confuse contentment with complacency.
Contentment is both a choice and a skill that must be practiced daily. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but mastering this mindset will help you be more intentional in your personal and financial life.
What about you?
Are there other ways that you practice contentment in your life? Feel free to share your experiences and thoughts in the comments section below. Let’s help each other remain content and accountable on our separate yet shared financial journeys!