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At a holiday party, I overheard a guest mentioning that he had used all generations of the iPhone. Since I have only used two of them, I wanted to know the difference between each to avoid being labeled complacent. Well, where do we draw the line between contentment and complacency?

Modern humans suffer from a sort of “discontentment sickness.” It is not complacency but rather a lack of contentment. Most of the time, we feel that we should continue working hard and achieve more and more. In terms of wealth, we want more money, expensive cars, smart houses, and the latest gadgets, among other things. We always tell ourselves, “Once I receive my bonus, I will be so happy.” Picture this: You have the bonus, promotions, a raise, or a vacation, but still you are not happy.

Many of us believe that we work hard and so we should have the best in life. Our desire to have the latest gadget or live a luxurious lifestyle has resulted in us buying more and enjoying less.

Sheryl Crow once sang, “it’s not having what you want, but wanting what you got.” Her lyrics meant that the most crucial thing in life is being satisfied with what you have. If you have everything that you want, at some point life will not have any meaning. Manufacturers and innovators make inventions every day; it is up to you to be satisfied with the possessions that you have in your hands.

Lao Tzu’s book, Tao Te Ching (Classic of the Way and Its Virtue), is, along with the Bible, one of the world’s most translated books. Lao, or Laozi, was a Chinese philosopher and senior civil servant who advocated for a minimalist and simple lifestyle.

“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

-Lao Tzu-

In the book, Lao penned his philosophical thoughts about life. He said that a human being must hold on to the center. The mind must be made up, and people must rejoice in the paradise called life.

Lao advised people to understand the parts of life because they contribute to the more significant parts. Humans must learn to celebrate ordinary things because that is where greatness lies. It is the biggest secret to contentment.

 The reader might ask, what is the difference between complacency and contentment?

Contentment results from realizing that you have everything that can make you happy. You find joy in the possessions that you already have. You are delighted with your status and situation. A contented person is also satisfied because they have broken the cycle of demanding more.

Complacency can be likened to laziness. Complacent people are not satisfied with their current situation, but will not work enough to reach their potential because they feel that it does not make sense to do so. Such persons will work little and always blame external things for their shortcomings. Complacency means that you will not work beyond a certain level, so there is no room for improvement.

Lao Tzu’s quote should be a guideline for people who need to be happy with what they have. In his philosophical belief system, he contends that earthly goods such as money and success prevent people from understanding the real and actual value of life, which is endless. 

In this season of giving, we should consider some of Lao Tzu’s quotes.

“A wise man wears rags, but carries jewels in his heart.”

 “He who obtains has little, but he who scatters has much”

-Lao Tzu

Many people in the world are homeless, hungry, and sick. According to statistics from, more than 13 million American children rely on food banks for assistance. To put things in perspective, for every eight Americans, one of them lives on an income that puts them at risk for hunger. Americans are not the happiest lot. According to the World Happiness Report, Finland is the happiest country, while America occupies the 19th position.

The report surveyed 186 nations using six major metrics, which include social support, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, perceptions of corruption, generosity, the freedom to make life choices, and a healthy life expectancy.

How Does Sharing Make People Happy ?

1. Giving Triggers Satisfaction

As you travel from your house to the malls, you will see needy people. Of course you know of homes that cater to destitute and homeless people. Stop and help! It is the purest form of altruism.

“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”

-Chinese Saying-

A study conducted in 2008 by Professor Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School revealed that giving money to other people lifted a person’s happiness levels. Norton conducted a survey of about 632 Americans on their income levels and spending habits. The results showed that people who spent on themselves were less happy than those who spent on others. The same research showed that helping is wired into the brain and triggers the nerves that make people happy when they are having sex or eating food.

In Tao Te Ching, Laozi writes that money does not buy happiness. Giving to others definitely makes people happy.

Giving to charities creates trust, social connection, and a “warm glow” effect. Performing positive acts releases endorphins in the brain, which produces a good feeling called the “helper’s high.”

Altruism offers some form of satisfaction to givers. In this season of thanksgiving, remember to give and support needy people.

2. Sharing Improves Your Health and Longevity

In 1999, Doug Oman of the University of California, Berkley, conducted a study on elderly volunteers at different organizations. After setting controls for general health, age, negative habits such as taking drugs, and exercise habits, the research showed that volunteers were 44% less likely to pass away in a five-year duration than non-volunteers. The study showed that volunteering as a form of kindness increases longevity.

As these seniors volunteer, their brain releases endorphins. They get the highest level of satisfaction and happiness. Volunteering increases a person’s physical movements. The outcome is equal to body exercise and reduced stress. In fact, during volunteering, they are occupied and busy.

One other factor is that the gift of sharing time with needy people is valuable to the receiver. Some people donate millions of dollars for worthy causes, but the best feelings come from the time that you share with others. However, it is essential to share your time building your passion—for instance, cooking for the homeless or educating children.

3. Sharing Connects You to the Social World

When will you become content with what you have? Open the doors and start interacting with people. Listen and learn about their problems. Be a solution instead of a problem. A few minutes of listening to someone will make a significant change in their lives. For instance, a person could be jobless because he lacks personal grooming, and you could share tips with him to improve that aspect of his life.

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”

-Anne Frank-

Enriching the lives of others makes us wealthier. If you genuinely want to build contentment, interact with people. Talk and listen to homeless and hungry people. As you interact with needy persons, you will learn about their problems and the mistakes they have made in life.

After the 2007/2008 financial crisis in America, millions faced homelessness due to foreclosures. People who were living comfortable lives lost everything to loan sharks. As you talk to needy people and share the little that you have, you will learn about the “ripple effect” of a stone thrown in water. If you throw a small stone in a pool of water, massive ripples are generated. One dollar seems like a small thing, but its impact is noteworthy.

Giving is contagious, and it also relies on the ripple effect. When someone makes a donation or helps another person, it triggers observers to do the same. It urges them to donate to other people over the course of their lifetimes. It creates a network of people who help each other. It spreads from person to person and becomes a strong human network of giving. It sustains the human race.

4. Addition of Value to Life

Lao Tzu posited that every man should understand the “small things” that make a whole. Learn about the small things that give life value. Sharing during the giving season creates happiness and puts a smile on people’s faces.

Generosity plays a vital role in making us human. Every person has a natural form of kindness that can never be misplaced. Human beings have thrived on earth because they share and take care of each other. If we thrived on selfishness, we would have wiped each other out. Giving to the homeless and hungry people has ensured the survival of the human race.

 Mahatma Gandhi once said that “poverty is the worst form of violence.” It’s been observed that in some places, poverty runs in families and societies. The place of birth of a person depends on chance. However, we can use our little monies to add value to the lives of others. Value cannot be bought or sold, but it can be felt through sharing and caring for the welfare of needy persons.

5. Attain Contentment in Sharing and Giving

“Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty.”


Does having 10 homes spread across six continents give you happiness? At any moment, you will sleep in one house. You will prefer spending a holiday in another. The rest of the homes are “clutter.” Embrace minimalism and share the rest with others.

Joy is not found in physical belongings. The real value is found in embracing and making other lives better. If you want to attain contentment, break the habit of purchasing every new thing in the market. Discontent involves the habit of not being satisfied with what you have. Instead of spending more money to buy the things that you do not have, embrace contentment. Share your income with charities.

6. Giving and Sharing Evoke Gratitude

When giving or receiving a gift, you will often feel a sense of gratitude. When you receive a gift, you are motivated to present a gift to another person too. Gratitude is the key to happiness and improves social bonds.

Expressing sincere gratitude to a friend, workmate, or a needy person creates a strong social bond. Gratitude also plays a role in creating positivity and altruistic behaviors in both the receiver and the giver. The sentiments have been echoed by  Barbara Fredrickson in her book, Positivity.

Nobody will give you happiness. We must find ways to be happy, and sharing with others is one of them. Be content with what you have. Every day, there are innovations that can catch your eye. Contentment is the key to happiness. Sharing with others is a show of gratitude. Do not live with too much clutter. Lao Tzu posits that every man should strive to understand the small things that are part of the whole. Achieve a purposeful and value-filled life through giving and sharing.


  • Marguerita Cheng

    Author, Speaker & Advocate at Blue Ocean Global Wealth

    Marguerita M. Cheng is the Chief Executive Officer at Blue Ocean Global Wealth. Marguerita is a member of the CNBC FA Council and a contributor for Investopedia & Kiplinger. She is a CFP® professional, Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor®, a Retirement Income Certified Professional® and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®. As a Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP Board) Ambassador, Marguerita helps educate the public, policymakers, and media about the benefits of competent, ethical financial planning. She serves as a Women’s Initiative (WIN) Advocate and Diversity Advisory Group (DAG) for CFP Board. She served on the Financial Planning Association (FPA) National Board of Directors from 2013 – 2015 and is a past president of the Financial Planning Association of the National Capital Area (FPA NCA) In 2017, she was named the #3 Most Influential Financial Advisor in the Investopedia Top 100 and a Woman to Watch by InvestmentNews. Marguerita’s mantra is “So many people spend their health to gain wealth, and then have to spend their wealth to regain their health” (A.J. Reb Materi).