Contentment, that admirable, enviable state–how is it achieved?
A few theories:
The All-American get-what-you-want theory: Contentment is the state achieved when appetites are satisfied.
The Ascetic get-over-what-you-want theory: Contentment comes not from satiation but cessation of appetite.
And a hybrid:
The want-what-you-have theory: Contentment is wanting just what you have and nothing more. Some of your appetites are satisfied and the ones that aren’t, you’ve let go of.
We aspire to sustainable contentment but in an ever-changing world you can’t always get what you want. And as a living being you have certain appetites (air, food, water, love, etc.), you can’t get over. Your appetites shift over time. Through transitional periods of discontent, you’ll rearrange appetites.
Among resource conservationists, there’s a saying: “Use it up, where it out, make do or do without.” With modification this represents the four main moves we can make toward contentment:
Eat it up: When you have an appetite that can be met, satiate it. Do you like the available food? Eat, and you’ll be contented.
Wear it out: Satiating an appetite sometimes makes us jaded. Had enough TV? You’ll be contented without it.
Make do: We can substitute one appetite for another. Can’t have your ex-partner? Find someone new. Can’t overcome backache? Develop an appetite for meds.
Do without: As a last resort, work to overcome the appetite.
The practical approach to contentment ignores one-sided, over-simplified contentment moralizing (e.g. The Secret’s “commit to your appetites,” the purist’s “don’t get jaded,” the loyalist’s “accept no substitutes,” and the ascetic’s “get over everything”) and recognizes the situation-dependent pros and cons of employ each of these four moves.