Thomas Edison once stated, “Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” If you examine many of the innovations of the 20th Century, and ponder the motivations behind them, you’ll understand Edison was right. No one invents anything simply to prove it can be done. Innovators (and dreamers) aren’t like mountain climbers; they don’t accomplish something great “because it’s there”!
Vaccines are developed when disease threatens our civilization; faster modes of transportation because people are … well, in a hurry; smaller, smarter, more powerful phones and tablets because we want to be able to communicate, access information, and enjoy all the other benefits of computers on the go and with less to lug around. The point is, when a society finds itself in an undesirable situation, or isn’t satisfied with its level of comfort or convenience, it generally responds with the innovations necessary to elevate itself from its troubling circumstances.
What was the motivation behind the invention of the electric light? Several people were striving to make it work — Edison stuck with it until he succeeded — but why so much interest? Well, can you imagine what it was like to read by a kerosene lamp? Or worse, a flickering candle? Edison and others weren’t satisfied with these relatively poor sources of light. They wanted something better.
Many inventors such as Edison or Henry Ford also wanted to solve a specific problem. Ford used the assembly line to overcome time constraints in production. Milton S. Hershey formulated a chocolate bar that resisted melting at temperatures above 90 degrees fahrenheit because U.S. troops in WWII needed just such a bar.
Edison goes on to state, “Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I’ll show you a failure.” A strong statement — which may sound illogical as well as unbiblical. It’s neither. When we’re comfortable, we’re not challenged to change, and specifically, to improve. If we’re satisfied with where we are in life, we’ll stop trying to go higher. Getting back to Edison’s first statement, when we’re discontent with our surroundings, our wasteful or harmful habits, our spiritual state, we’re more likely to make the necessary changes. Discontent is a powerful motivator. Which is why, in life, many people have to hit rock bottom before they get fed up enough to finally change.
So, in life, in innovation, in our relationships with God and the people around us, we never want to become complacent. Now, this doesn’t mean we should become discontent with what the Lord has blessed us with. The Apostle Paul said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV) To do anything less is to present our Lord with an ungrateful spirit. On the other hand, we should always strive to improve ourselves, our circumstances, and the circumstances and conditions of others. Let us all work together to make the world a better place.
If you’re pursuing a dream or trying to achieve a goal, you’re more likely to achieve it once you make up your mind NOT to be complacent. Make the most of whatever situation you’re in, and by all means, be happy! But don’t get too comfortable. Aim higher. And then, when you find yourself overworked and underpaid, unchallenged and confined, by a job, a relationship, etc., you’ll probably also discover the motivation you need to pay the price, to do what it takes to succeed, or to change.
People who are comfortable tend to stay right where they are, whether it’s the recliner in front of the TV or a job that’s “not great but pays pretty good.” So, don’t get comfortable — unless you’re planning on staying for awhile. Be discontent enough to climb out, climb higher, keep on climbing. Not because “it’s there” but because you long for something better, greater, nobler.
“Jabez prayed to the God of Israel: Please bless me and give me more territory. May your power be with me and free me from evil so that I will not be in pain. God gave him what he prayed for.” (1 Chronicles 4:10 GOD’S WORD)