Staying hungry for more success and staying happy in life seem conflicting. On one hand we feel we need more and that drives us to keep going after our goals. On the other we feel perfectly fine with what we have so why keep working hard for more?
To me the answer can be found by exploring the difference between being content and being complacent.
The definition of content is “in a state of peaceful happiness.” The definition of complacent is “showing smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.”
The technical definition might not really shine a light on the difference or why it is important.
In laymen’s terms, staying content means staying happy and not needing more to be happy. Being complacent means feeling as though there is no point in trying.
Being able to stay content is important. It shouldn’t be anyone’s goal to go through life miserable. But we also need to keep improving through life and striving to become a better version of ourself over time.
The key is that improvement doesn’t have to come from unhappiness. The systems and habits approach to improvement takes the approach of staying happy and not NEEDING more but still striving to improve by making small tweaks to the systems.
This ends up giving us a peaceful happiness throughout life while still maintaining growth and striving for excellence. To me this is how we improve consistently over time without torturing ourself to death.
This is how we master contentment and avoiding complacency. We keep looking for ways to grow and improve. We take small steps towards our goals and use repetition to turn them into positive habits. Over time they become automatic and unconscious.
But this doesn’t mean that we don’t have to work hard or that everything should be easy and fun. There is still discomfort in life. There is still struggle and effort and everything else. There is still occasional disappointment and devastation.
Being content doesn’t mean being disconnected from reality. It just means that we accept the situation and work to make it better.
Whatever your situation in life, take responsibility for it and look for systematic ways to improve. Doing this we can start to get better and better over time while staying happy.
There is a funny episode of The Big Bang Theory TV show where the main character has everyone around him provoke him and try to make him uncomfortable so he works in an optimal state of mind. There is science around this and I talk about the Yerkes-Dodson curve in another article. But the “arousal” that causes an increase in performance doesn’t have to be negative. We don’t need to have negative stimuli in order to improve.
Working to find a way to stay content while still striving for excellence is important so we can improve over time but remain happy. It is possible for us to stay hungry for more success and stay happy while doing it and relying the systems and habits approach can be a great way to accomplish that.