Look Beneath the Surface
For about the last year and a half—since I retired from full-time ministry—my family has been involved in a church in a community next door to ours. The average income in that community is probably somewhere between 2 to 4 times my family’s yearly income. I have to be honest and admit that there are times when I look at the houses of some of my new friends and acquaintances that I’m a bit envious. I see the nice cars they drive and other cool things I hear them doing—like taking expensive vacations—and a part of me wishes I could live that life. Discontent begins to stir in my soul.
But if you peel away the surface and look deeper, I guarantee you’ll find a person who’s life isn’t perfect. They have struggles and problems just like the rest of us, and we have no idea if they’re just really good at looking confident and secure in public but fall apart in private because of all the stress. That big house and the matching car and the vacations all come with hefty bills. Do we have any idea how far into debt they went to look so good?
I’ve gotten to know some of the people in the community through our church, but also through leading some of them through Financial Peace University. The reality is that they may have high paying jobs, but those jobs come with high-pressure and long hours. They may have big houses twice the size of mine or larger, but they also have mortgage debt sometimes 4 or 5 times my own. Not to mention that just about every subdivision in their city has an HOA that makes them pay yearly dues on top of it all. Even more burdensome is that some of them have several hundred thousands in student loan debt, two or three car payments or leases, several thousand dollars in consumer debt, and no money saved for their kids’ college or their own retirement.
Would you really want to trade places?
Stopping Comparison Ends Discontent
To be honest, their lives suddenly don’t look so appealing anymore. I maybe don’t make as much, but I don’t have the pressure and long hours. I get to sit at home in my living room near my wife and kids and pretty much set my own hours. My house isn’t as big, but I live in a house that’s now worth quite a bit more than we owe, so we could sell it at a tidy profit in the current market if necessary—plus we don’t have an HOA breathing down our necks.
None of this is to brag or put anyone else down and say that they’re just a bunch of irresponsible children. It’s just that when I look at the facts, I find that I have absolutely no right to be discontent with my circumstances. Looking beyond the surface at someone else’s life is a reminder to be content with where I am and with what I have. That car sitting out in the sun that’s had the glove box completely disintegrate and fall out? It’s paid for. My house that’s half the size or smaller than someone else’s? It more than meets our needs and honestly allows us to life in lavish comfort compared to most people in this world.
There’s beauty in contentment. Envy can’t find ground to take root in my soul, and there’s peace in knowing I have more than enough already. Who needs more?
Also published on Medium.
I’m Jeff M. Miller, and I help ordinary people who are stuck in a rut change their behaviors so they can be extraordinary. I’m an entrepreneur who retired from my full-time job in my early 40s to work from home. I’m a financial counselor, life coach, graphic designer, and passionate believer in helping others improve their lives a little more each day.
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