“Better what the eye sees then the roving of the appetite.” (Eccl. 6:9)
The sure wisdom of Ecclesiastes is arresting. This simple verse contrasts two very different ways of living. The first is satisfied with what the eye sees. The eye may still have a vision of what is possible yet lives happily in what is present now. The second is always striving, constantly hungry. What meets the eye is not good enough. Someone once asked a very rich man how much money would be enough. He answered, “a little more.”
Ecclesiastes laments the person who has everything and yet cannot be happy still. The picture of a roving appetite is a vivid one. The image is not of a clear, settled, focused person with purpose. The roving appetite is stalking, lurking about in search of something that will salve its insatiable hunger. The roving appetite is always hungry but never satisfied. It is the source of stifling debt, destructive affairs, and a persistent sense of impatience. The roving appetite is wandering, trying to find happiness in the wrong places, making everyone around them unhappy with their perpetual discontent.
Our culture applauds the person who is always striving, yet never satisfied. We look up to the determined individual who never seems to slow down. Unfortunately, we treat contentment and ambition as if they were mutually exclusive. They are not! A person can be content with the present while still working toward a vision for a better future. This may create a tension as the two are balanced, but the balance is possible and worthwhile.
How do we move toward a healthy balance between contentment and a desire for constant improvement?First, be a grateful person. If this does not come naturally to you, then work on gratitude as a new habit. For the next sixty days, list three things that you are thankful for each morning. Or perhaps, practice saying thank you more often. Become a grateful person as part of your own self-improvement. Second, stay in the present. The present can include planning for the future and working on ways to improve while still being centered in today. This may be a bit of a dance that involves self-reflection. If it is hard for you to stay in the present, then practice intentional pauses that bring you back to the moment at hand. For instance, every time you get in the car or every time you get a drink, include a pause and think about the gift of this moment. Third, restrain your eyes
So much of who we are is a function of the habits we practice. Complaining is a habit. Impulsive buying is a habit. Even discontent is a habit. We begin to change by first realizing that change is needed, and then developing the habits that will bring about the change we want. Gratefulness, staying in the present through intentional pauses, and restraining the eyes will move us in the life-changing direction of contentment.