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Summary of question
What are the effects of contentment on our lives and how do we distinguish it from stinginess?
question
What are the effects of contentment on our lives and how do we distinguish it from stinginess?
Concise answer

Contentment has been defined as a resting of the mind without craving something else.  The word “qana’ah” which is the Arabic equivalent for contentment has been used to refer to satisfaction and happiness in an absolute and unrestricted way.  As for the difference between contentment and stinginess, contentment is, more or less, used to signify individual morality and it has to do with making good use of available means and facilities in your life and avoiding extravagant and excessive use of divine bounties, though they might be little. The benefit of being content is to enjoy all the things that you already have when you practice ease or contentment. On the contrary stinginess or discontentment is actually the state of experiencing dissatisfaction, unhappiness, restlessness, greediness and disgruntlement. Thus stinginess, which relates to social morality, is the reluctance or unwillingness to share something with others where and when he must use his wealth or assets in order to meet the needs of fellow human beings in society.

Detailed Answer

Before dealing with the subject matter, we must examine the literal and technical meaning of contentment and its difference with stinginess. Thereupon, we shall elaborate on the value and effect of contentment:

Meaning of contentment and its difference from stinginess:

A) Meaning of contentment: Contentment means being satisfied with one's possessions, status or situation, though they might be insignificant.[1] In the traditions, sometimes the word contentment [qana’ah] has been used to mean satisfaction in the absolute sense. In a letter written to Uthman bin Hunaif, Imam Ali (a.s.) says: “Shall I be satisfied simply because people call me "Amir al-Mu'minin" (Leader of the faithful Muslims)? Shall I not sympathize with the faithful Muslims in their calamities? Shall I not be their partner in their adversities? Shall I not be their fellow-sufferer? Shall I not set an example for them to patiently, courageously and virtuously bear privation?”[2]

In moral sciences, the word ‘contentment’ is used to mean the opposite of greed or excessive and rapacious desire. The trait of contentment causes man to suffice to the amount he needs and to avoid craving for more.[3] In fact, contentment is a feeling of calm and active happiness. Somebody who is content does not feel the need to put forth any effort into achieving something because he or she is satisfied with his portion.

B) The difference between contentment and stinginess: When it comes to the difference between contentment and stinginess, it should be said that contentment is more or less applicable to individual morality and it has to do with making good use of available means in your life and avoiding extravagant and excessive use of divine bounties, though they might be little. The benefit of being content is to enjoy all the things that you already have when you practice ease or contentment. On the contrary stinginess or discontentment is actually the state of experiencing dissatisfaction, unhappiness, restlessness, greediness and disgruntlement. Thus stinginess, which relates to social morality, is the reluctance or unwillingness to share something with others where and when he must use his financial assets in order to meet the needs of society. Contentment is defined as feeling or manifesting piety, tolerance and satisfaction with one's possessions, status, or situation whereas stinginess is an evil trait which originates in selfishness and meanness of the nafs (self).

Human beings are divided into four groups in this regard:

1. They eat and give to others what they eat; they are charitable people.

2. They themselves do not eat but give others what they want to eat; they are selfless people.

3. They themselves eat and do not give anything to others; they are stingy.

4. They themselves do not eat nor do they give anything to others; they are miserly and mean.

It happens that a person is neither using his property nor is he willing to give it to others to use it. This is the highest degree of miserliness and meanness which is worse than stinginess because a stingy person does not give his property to others but he himself uses it. The best situation is where a person uses his property and also gives part of it as charity to others or to the destitute and needy. He shares his property with others in order to sympathize with them.

The human intellect is an important factor in adopting contentment. The Commander of the Faithful, Ali (a.s.) said: “Whoever is wise is content.”[4] The human intellect adopts contentment and considers it to be in man’s best interest owing to its valuable effects which make him needless of others and capable of tolerating shortages. Although a content man apparently makes less use of the apparent means, this act is reasonable because of the positive consequences of contentment. The more a person’s knowledge, self-consciousness and awareness about human issues increase the more he becomes prepared to adopt lofty human qualities and traits including contentment.

It is clear from the above that contentment is a sate of the mind and a secondary habit which manifests itself in man’s life and conducts. In fact, a pious life is the same contented life which is devoid of any ego, caprice, greed and desire (for worldly gain and benefit).

The Commander of the Faithful, Ali (a.s.) has described contentment as a simple, easy and unembellished life: “Suffice with little of the world so that your faith may be preserved because a believer contents himself with whatever little thing that suffices him.”[5]

In general, it is necessary to note that contentment does not mean apathy or slothfulness or that we have to be stingy and miserly. True contentment is a real, even an active virtue not only affirmative but creative. It means using the available means in accordance with Islamic consumption patterns and instructions avoiding extravagance and prodigality.[6]

The Effects of Contentment

There are many effects of contentment both from the positive and negative aspects. We shall mention some of the positive and negative consequences of contentment as follows:

Positive consequences:

A) Honor and dignity: The Holy Quran explicitly states that honor belongs wholly to Allah, His Messenger and believers.[7] Dignity and honor are so important that a believer is not allowed to expose himself to disdain and contempt in front of others.

Imam Sadiq (a.s.) said: God has assigned to the believer the duty to (suffer] everything except humiliation of his own self. Don’t you see that God said in this regard: “Honor belongs to Allah and to His messenger and the believers.”? Therefore, it is necessary for a believer to live with dignity and respect and that he should not accept any humiliation.[8] The Holy Prophet (s) said: It is not appropriate of a Muslim to humiliate himself.[9]

Without doubt, one of the things leading to man’s dignity and honor is contentment. The Commander of the Faithful, Ali (a.s.) said: “There is no one stronger than a content person.”[10] Contentment is the means of dignity.[11] Contentment is a cause of dignity and needlessness of people.[12] Contentment is the most sustainable dignity.[13]

B) Endless treasure: The Apostle of Islam (s) said: “Contentment is an immortal treasure.”[14] He (s) said: “Contentment is a property that never ends.”[15] Ali (a.s.) says in this regard: “There is no treasure more sufficient than contentment.[16]

C) Contentment and needlessness: The Messenger of Allah (s) said: “Needlessness is not in the abundance of wealth; needlessness is only in having the morale of needlessness.” [17] Imam Sadiq (a.s.) said: “Whoever is content with whatever God has bestowed upon him, is amongst the most needless people.”[18] He also said: “The best needlessness is contentment.”[19] The Commander of the Faithful, Ali (a.s.) said: “Contentment is the best needlessness.”[20]

Negative Effects of Discontentment:

A) Humiliation: One who is not satisfied with what God has decreed for him will look with greed at others’ property and wealth. He will stretch out his hand to them which will ultimately result in his humiliation and degradation. Imam Sadiq (a.s.) said: “How bad is it for a believer to have a desire that will result in his humiliation.”[21]

Allamah Majlisi explains the above narration as such: “The desire which has been condemned and which leads to a person’s humiliation and contempt is to stretch out one’s hand to people and ask them to give him something but asking Allah and praying to Him to grant his wish not only does not bring him contempt and humiliation but it will add to his honor and dignity.[22]

B) Permanent anxiety: Craving and greed result in apprehension and anxiety. Imam Baqir (a.s.) said the Quranic verse And do not stretch your eyes after that with which We have provided different classes of them, (of) the splendor of this world's life, that We may thereby try them; and the sustenance (given) by your Lord is better and more abiding”[23]: When the Holy Prophet (s) heard this verse, he sat upright and said that whoever does not have hope in God, the worldly craving will destroy him and whoever does not cease to look with greed at others’ wealth, his anxiety will increase and his anger will not subside and whoever considers God’s bounties and blessings restricted in food and drink, his lifespan will decrease and his punishment [pain and suffering] will be near.[24], [25]

Hence, therefore, man should never give up being moderate in his life. He should be content and make contentment a habit in his life; otherwise he is not going to live a happy life.

 


[1] - Turaihi, Farkhruddin, Majma’ul Bahrain, vol.4, pg. 384, Murtazavi Library, Tehran, 1375 A.H.

[2] - Nahjul Balaghah, pg. 418, Hijrat Publication, Qom.

[3] - See: Naraqi, Mulla Mahdi, Jami’ al-Sa’daat, vol.2, pg. 104, Al-A’lami Publications Institute, Beirut.

[4] - Aamadi, Abdul Wahid bin Muhamad, Ghurar al-Hekam wa Durar al-Kelam, pg. 391, Islamic Propagations Office Publication.

[5] - Ibid, pg.393.

[6] - Excerpted from site: http://amoozeh.ir/archieve (with some modifications).

[7] - Al-Munafiqoon, 8.

[8] - Kulayni, Muhammad bin Ya’qub, Al-Kafi, vol.5, pg. 63, Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiya, Tehran, 1365 (A.H.).

[9] - Sayyid bin Tawoos, Al-Yaqin, pg. 336, Dar al-Kutub Institute, Qom, 1413 A.H.

[10] - Ghurar al-Hekam wa Durar al-Hekam, pg. 392.

[11] - Ibid, pg. 391.

[12] - Ibid.

[13] - Ibid.

[14] - Fattal Neishabouri, Muhammad bin Hasan, Rawzat al-Wa’ezeen, pg. 456, Razi Publications, Qom.

[15] - Ibid.

[16] - Nahjul Balaghah, pg. 540, Dar al-Hijrah Publication, Qom.

[17] - Harrani, Hasan bin Shu’bah, Tohaf al-Uqool, pg. 57, Jame’ah Mudarresin Publications, Qom, 1404 A.H.

[18] - Al-Kafi, vol.2, pg. 139.

[19] - Tabarsi, Abulfazl Ali bin Hasan, Mishkat al-Anwar, pg. 130, Haideriyah Library, Najaf, 1385 A.H.

[20] - Ghurar al-Hekam wa Durar al-Kelam, pg. 392.

[21] - Al-Kafi, vol.2, pg. 139.

[22] - Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Behar al-Anwar, vol.70, pg. 171, hadith 25, Al-Wafa Institute, Beirut, 1404 A.H.

[23] - Taha (20): 131.

[24] - Ibid, vol.67, pg. 317, hadith 25.

[25] - This part of the article has been summarized from Noghta Haay-e Aghaz. See: Mahdavi Kani, Muhammad Reza, Islamic Culture Publications Office, Tehran, 1376.

 

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