The Secret to Contentment

There's always going to be someone who seems smarter, richer, or funnier than us. So how do we avoid the endless cycle of comparison and competition?
  1. Why do you think our culture assumes more is better?
  2. Do you find yourself comparing your life to someone else’s? What’s appealing about what they have?
  3. Andy mentioned, “If you’re not enjoying your life, no one else will.” Do you agree? Share examples from your life or from people you know.
  4. Do you find it relatively easy or difficult to celebrate the successes of others? Explain.
  5. “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:6). Are you chasing the wind in your life? What are some practical ways you could pursue tranquility and peace instead?

NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.

So my journey when it comes to learning to be content actually started where most of yours started that you can remember. Mine started in high” And everybody's looking for their group and their deal and I realized real quickly that even though I was a good kickball player in our cul-de-sac, I was not an athlete in my high school. So the athletes weren't gonna be my deal and because they weren't my deal and they intimidated me, I did not like athletes. And then I realized I'm not smart. My parents told me I was smart, but then in high school I realized my parents lied. I am not smart.

I did not make good grades and I studied hard and everybody would be finished studying and I'm like, "Wait a minute. We're not done, are we?" And they're done. And so I'm making Cs. So I wasn't smart so I didn't like smart kids 'cause I didn't relate to them. I did not... I could not play a wind instrument, okay? If you cannot play a wind instrument in high school, you cannot be in the...


The band. That's right. And my parents didn't want me to play the drum. So I didn't like the band people. They didn't like me so... We weren't rich, so I didn't like the rich people. So basically in high school, I didn't really like anybody because I wasn't like anybody and you wanna be liked by people you like and even if you're not like them, you'd like to be liked by them so you try to be like them but if you're not like them, you're not like them. And so these are my first memories of feeling like an outsider and the thing was, I came up with an excuse like all of us do, right? We manufacture reasons not to like people so that we feel better about ourselves, 'cause it's easier to come up with five reasons why I don't like them than to admit the fact that, "Well, I'm just not smart. I'm not athletic. I'm not rich. I can't play a wind instrument. I don't really fit in anywhere."


So, the moral of the story is, and you know this—and I'm just gonna put some words around some stuff that you already know—there is always somebody with more -er. You know this. There is always someone who is richer, who is skinnier, who is smarter, who is hipper, who is more talented-er, or their girlfriend is prettier, or their boyfriend is cuter, or their job is better-er. Everywhere you look, whatever you wanna do, whatever you wanna be good at, whatever you think you're good at, and whatever you think you've accomplished, there's always somebody with more -er.


So what we do, or what I did... I shouldn't put this on you. Maybe it's just me. What I did is I looked around for people with less -er. Because when I was with people who had less -er than my -er then I felt superior-er. And we all wanna feel like we kind of got it going on and we wanna feel a little bit superior. So this becomes a dynamic that we live with, and I don't think it ever goes away. And then there's some of us... that don't even wanna be an -er. We wanna be an -est. We wanna be the richest. I wanna be the smartest. You wanna be the healthiest. You wanna be the cutest. You wanna be the skinniest. You wanna be the prettiest. You wanna be the retweetedest. Okay. You want an -est. The moral of the story is: there's just no win...there's never ever, ever any win in comparison. You may have heard this before. You may have heard me say this before. There's just no win in comparison. In fact, comparison is what puts the dis in discontentment.


And discontentment fueled by comparison, as we're gonna see in a few minutes. (And as all of us already have a story. This isn't new information.) Discontentment fueled by comparison is actually very dangerous. Okay. 


Some of you are working yourself to death. Some of you are studying yourself to death. And what's driving you, you tell yourself, "Well, I'm just trying to maximize my potential." But that's a good thing, to maximize your potential. But unfortunately, we're trying to maximize somebody else's potential that doesn't even know we're competing with them and oftentimes we're killing ourselves financially, relationally, emotionally, it goes on and on and on. And it's because we live in a world obviously where we know what everybody else has and we know what everybody else drives. 


But this whole comparison thing, this will put you at odds with people that you know you'll never be like— that you know you'll never be as much as—whatever it is you wanna be as that they are as. That you just aren't gonna be able to measure up to. So we do what I did in high school, we don't outgrow this, we kind of shrink back and we create reasons why they're not okay. The problem is they're okay, it's just that we're not okay. And you find yourself not being able to get along with certain kinds of people who remind you of who you'll never be. And what you'll never look like and who you'll never marry and what you'll never do in your future. They got your job, they're living your dream and you're just miserable. And this isn't gonna change, so please don't hear me about to give you the solution to this. I wanna give you a way forward. 


So the thing is, this isn't going away and the point of the message isn't that culture is bad and we should abandon society and all come together and live in a commune. I mean, that's not it; it's not going away. This is not a problem that can be solved, right? And then there's this—and now I’ll try to get to something practical—then there's the whisper. There's this whisper that basically just says, "You need what they have to be respectable, acceptable, and lovable." That's kind of the moral of the culture story. It's a whisper. Sounds like my voice, but it's a whisper in my head. “You need what they have to be respectable, acceptable, and lovable.” And I've lived long enough to know this. Let me tell you something about they, okay, let me tell you something about they.


They, whoever they are for you—whether it's just images, it's people on browsers, or it's people that you know and they have “it” and you need to have “it”—they actually have the same voice in their head whispering the same thing. Because no matter what you have or what you've accomplished, there is no win in comparison. It never leads anywhere. In fact, the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, who had it all, done it all, been there, done that. The wisest man who ever lived, he just summarized it this way. He wrote this, "Envy rots the bones." Wow, that's extreme. "Envy rots bones." So the bottom line for our time together is simply this: knock it off, okay? Just stop doing that, right? If only it were that easy. And I wish I could come out here tonight and say, "Let me tell you how this will never affect you again." I can't tell you how to make it go away but I do wanna tell you how to manage this tension. Because it's not going away, but it does not have to control you and it does not have to drive you.


Because as long as I'm trying to keep up with people I can't keep up with, I don't have any margin to give to other people, and I don't have margin to support the things that I wanna support because I'm trying to keep up with people that don't even know I'm trying to keep up with them. So this isn't a problem that is ever solved, but this is a tension that we all have to learn to manage, especially if you're a Christian, especially if you're a Jesus follower. Because this intersects with your relationship with your heavenly Father, who has called you. This is an amazing thought. We're not gonna develop it but it's just an amazing thought: “Who called you.” Get this. “According to His purpose.” Wow.


What if you missed God's purpose for your life because you were trying to keep up with a culture that's not even a thing? It's a myth. We're gonna see a word in just a minute that Solomon is gonna give us that helps us personify this ghost, this vapor, this thing, this illusion that we all chase. This thing that has the potential to steal the joy of life. Not a problem to be solved. So in our few minutes that's left, my goal is to give you a mental line of defense. I know it sounds kind of technical and weird. A mental line of defense. In other words, a place that you can go mentally when you start drifting toward envy or discontentment emotionally. Because for most of this, even though it starts right here with our eyes or our ears but generally our eyes, it gets emotional. It gets emotional real quickly. Suddenly, we're feeling behind, we're feeling unloved, we're feeling ugly, we're feeling like we're not keeping up. We're feeling like we're not everything we ought to be and everything everybody expects us to be.


What I want to do tonight is just give you a couple of phrases that I hope you will kind of drive deep down into your soul. And as you experience the tug, as you hear the whisper—and you're gonna hear it the rest of your life, just like I am—that we would have a place to go mentally to tell ourselves something that is so true and so instructional that it may keep you between the guardrails. And if you're a Christian, it may help direct you toward God's purpose for your life. So back to the wisest guy that ever lived. He's jumping right into a little bit of a narrative, and he's kind of telling us what he's seen. 


He's an old man now, and he's been there, done that. He's so wealthy. Solomon was so wealthy. He'd accomplished so much, so he has all this life experience and he's downloading his life experience for people like us who have less life experience and will never experience life like he's experienced it. So here's what he said. He says, "And I saw... "


He's talking about something he saw in the past. "And I saw that all toil, all work, and all achievement...” All you goal-setters. “All toil and all achievement spring from one person's envy of another." Like what? He goes, "Yep. I've seen it. I know what's happening out there. This isn't new; this is 3,000 years old at least and older." In other words, he says, "I looked around and I realized everybody is simply competing. Everybody is determining... " This is shocking. This is embarrassing because this is so true. "Everybody is determining where they are based on where everybody else is." And then he says this, "This too is meaningless." And then he gives us our phrase. Then he gives us this mental image. He gives us a phrase I want you to memorize. I just want this to become part of your mental language. Do you know what a mental language is? It's stuff you don't necessarily say out loud; you just think it. 


And by the way, there are things you should just think.


But anyway, I wanna give you something for you to say to yourself—or you may need to say it out loud— but here's the phrase. This is so powerful. So I'm gonna read the whole version, then I'm gonna add this last part. "And I saw that all toil and all achievements spring from one person's envy of another. This too is meaningless." And here's the phrase: "A chasing after the wind." Ain't that powerful? "A chasing after the wind." It's endless. It's pointless. There is no finish line. There is no trophy, because there is no winner, and there is no peace, there's just -errr, not argh, -errr. Dissatisfaction guaranteed. Dissatisfaction guaranteed, because comparison is what puts the dis in discontentment. Dissatisfaction guaranteed. It steals the joy, and here's the tragedy. It steals the joy from our accomplishments. It steals the joy from what we have done. It steals the joy from the goals we have set and have accomplished, because somebody else has accomplished more. Somebody else has more.


So when you catch yourself—and you know what, here's the thing: you're gonna catch yourself before this hour is out—but when you catch yourself thinking, "Oh man, I wish I had hair like that.” “Ah, you know, I wish I had skin like that.” “She looks so good; I wouldn't look good in that.” “He looks so good in that; I'm not even gonna try." When you catch yourself looking, when you catch yourself drifting, when you catch yourself looking and drifting in somebody else's direction, when you catch yourself drifting over into someone else's lane, that's when you say to yourself—and for some of us, I think we should say it out loud, not loud enough for everybody else to hear, but just loud enough to stop us—that's when we say, "Ah, ah, ah, ah. That's chasing the wind. That's chasing the wind. I'm not gonna buy that. That's just chasing the wind. Keep going. Ah, just chasing the wind and I don't chase the wind.”


Come on, this isn't a Christian religious thing. This is just a thing thing. Do you wanna spend the rest of your life chasing the wind? No. Why? 'Cause there's no win in chasing the wind. There's no win in comparison. There's no trophy. There's no finish line. There's no, "Ah... I did it." "You did what?" "I don't know, I just did it." I know, there's no win, okay? There's always faster, cuter, smaller, younger, hipper, I mean, bigger. It is chasing the wind, and come on—I don't know you personally, but I know this—your life is too valuable, and your life is too short, and your time is too valuable for you to waste any of it chasing the wind. So the moment those emotions, those feelings of inadequacy—“I'm not rich enough” and “I didn't measure up to what my parents thought,” and all this stuff—“woah, woah, woah, woah, that's chasing the wind, and I don't chase the wind.”


Now fortunately, Solomon's not through ‘cause he knows there's another side of this. And he knows what some of us are thinking because the whole idea of not chasing the wind is not an invitation to be passive. He wasn't like, “I just live and let live. It didn't matter. You live today and gone tomorrow.” And he said some things like that in Ecclesiastes, but in terms of his life personally, he accomplished a great deal. So here's what he says. He says, “Now, don't take this to an unhealthy extreme.” “Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves.” Fools say, “Well you know what? Since I can't keep up, since everybody is better than me, since everybody has more talent than me, since everybody had a better family, I'm just not even gonna try.” Solomon says, “No, no, only a fool does that. Being unproductive is not the answer.”


So he brings in this next verse. This is so powerful. If you don't ever read the Bible—you should read the Bible—in fact, start with what Solomon wrote. If you're not a Christian, you're not into the Jesus thing, hey, Jesus wasn't born for a long time. Start with Solomon; he was just a king. And these are just wise sayings; it's just that they're found in the Bible, which is great. And here's what he says next. He brings these two extremes together. He's like, “Look, don't spend your life chasing the wind, and don't fold your hands, and go, ‘Oh, well, why try?’ Don't spend your life chasing the wind in trying to keep up with people who don't even know you're trying to keep up with them—images on the screen—and at the same time, don't just throw up your hands and give up." And he brings them together in this next statement that's so powerful. Some of you perhaps just need to memorize this statement. He says this, “Better...” I love this. "Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind." Ain't that great? You're like, “I don't even know what it means.” I know, I'm gonna explain it a minute, but it is great. So just take a look at the imagery of this.


He says, "It's better to have one handful with tranquility." Which rubs us the wrong way in our culture, because our culture isn't about one, our culture is about two, our culture is about more. “If I had four hands, I would have four handfuls.” It's all about more, more, and more. He says, "Okay I have more than all of you, so just shut up and listen for a second. I'm telling you: one handful with tranquility. One handful with tranquility is better than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. Tranquility means satisfaction. Tranquility means you drive home at night and you go into your apartment, or you go into your house, and you're fine. Tranquility means you visit your friend, or your older brother, or even your younger brother, or your older sister or younger sister, and they live in this big ol’ house. They got a gate. ("Whoa, you got a gate. Hey, can I come in? It's your brother.") And they have to let you in their gate.


And then you drive home to wherever you live, and you know what tranquility is? Tranquility is, "I'm so happy for them and it doesn't bother me," and, "You got into the school I wanted to go to. You know what? Once upon a time, that would have bothered me so much. I'm not even sure we could be friends, but I've learned that one handful of tranquility is better than two handfuls of striving and chasing the wind." Here's the thing: we assume more is better. That's what we're taught every single day. We assume more is better, but chasing more always leaves us wanting more. So here's this point—this is why it's so powerful—less is actually more when the less you hold is what you were created for. Less is actually more when the less you hold is what you were designed for, what you were created for, what you were born to do better. One handful with tranquility than grasping and striving, and pretending, and competing.


Then he goes on. He said, "Let me tell you something else I saw while we're talking about it." This is so great. "Again," he said. "I saw something meaningless under the sun." "Oh, tell us what it is. This is fascinating, Solomon." "There was a man all alone. He had neither son nor brother," to which we're like, "So what?" But see, in this culture, if you didn't have a son and you didn't have a brother, then you had no one to leave your estate to and your wealth to. Or even if you didn't have much, you didn't have anybody to leave anything to because in ancient times, women could not inherit anything. So here's a guy who's been working hard and has something to show for it, but he doesn't have anyone to leave it to. And then Solomon says this, "There was no end to his toil." In other words, he was just getting after it. "Yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.” So he was working hard, and he was getting more, but more leads to more and bigger leads to bigger, and better leads to better. And he's just getting after and getting after it and getting after it. And then finally this guy stops and asks a question some of you have never asked. And I'm telling you, I wish I had asked this question much earlier in my life.


If you'll begin to ask yourself this question early on, it will help you. You will learn to be content with one handful of tranquility. And you won't be content with not accomplishing anything. You will accomplish all you were born to accomplish, but you'll do it with peace and tranquility. Because here's a question this guy forgot to ask that most of us forget to ask. And here's the question. It's so powerful. Solomon says, "He forgot to ask, for whom am I toiling?" He finally asked the question. That means he's been going on and on and on, year after year. And it's like he's going, "Wait a minute, who am I doing this for? Who am I doing this with, and who am I doing this for? What am I trying to prove and who am I trying to prove it to?"


Now, this is a hard question. And I had to wrestle this one to the ground many years ago. That's why I just would love...if we were sitting down over coffee, I would say, "This is a really big deal.” And the younger you are, the more powerful and the more time you have to live this out. But it's never too late because there's an answer to this question whether you've asked the question or not. And whether you know the answer or not, there's an answer to the question, "Why are you doing this? Why are you striving? Why are you toiling? Why are you pushing? Why are you gritting your teeth? Who is it for?" And for some of you, do you know who it's for? You're competing with your brother. You're competing with a sister. Some of you are trying to live up to your mother's expectations. And let me just tell you something, I don't know your mother, but you'll never win with your mother. You won't. You know how I know? Because if you could have won, you would have won. If it's been going on year after year after year and you're just trying and trying and trying...“okay, why?” 


Some of you are trying to please your father. Some of you are trying to make your father smile and finally give you that hug. And some of you, your father passed away and you're still striving and you've never stopped and asked this powerful question, "Wait a minute. Why am I doing this? Who am I doing this for? Whose approval am I competing for?” And do they even know? And do they even care? And would it even matter if they did? So here's a question—then were moving on—for whom, to use this word, “for whom are you toiling?” And let me just give you a heads up. If you say, "Well, I'm doing it for me.” Probably not.


"Well, I'm just doing it for me.” Maybe. But before you just go there and move on, this is a question you need to wrestle to the ground. For whom are you toiling? Really, because for some of you, when you are able to answer that question, it will free you up to be content with one handful of tranquility instead of two hands. If only and when? He goes on, "And why?" This is so amazing. This is the same fictitious, this guy that Solomon knew that sort of represents people, humanity. "And why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?" “This guy...” Solomon says, "The thing about this guy, he accomplished so much, he has no one to leave it to, and he's not even enjoying his stuff. He's so bound up with more stuff and chasing the wind." It's like, “Wait a minute, who am I doing this for and why is it I'm not even enjoying the fruit of my labor?" It's because he'd never answered the question, "And why am I doing this to begin with?" And perhaps you aren't enjoying your life either. And let me tell you what, if you're not enjoying your life, no one else will. 


For some of you—I'm getting a little personal—the reason your relationships are just kind of “repeat, repeat, repeat, same thing ends the same way.” If you're not enjoying your life, the people you date aren't going to enjoy you. They're just not. If you're not enjoying your life, the people that are closest to your friends, they won't enjoy you either. They will sense your angst. 


In fact, they may have tried to tell you, and you're like, "There's nothing wrong with me. I'm just ambitious. I'm just a goal setter." “Well, now you're something else, but I can't say that 'cause Andy said don't say everything that's true, just make sure what you say is true. So I'm not gonna really tell you what...” 


Anyway, then there's this, okay? Somewhere in the world tonight are half a billion people that would look at your life and your circumstances and your body and where you live and what you drive and who you know and they would consider you one of the luckiest people on earth.


But you don't. And do you know why you don't? Because you don't know why you're toiling and striving, and you don't know who you're doing it for. One handful with peace and tranquility is so much better than two handfuls of grit and tension, and a lack of peace. “This too..” he says—he's so honest—"This too is meaningless, it's a miserable business.” You will never find—you just have to trust me on this or just figure it out for yourself or think it through. You're smart. You know this. You will never be who you were born to be as long as you are looking over your shoulder at anybody else. Because the energy you expend—and the energy I expand looking left and right over my shoulder—that is energy God gave us to do what God has called us and created us to do. 


You have to learn to run your race and quit chasing the wind.


Back to Solomon. Here's what he says, "A heart... " This is the entire statement; I gave you the second part  at the beginning. Solomon says this, "A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones." You cannot—I don't care how rich you are, poor you are, how good looking you are, where you live, who you're connected to—you cannot compare your way to peace. You cannot compare your way to peace. You cannot compare your way to tranquility. You can't win chasing the wind. God has given you a race to run and you need to get in your lane and you need to focus and you need to stay there. Look to other people for inspiration and celebrate their success. You look to them for inspiration, but you don't look to them for imitation. When you see somebody knocking it out of the park, maybe somebody living your dream, somebody driving your car, somebody going to your school, getting your degree, you celebrate them. You say, "I'm so happy for you, but I am running my race and I am staying in my lane. I'm not gonna waste an ounce of my energy resenting you. I'm not gonna waste an ounce of my life being jealous of you, because I'm running my race in the lane God has put me in."


Jordan Peterson, in the 12 Rules for Life—a fabulous book—says it this way. I love this quote. He says, "Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today." That is great advice, isn't it? If you've gotta compare, compare yourself to who you were yesterday, because if who you were yesterday is not as great as who you are today, then you're making progress. Compare yourself to yourself, but don't waste your life and waste your energy comparing yourself to other people. Here's the thing: please, 'cause you only get one shot, don't miss the life, don't miss what life, don't miss the life God has for you, and don't miss what life has for you. You will never experience your life fully until you embrace what is right in front of you.


I've done it the right way. I've done it the wrong way. I wish I had learned this earlier. You can begin today. So, when your emotions start drifting and start getting the best of you, you stop and you just declare to yourself—I say you declare it out loud—"I will not chase the wind. I will run my race in my lane. I will not chase the wind. ‘That's good for you.’ ‘Congratulations, that's great.’ I will not chase the wind. I will run my race in my lane." And if you do, you will become the person God created you to be. But if you aren't willing to take my advice, and if you aren't willing to take Solomon's advice, and if you're not willing to take Jordan Peterson's advice, then I think you should at least take it from Bruce. Find your lane and run in it, because after all, “Tramps like us, baby we were born to run."