One of the great implicit dichotomies of being a person is that in order to grow you must be discontent, and if you are content you have no impetus to grow. This seems almost tautological; if you are fully satisfied, what internal mechanism would provoke change?
The difficulty in this assumption is that few of us actually are content. And thus, we want to grow and become better. This desire takes many forms - wanting to be more disciplined, healthier, more outgoing, and so on. And there is an underlying assumption that achieving these things will make us happy. The understanding that this is rarely the case has become so widely accepted that to repeat it feels unnecessary.
But it has given rise to another approach as well. Much of the contemporary thinking around mindfulness and meditation encourages us to disconnect our sense of well-being from those things considered to be external - career success, relationships, finances, and so on. We can be content as a precondition to our engagement with the world.
In 1654, Blaise Pascal wrote: “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone". In looking that up again, I actually just discovered an article on a study that showed that a majority of people would voluntarily administer an unpleasant electric shock when forced to sit in a room alone, without other stimuli. The point being: we are apparently very bad at being content as a precondition. And yet, it has become the current condition to strive for.
Perhaps part of the resistance we have to preconditional contentment is that it renders all subsequent phenomena meaningless. If I can be fully happy looking at nothing, I can't be any more happy looking at cherry blossoms. Why would I be less happy looking at a landfill? The idea could be that rather than achieving ultimate contentment (which seems to be the Buddhist approach), we ought to aim for merely a state of neutral+. To shift our default approach to the world from one of persistent nagging anxiety and fear to one of optimism and gratitude. Within this framework, it's easy to see how positive experiences could still lift you up and negative ones drag you down.
But to what extent are emotions non-relative states? Could one operate in a default state of neutral+, striving to achieve ecstatic moments, but insulated from any emotion on the negative side of the spectrum? Would this just reframe the spectrum and shift our emotional responses accordingly?
A possible way out is the introduction of time as a variable. The challenge - to return to the original issue - is to be content, and yet still grow. Could we be perfectly content with ourselves and our situation in the moment, but want something different in the future? On a lazy summer day, we don't wish for winter. And yet, few of us would want an endless summer of unchanging days (I'm looking at you, LA). Instead, we are perfectly content with where we are in the cycle of the year. And we anticipate that come the snow, we will be content again.
In this way, perhaps the most effective strategy is to understand the cycle of our lives, and to dig deep into what we might want to be, want to do, or want to have in the cycles to come, and yet, to recognize that where we currently are is exactly where we are supposed to be. It's almost a reversal of the preconditional state of contentment. Rather than being content and then going into the world to act, we first act and then seek contentment within the framework of our actions. An analogy I use often is that our lives are like a giant ship - they have inertia, and are slow to change course. And yet, their course is long, so navigation is not a full time job. The captain must periodically check to ensure that they are still on course, but can then go about other business. They can relax because they are headed in the right direction.