When I was first starting my rabbinic career, an older colleague told me that a rabbi should always be dissatisfied but never unhappy. In other words, he encouraged me to constantly strive for improvement while not letting my failures get me down.
This seemed like very good advice at the time. Now, I am not so sure. The second century sage Ben Zoma counselled a different approach. He asked: “Who is wealthy?” and answered “The one who is content with their portion.”
I have always understood Ben Zoma to be saying that a person who is always dissatisfied cannot really be happy because taking an unfailingly critical stance gets in way of appreciating what we have.
Recently, I heard a talk by Rabbi Eliezer Diamond who pointed out that Ben Zoma is encouraging us to strive for something greater than mere contentment. The original Hebrew doesn’t just that say that we should be satisfied with our lot; it says we should rejoice in it.
Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle: We certainly should try to make things better, but not at the expense of finding joy in all the many blessings in our lives, even—and perhaps especially—those that are flawed and incomplete.