The shirt of the contented man.

September 20, 2015 § 9 Comments


There is a proverb about a king who, despite having everything, was unhappy.

Hearing from a trusted advisor that happiness would be his if he put on the shirt of a contented man the king ordered the advisor to find that man.

But the quest seemed futile.

When questioned, seemingly contented men revealed that, no, there were many things they lacked, so how could they be content?

The advisor was about to give up when, walking along a dirt road, he heard a man singing at the top of his lungs.

He stopped, hung his elbows over the fence and watched the bare-chested man working in his field; after all it was hot. Overjoyed he climbed over the fence and interviewed the man.

He had finally found him! The contented man. But his joy was short-lived.

The contented man owned no shirt.

Of all the things we buy only a handful are necessary: the basket of groceries, the blanket, the roof over our heads. Everything else is an attempt to buy the shirt of the contented man.

We forget the meaning of the word is modest. Contentment is feeling satisfied, knowing we have enough.

Over time, and with the prodding of those who want to sell us stuff, that definition has enlarged until enough is never enough.

Even the things needed for our survival have to deliver more. Does that basket of food demonstrate our sophisication? Does the blanket go with our decor? Does that roof cover a 4,000 square foot house?

We often discard one useful object for another because we are tired of the color, or we notice a little bit of wear at the edge.

We demand a lot from the things we acquire.

We want prestige, superiority. My car is bigger and faster than yours. It heats my butt in the winter, beeps when I back up, and answers voice commands. Can your Taurus do that?

We want convenience—which can be bought, and bought, and bought until every shelf, closet and drawer groans, each small task handled by its own machine when a good sharp knife that belonged to your mother will probably do the trick.

We want to be thinner, prettier, younger, loved. We can offer those gods something bought with money—yes, that dress does make you look thinner.

A little.

But we are older each day. We are loved or not loved based on whether we are worth loving, the dress be damned.

If  the contented man  owns a shirt at all, it is worn and ragged. It would impress no one, but he likes it.

His contentment comes from the comfort of that old shirt, singing while he works, the sun on his back—and it is enough.


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§ 9 Responses to The shirt of the contented man.

  • carolyn says:

    Agree that newer does not make better, some of my favorite articles of clothing hark back to HS… Unfortunately it seems like nobody knows what modest or contented means these days! Folks need bigger, better and more conspicuous… maybe it is reality TV and the Kardashians (ugh) that foster this atmosphere…


    • You have me beat Carolyn. I don’t think I have anything of the wearable persuasion left from HS, but I sure do hang onto things. I also shop secondhand. I’ve gotten over the possible embarrassment of saying, “You like it? I got it at Goodwill for two dollars!”

      I’ve decided to feel proud of the fact that I can find a great shirt for two bucks that has already had the stiff washed out of it, not embarrassed for wearing a shirt that used to belong to a stranger. The older I get the more I realize that how I look at something determines its worth.

      So, I choose to see myself as a smarty who never pays full price.


  • Pat Skene says:

    This is a wonderful post. Well said! One might even say, “Tis the shirt of discontent.” Groan…😊


  • craig reeder says:

    wearing an thread-worn out shirt that you’ve had for years is grand contentment!


  • KM Huber says:

    Perhaps now is the time of the “shirt of discontent….” *groan again* Or, perhaps we have always sought the shirt of content, so sure we are discontent with what we have. As you say, we are quick to toss away perfectly content garments, unable to recognize the worth within. Wonderful post, Adrian.


  • ammaponders says:

    Outstanding! I started organizing a closet a while back. At one point I just stood in front of it wondering how I ended up with so many black tshirts. Not through mindfulness!


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