Content or Discontent

Bill Abbate

Ah, to be content. Such a great feeling. But did you know there is a bad side to being content? There is also a good side to discontentment! Read on to learn about the four states of contentment and their usefulness.

To be or not to be content

Most of us see being content as good while thinking discontent is not so good. Indeed, contentment is usually linked to happiness, while discontentment is often associated with unhappiness. Can there be any other way to view them? Absolutely!

As you age, you learn that what is good is sometimes bad, and what is bad is sometimes good. And there are times when something can be bad and good simultaneously.

For example, work can be good at times and bad at other times. Then there are times it can be good and bad at the same time, such as when you love your job but are unhappy with your wages. Over time you realize the good can come with the bad.

Let’s take a different view of contentment and discontentment. Instead of saying contentment is good and discontentment is bad, let’s find the upside and downside of each. In doing this, you will find four states of contentment. Let’s look at them in the following order:

  • Good contentment (healthy contentment)
  • Bad contentment (unhealthy contentment)
  • Good discontentment (healthy discontentment — healthy lack of contentment)
  • Bad discontentment (unhealthy discontentment — unhealthy lack of contentment)


How contented are you with life? Being content can take you to your happy place. It is a wonderful thing to be content, isn’t it? While being content can bring you happiness, this happiness is often fleeting. Enjoy it while you can. It will disappear soon enough.

Contentment can also lead to joy, which has a more profound, longer-lasting effect on our lives.

Yes, being content is wonderful; however, being content also has a dark side. When you become too content, it can lull you to sleep where you ignore reality. There is such a thing as unhealthy contentment. This state of contentment can lead you to become less ambitious, pulling away from healthy practices and activities. It can lead you to a lack of action, or inaction, among other adverse effects.

God did not create us to remain in a permanent state of contentment in every area of life. To do so leads to atrophy, and as we all know, atrophy leads to death.

“Life is about balance. Be kind, but don’t let people abuse you. Trust, but don’t be deceived. Be content, but never stop improving yourself.” Zig Ziglar (1926–2012)


We are all well aware of the negative forms of discontentment in life. Many things can affect our happiness, often related to our struggles. For example, you can become discontent because of struggling in a relationship, on your job, with an illness, with your career, etc. While none of these are necessarily good, discontentment can create good out of them.

Healthy discontentment can help us when we seek a better job or change our attitude about our current job. This good discontentment can help us work to improve an unhappy relationship. It may also lead us to end the relationship, which may be best sometimes.

When discontentment spurs us to action, it is good for us.

“Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.” Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926)

Discontentment can lead to solving a problem, working harder, curiosity, learning, achievement, a new job, love between two people, success, and many other things.

We are fortunate for the good that discontentment brings into our lives. We constantly innovate, create, and advance in countless ways because of discontent with the status quo. Imagine where civilization would be without discontentment! Not a pretty thought, is it?

I am thankful for my earlier discontentment with where and who I was. It led me on a lifelong quest to learn, grow, and improve myself. I doubt I will ever be fully content with who I am, as I know there is always plenty of room for improvement!

None of us would enjoy the benefits of who we are today and who we will be tomorrow were it not for being discontented at times!

I hope I am never so content that I become complacent. Some discontent will always keep me moving forward.

“Discontentment is a gift. It’s the stuff that changes the world.” Shane Claiborne (1975-present)

Final thoughts

Why not embrace all four states of contentment? Doing so will improve your chances of living a more fulfilling life.

In summary, you can:

  • Use good contentment to enhance your joy.
  • Use bad contentment to remind you of what to avoid and to keep moving.
  • Use good discontentment to invigorate and inspire you toward growth.
  • Use bad discontentment to spur your life toward the good.

I urge you to do some self-examination and find ways to improve your life using the four states of contentment. Find someone to share this article with to get the most out of what you have just read. Discuss the four states and work with one another to better understand how they work in each of your lives.

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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