Cultivating contentment this holiday season

Patricia Holbrook

Patricia Holbrook

Russell Conwell was a 19th-century attorney, philanthropist and writer, who later became a Baptist minister and founder of Temple University in Philadelphia. Conwell was known for his eloquent sermons, and the stories he often told to illustrate spiritual and life principles.

One of his most acclaimed essays is titled “Acres of Diamonds.” It was written before Conwell became a pastor, and published in book form in 1890 by the John Y. Huber Company of Philadelphia. He delivered this message over 5,000 times around the world starting in 1900 and until his death in 1925. According to Conwell, the inspiration for the famous essay occurred in 1869, when he was traveling in the Middle East. It was told by an Arab guide hired by his expedition in Baghdad.

The story is about an ancient Persian, Ali Hafed, who owned a large farm, where he had orchards, grain fields and many gardens. He was wealthy and content. One day, however, he visited a wise man from the East, who told him all about diamonds and how wealthy Hafed would be if he owned a diamond mine. That night, “Ali Hafed went to bed a poor man,” writes Conwell. He became discontent with his possessions, and started craving for a mine of diamonds. It wasn’t long until Hafed sold his farm, left his family in charge of a neighbor, and started searching for the precious stones.

Hafed traveled around the world, squandering his wealth in his quest for more. Finally, broken and despaired, Ali Hafed committed suicide, never finding the mine that he so longed for.

One day, the man who purchased Ali Hafed’s farm led his camel to drink water from a brook. As the camel lowered its head to drink, the farmer saw a light flashing from the sand beneath. He reached down, pulling out a stone. Holding it in his hands, the stone started reflecting all the hues of the rainbow. The farmer had accidently discovered the mine of Golcanda, the most affluent diamond mine in history.

Ali Hafed died in a strange land, poor and desperate, while the wealth that he searched for was right under his nose, so to speak.

The Christmas season is upon us, sending most of us into a frenzy of activities and shopping. I read numerous blogs every Christmas season, written by frazzled moms, filled with good advice and designed to legitimately attempt to help us stress less and truly enjoy the “most wonderful time of the year.” For Christians, it’s a time to celebrate God’s love to mankind through Messiah’s birth, and our love for each other.

This year, however, as I read Ali Hafed’s story, I could not help but think about how the holiday season has changed since my childhood, when life was simpler, and people were content with less.

Even though my father was an attorney, our Christmas list was comprised of one or two items. We counted the days to open the gifts we longed for all year, and cherished them for months or years to come. A doll. A bicycle. A remote-control car. Simple gifts that were like diamonds to us.

Today, Christmas calls us to exchange perfectly good cars for the latest models, smart phones that are still working for newer ones. Our children feel entitled to the latest video games, and we rush to oblige.

In the meantime, family get togethers are often filled with tension, because relationships are neglected all year. Bigger homes are jam-packed with trinkets, and yet, discontentment reigns. Many of us have more than ever before, and yet, we go to bed poor. In an attempt to find that diamond mine, we forget that the lush land that God has already given us has everything we need. We just need to stop looking elsewhere, believing we can find happiness in bigger, newer or better things.

I am not rich, by any stretch of imagination. Not as the world sees it. Oh, but I am! So, this holiday season, I am determined to cultivate the land God has given me, and find contentment, right where I am. For just as in Hafed’s story, the greatest gifts I’ll ever need are already right under my nose: my Savior’s love, my precious family, and faithful friends.

Patricia Holbrook is a Christian author, blogger and international speaker. Her book, “Twelve Inches,” is on sale at Barnes & Nobles, Amazon and retailers worldwide. Visit her website For speaking engagements and comments, email