How Discontent Poisons Happiness

By Rob Shaul


One of the universal laws of fitness programming is accommodation. When it comes to fitness training, “everything works, but nothing works forever.”

You stress the body through new fitness programming. The body reacts to, or “accommodates” to that stress and fitness is improved, but after a time, new stress is needed to continue fitness improvement.

We “accommodate” to changes in other areas of our life.  You’ve been eyeing a new car, finally buy it and you’re happy for about a month, and the thrill of the new car wears off.

The first six weeks of any romantic relationship is all unicorns and rainbows …. and then the glow wears off, and the grind of maintaining any relationship replaces it.

We’ve all experienced this.

Accommodation is both a blessing and a curse of the human condition. Never being satisfied, always wanting more has pushed our species to evolve and improve. Monkeys are totally satisfied eating fruit and living in forests. We weren’t.

But accommodation can also be a curse – and there’s a point where natural accommodation devolves into dangerous discontent. A point at which wanting more or better becomes never being satisfied.

Discontent makes you and those around you miserable and poisons any potential for happiness.

I wish I could define exactly the point at which natural and relatively harmless complaining becomes poisonous discontent.

I can’t.

Just know discontent lurks in the shadows of accommodation and complaining, looking for an opportunity to disrupt and destroy and be on guard.

The complaining and self-pity build, discontent attacks and you’re left with a poisonous black cloud consuming your thoughts, following you everywhere, making you miserable.

“This job sucks.”

“I deserve someone better looking/richer/skinnier/funnier.”

“This town sucks.”

Discontent discerns itself from normal complaining by degree, depth, and duration. 

Discontent doesn’t care about your car. It hungers for the big things in life which define happiness: our work, people we love, places we live.

Discontent’s poison leads to one of two results:

(1) A change in your life you instantly regret (quit a good job, leave a good partner, move from a good town), or;
(2) years of miserable living in your own artificial prison.

“But isn’t wanting more or better okay?”, you may ask. “How do we separate a needed change in job, partner or hometown from discontent?” “Where is the line between ‘be grateful for what you have’ and ‘it’s time for a change’”?

I’ve struggled with these questions and don’t have a clear answer.

I can describe what discontent looks and feels like.

First, discontent doesn’t attack small stuff like possessions. It initially attacks just one of the big things in life which are key to happiness – your work, people you love or place you live.

It’s dark and unreasonable and viciously discounts any of the good elements of any of these.

Like any good poison, discontent spreads. Soon discontent about your job spreads to your partner, and next your hometown. Not only are entertaining quitting your job but divorcing your wife, selling your stuff and moving to a new town: total disruption and destruction.

Discontent’s black negativity shades away any self-examination, humility, and reflection on what is good in your life and how lucky you are.

Discontent’s unreasonableness and certainly is it’s “tell.” You’ve seen this in other miserable people who you’ve tried to console or counsel about a bad job or partner. You try to point out something good and they swat it away. You can’t reason with discontent.

How to escape?

First – watch for this unreasonableness in yourself. When you see it, pause.

This pause is key. Discontent survives on negative momentum, and a pause weakens it.

Next, ask, “What if I’m wrong?”

This is a powerful, confronting question that will pry open space and allow reasonableness to slip in. Know that you’ll need to ask more than once …. keep asking, again and again, and you’ll chip away at discontent’s armor.

Often, we do need a change. The work is not a good fit. The relationship has no future. The hometown does suck.

These are big, important, happiness-defining decisions which deserve self-reflection and reasoned consideration.

Discontent robs us of this hard, difficult process and calculation, and leads to horrible mistakes.


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