Contentment vs. Complacency
Complacency: a feeling of being satisfied with how things are and not wanting to try to make them better. An instance of usually unaware or uninformed self-satisfaction.
Contentment: The state of being happy and satisfied: the state of being content. Content: Pleased and satisfied: not needing more.
Lately I’ve been contemplating the difference between contentment and complacency. What does a contented life look like and how is it different from a life lived complacently. The Bible says we should be content in every situation; how does one do that? Looking for answers, I read the definitions of both words in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and realized that the second word of each definition sets them apart. It says that complacency is a feeling while contentment is a state of mind.
What is the difference between a feeling and a state of mind? A feeling is temporary. Our feelings change during the course of a day, every day. We can start the day feeling happy, enjoying the smell of coffee and contemplating our schedule. About mid-morning the phone rings and a family member carelessly offends us with harsh words. Instantly our happy feeling becomes one of hurt and insecurity. Our feelings are real and important however, they are temporal and forever in flux.
A state of mind seldom changes and is based on our belief system. Feelings affect our day, while a state of mind affects our future. This is powerful; when the Bible says we should live contentedly, it’s saying we need to live each day believing in God’s faithfulness. Believing that God is in control, has a master plan for our lives, and is taking care of our needs. That’s why Paul could say in Philippians 4: 11-13 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Paul’s state of mind was that of contentment, firmly grounded in his faith in God.
While researching the difference between state of mind and feelings I learned that feelings can slowly morph into our state of mind. That’s why it’s important for us to carefully monitor our negative feelings. Unchecked, they will slowly change our state of mind. I found a list that shows how this morphing takes place. Anger can become resentment, sadness – depression, envy – jealously, embarrassment – shame, disgust – hatred, and fear – paranoia. All of which are not part of living a contented life. In fact, if these negative feelings are left to fester in our thoughts, they will grow, eventually becoming our state of mind. A state of mind controlled by negativity and defeat.
Another difference between complacency and contentment is that complacency doesn’t desire to make the situation better and usually has a component of unaware or uninformed self-satisfaction. On the other hand, contentment doesn’t need change, but doesn’t resist it and is firmly based on the promises of God. A contented person could happily stay where they are or accept change because their contentment is based in faith, not in feelings. Faith by its very nature grows therefore, I believe a contented person will be actively engaged in the process of growing and improving all areas of their life. Motivated by contentment not discontentment.
May your state of mind be one of contentment.
Isaiah 23:3-4 you will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
Debora Shelford Hobbs