My Contentment Pyramid

Are you content with your life? How do you define contentment? For some people, contentment is that moment when the stars align and everything is perfect. For others, it is reaching their dream, and others may only feel content when they are on vacation. Then again others may never feel content. They keep searching for the latest and greatest. The next thing that is going to make them feel finished, complete, content.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, I think many, many people fall in the last category a lot of the time. They don’t feel content and keep searching for what will make them feel contentment. It may be things they need to buy, places they need to go, a job they need to change, or just that one thing to get/get rid of.

Our society isn’t very good at the simple contentment of having enough and doing enough. This is a lesson I am learning on my simple life journey. I have gotten really good at feeling like I have enough things. But when it comes to my time, I struggle with the “doing enough” part.

Last week I wrote about celebrating contentment and the two ways I look at contentment. One way I find contentment is in exact moments that make me happy such as biking, kayaking or reading. Then there are times where I find contentment overall in a group of moments. For example, on Sunday afternoon I might look back on the weekend and find contentment in how the weekend went as a whole - mostly good. I can even look back over a month or year and see some progress towards a goal, or a change in how things are going and realize contentment.

The other night, I spent my time after work biking and then preparing a healthy dinner plus lunches for the week. By the time I was done with both, it was late. At first I was like - hey, it's 7:30 and I hardly have any time left in my day! But then I realized that I had spent my time doing things that were important to me and that brought contentment.

I wrote about this last week as well: In order to work on my new goal of better nutrition and strength, I am finding space in my life by saying no to new ideas and realizing I can’t do everything I want. Both of these things have helped me find contentment in what I am doing to support my new goal. I no longer feel that I am being cheated out of time, or feel like I need to cram things in. I can more easily let things go when I don’t have time for them. I recognize the priority my new goal takes and am happy it is progressing as well as it is. This has brought some contentment as well.

In order to do this though, I had to first figure out what was important to me and then learn to recognize this as enough. You have probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs - this is a great place to start evaluating what you need in your life. 

Maslow claims that you must meet the basic needs (at the bottom of the pyramid) before you can meet the rest of your needs going up the pyramid. 

I decided to try and create my own pyramid based on the priority of how I want to spend my time to meet my goals. Over the past few months, I have been tossing around in my head what I want my main goals to be, and therefore, what I should dedicate my time to first. Once I have dedicated time to these “needs”, then any free time leftover can go on up the pyramid, or “stars aligning” I can add in something extra. 

Remember, this is a pyramid of my time. Work takes the most of my time during the day. At the moment, that is just the way it is and I need to accept that until I can find ways to change that. I struggle with this, but so be it. Reality is that my work and commute are pushing 10 hours a day. 

My family always comes next with my time. If they need help, I’m there. Time wise, I can’t say that my family takes up that much of my time, but they are important to me and again, my time will go there if needed. Our children are in their 20’s, so there is less of a physical time commitment than when they were younger and I was a stay-at-home mom. I have a few friends that I see from time to time, but family is my primary relationship. Fortunately, some of what I do for health and creativity is also done with my family, so these do overlap.

My health is important to me and therefore the time I spend exercising or improving my food intake is my next priority. Exercising takes many forms from yoga in the morning, to biking after work, to a short walk after dinner. While my husband isn’t into yoga, the rest of my exercising can be done with him, or alone depending on the day. When it comes to meal planning, we eat out at most once a week, so that means time spent buying groceries and cooking food. As I wrote above, sometimes I resent the time, but I know I want healthy food on our plates so I am learning to see the prep time for what it is - the means to the result I want. 

If you have read the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, you might understand my need for creativity. It is as much a part of me as the parts of my body. I can’t go a week without creating something. Creativity can be found in many areas of my life from my job, to cooking, to solving problems at home, to writing and quilting. Whenever I think of time to be creative though, I think of writing and quilting. Thus creativity is at the top of my pyramid because I don’t often get time to write or quilt. Oh I do at least once a week, but of course I would like more - it’s a greedy need :)

What I have realized by doing this exercise is that my time is finite and the opportunity cost of spending time in one area, means less time in another. If I can look at week though, I see that overall I am able to spend time proportionately to the items on my own hierarchy of needs. I also have to scale back and create space to accommodation my needs. If I want time to cook and exercise, I need to create space by saying “no” to other things. The fact that there are 24 hours in a day is not going to change. How are you going to spend your 24?