Aspirational Contentment

For some time now I’ve wanted to introduce a bit of a twist to what is commonly referred to as voluntary simplicity – voluntarily living a simpler and more intentional life so as to enjoy greater personal fulfillment even as we more positively impact those around us, our community, and our environment. The voluntary simplicity movement was bolstered immensely by the publication in 1981 of Duane Elgin’s groundbreaking book: Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich. Unfortunately, we’re now thirty years down the road and whereas some of us have indeed volunteered to live more simply, most of us have not. In fact, over the course of these thirty or so years, human civilization has become so increasingly complex that it sometimes seems like a house of cards that is just one economic shock, one natural disaster, one viral pandemic, one war, one nuclear disaster, or one degree of average world temperature increase away from absolute and total collapse.

Given all of its benefits – benefits that I can certainly attest to given the simplicity that I’ve come to know – why hasn’t voluntary simplicity become the lifestyle of choice in this troubled age? Given all of the world’s problems that are either directly or indirectly tied to an excessively complex and consumptive human lifestyle, why hasn’t the embrace of simplicity become the most obvious solution over yet another round of technological advancement? Instead, the ever-tightening knot that is the global problematique has us grasping for any solution under the sun as long as it keeps us from having to adopt the simplest one of all – contentment. If we could just be content with a much simpler version of all that is materially available to us our problems would be nowhere near as intractable.

Why is contentment so elusive, anyway? Why are we always looking towards that day when we’ll have that dream job and the commensurate salary that we deserve; when we’ll be living in our dream house with all of the material comfort that we need; when we’ll have all of the free time that we desire and the means to fill that time with all of the activities that we’ve always wanted to do? It is my contention that before we can embrace wholeheartedly the tenets of voluntary simplicity, we need to learn just a little bit more about contentment. We need to learn to identify and appreciate it. We need to value it. We need to explore it and practice it. We need to cultivate and nurture it. Maybe we won’t be content all the time. Maybe there will be some things with which we will never be content; but at least we will come to know contentment more intimately and it will more often be an option that is open to us. This process of learning to identify, appreciate, value, explore, practice, cultivate, and nurture contentment is one that I will term aspirational contentment. Aspirational contentment is an openness to contentment – a willingness and readiness to be content. Perhaps we are not content at this moment, but with aspirational contentment we understand that contentment is possible and we choose to remain receptive to it. Aspirational contentment, then, is the gradual movement from a mode of chronic discontent to a mode wherein we are able to consciously choose and embrace, and ultimately embody, contentment.

The New Busch Stadium with the Gateway Arch in the background

Hey! How ‘bout those Redbirds? Yes, the home opener of the professional baseball season was today and many of my fellow St. Louisans are absolutely champing at the Clydesdale bit for the hometown team to repeat as World Champions – or at least champions of that part of the world that is the 48 contiguous United States. You might say that we’re simply not content with being last year’s World Champions. We need to always be World Champions!

McMansion under construction
I was catching some of the opening day hype on television this past week – a twenty-five year old television, I might add. The local news station was doing a story on how much energy will be saved this year at the local baseball stadium because of swapping out the older generation video scoreboards for new flat-screen technology, in addition to adopting other energy conservation protocols such as powering down the amplification system during the off-season. Said changes will reportedly yield savings equivalent to the energy needed to power 300 homes for a year. Of course, the reporter didn’t actually elaborate on the nature of those 300 homes. Are we talking about 300 Mcmansions like the one that my neighbor lives in, or are we talking about 300 shotgun house like the one I live in? {smile}

A home more like the author's
Needless to say, this was supposed to be a feel-good kind of story, an isn’t-it-great-how-green-we’re-becoming kind of story. And it would seem to be that way, wouldn’t it? Ah, if only I could just smile and nod and marvel at the wonders of technology! However, I just can’t help wondering what will become of the now-obsolete video boards that the new flat-screens have replaced. Will they be recycled, will they end up in a landfill somewhere, will their toxic components end up leaching into the ground water somewhere? I’m sorry, but I actually do think about these things! Okay, let’s simply take at face value that 300 McMansions worth of energy will be saved every year. But what is the real energy cost of all of this building and tearing down, building and tearing down, building and tearing down? Sure enough, the stock market loves all of that building and tearing down and replacing. It creates jobs, too. Alas, it also requires an incredible amount of energy – a requirement that has us flexing our military muscles more and more frequently in the oil-rich regions of the world. Oh, and it doesn’t much help the state of our warming planet, either. Hence, we have the global problematique – that Gordian knot of tangled and competing interests.

Old Busch Memorial Stadium beside its replacement.

The New Busch Stadium under construction.

St. Louis’ state-of-the-art baseball stadium just opened up in 2006. It seems, then, that the state-of-the-art technology utilized during its construction didn’t last but five years! At that rate, how long can we expect the new stadium to last? The old one was with us for some 39 years (1966-2005) before becoming obsolete. Well, actually it didn’t so much become obsolete as it came to be seen as lacking in corporate viewing boxes and other amenities that are such a big part of the ball club bottom line these days. Oh, and that cookie-cutter architecture came to be so passé. We want everything to be fresh and vibrant and new. And that’s why the new stadium is designed to be reminiscent of the ballparks of old! With everything moving so much faster these days can we even hope for the new stadium to last half as long as the old one? Given the fact that it was only about six years before our state-of-the-art baseball stadium began shedding 75+ kilogram metal plates onto the sidewalk below, I think not. See the related Post-Dispatch and USA Today stories.

Surely it must be evident to others as well that all of this building and tearing down and replacing is born of and feeds into our fundamental lack of contentment. This lack of contentment is there in our individual lives and it is writ large by our cities and corporations and nations. And that is why I hope that this introduction to aspirational contentment resonates with readers as a viable mode of being that will, if adopted by enough people, positively change the world for the better.

Busch Memorial Stadium

The photo above is the stadium where my friend Charlie and I saw the double header in which Bob Gibson pitched his 2,998 strikeout. We took a bus downtown and sat in the bleachers expecting to see his 3,000th. Alas, it was not meant to be. I'll never forget being there, though. And, you know, the complexity of the scoreboard used back then is rather inconsequential at this point.

Image Credits

Busch Stadium panorama, 2009, by Kevin Ward via:

McMansion under construction via:

Shotgun House via:

Busch Stadium, 2005, taken from atop the Gateway Arch looking west by David K. Staub via:

Busch Stadium, later in 2005, taken from atop the Gateway Arch looking west by Tristan Denyer via:

Busch Stadium, 2001, by Rick Dikeman via:

Copyright 2012 by Maku Mark Frank


  1. There is NEVER a post on this blog that doesn't make me think deeply about my own life and about how I can make a difference. THANK YOU Maku.

    Gassho! Mindy

  2. Mindy, that is the best compliment I could ever hear! Thank you so much, and thank you for reading. I hope we meet again soon. Gassho, Maku


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