Embracing Discontentment

Why we need to accept our imperfect states of mind

Striving to be constantly content is like striving to eat only ice cream; both will leave you feeling miserable.

I say this because most of us, if not all of us, are striving to be contented. (I said most of us because I wonder… are the guys from ISIS actually striving for contentment? I’d have to say yes… in their warped way, they probably are.)

But here’s the thing, not one of us is contented, at least not for very long. And when we are striving for something that is so clearly unobtainable it seems probable that we will feel (in addition to discontentment) a bit of disappointment too. That’s a problem. It’s like adding insult to injury. But what if we did a little re-framing, a little re-contextualizing as to what our feelings of discontentment actually are. I believe those unpleasant feelings are compelling factors. They are mental energies that move us and by dint of our efforts, the world at large, to a better place.

To my mind, a sense of discontentment is the thing that drives human initiative and innovation. It’s the thing that says, ‘the world is imperfect and we must get up off our asses and do something about it.’ In other words, the restive feelings we have, the subtle sensations of unease, which we feel on a daily basis, are inherently good things. Time out: (Notice I’m not talking about profound depression or anxiety. That’s something else altogether and those are illnesses one truly needs to treat.) I’m talking about an animating tension that fuels our imagination and pushes us towards finding our own creativity.

I live in Santa Monica and without disparaging my fair city; I will note that it probably has per capita, the largest density of yoga studios, meditation centers and mind/body awareness clinics of any city in the world. This is not a bad thing, hell; I’ve been a practitioner of meditation for the past thirty years. It does however, set up a dialectic whereby a perfectly calm state of mind is considered by many to be the ‘proper state of mind,’ and a less than calm state of mind, an improper one. I’m proposing, at least since we all have it, a little leniency, a little forbearance for discontentment.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

The unsettled or discontented mind is a crucible for new ideas. It is a generator of the imagination and a powerful engine, revving up the possibilities of change. I am hereby giving us all a pass. I’m saying: ‘don’t feel bad if you’re not riding through your life on a cloud of bliss.’ The fact is that no one is — not even your yoga teacher or your meditation instructor. Everyone is at least a little freaked out, and why shouldn’t we be? We are only pure consciousness, housed in delicate and fallible bodies, peering out from behind our eyes. Look at all the shit we have to deal with. (And here I’m thinking back to those fellow bliss-seekers from ISIS.)

Perhaps if we could simply embrace our lack of contentment and not fall prey to actually becoming depressed about it we’d feel better over all. Perhaps if we could understand the benefits of discontentment we’d at least be a little grateful for the experience of it. It’s a simple as this: We human beings get discontented and we make things to ease the pain of it.

So, next time you find yourself upset that you’re not achieving anything akin to Nirvana, realize two things:

1. Nobody actually achieves it. (Some say they do and want, for reason of their own, that we believe it.)

2. All creativity is fueled by a little discomfort. Embrace it… love it even. And then, go have yourself a bowl of ice cream.


Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. He is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps unlock innate creativity. Clients include The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, The UCLA School of Nursing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. Himmelman is also an alum of the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern. His latest book, Let Me Out(Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016 and is available on Random House Tarcher/Perigee “There’s deep wisdom here along with very practical tools for translating our ideas into the real world.” — Arianna Huffington

Follow Peter Himmelman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/peterhimmelman


Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on November 10, 2016.

Like what you read? Give Peter Himmelman a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.