Character Building - Contentment
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IN the present-day world perhaps one of the rarest things to be met with is the spirit of contentment. Everybody is striving to get more than they have, of money, or position, luxury, or power. How few have the sane, placid spirit of contentment, and how benign are those who do have it!
Often children learn in the nursery to be discontented just be-cause they already have too much. The number of toys a baby may own is usually unlimited in any way; he may have as many as are given him, and the more the better. Perhaps if only he has one new one for each restless moment it may content him and keep him quiet, reasons his mother and his nurse; and so some-thing fresh is handed him whenever he throws down the old toy he has been holding. Nothing could be more unwise; he will grow into a child who demands more and more, and is restless and dissatisfied of spirit.
It is far better for children not to have too many things, too much amusement, too much attention even, if one would cultivate in them a contented mind. The tendency to-day is all toward excitement and stimulation, and children are quite as ready as grown people to crave these things. If one would start a child on the road to contentment, it is better to give him a quiet nursery with fresh air and sunshine for the luxuries, and let him learn early to amuse himself, not to depend on being amused, and to make much of a few toys rather than to play with many and tire of them all.
To praise common things is one way of giving a child a contented mind. When he hears his parents speak delightedly of the sunny morning, or of some little plant which has come up unexpectedly, or of the joy of the little home circle, he learns that these are the important things after all, and his little heart responds to the demand made upon it. These are the real things, those which content father and mother and give them happiness, and they appeal to the child even more, with his more limited knowledge of the larger world.
Training in contentment lies in the home far more than outside. School may train in other ways, but here the influence of the closest environment is what tells in the long run. A contented mother makes a contented child. A home where no one says "I wish we had this or that," and is dissatisfied because of the lack, but where conditions are accepted as not only right, but pleasant, or at least to be made the best and most of, is the place where one grows up with the sweet spirit of satisfaction with things as they are.
Such contentment is quite consistent with ambition, and it neither narrows one's outlook nor tends to lethargy. It is the opposite of restlessness, and the greed for pleasures and unattainable luxuries; it is the calm, quiet influence that is sorely needed in this generation, and is priceless to its possessor.
"Contented John" and "For a' That," poems in Volume I, are especially worthy of note, and so is the charming Andersen tale, "The Fir Tree," in that volume. In Volume II read "Baucis and Philemon," or turn to Volume III in which are "Simple Susan" and "Prince Life." The "Alice and Phoebe Cary" article in Volume IX illustrates the contentment of those simple, gifted sisters. In Volume X an essay on " Grumblers" will be found. Poems in Volume XI relating to the topic of content are "Ode to Solitude," "If We Knew," and much of the " Deserted Village. "