Finding Contentment & Resetting Priorities

How to find contentment in your life by examining your priorities and values, so you can find time for life's simple pleasures.

Ever find yourself muttering things like, “I wish I had time to read a book” or “I really admire people who can send out holiday cards,” then later wondering how you could be more like those people who do those things? I certainly do. I have an aunt who remembers everyone’s birthday, sends out handcrafted cards and considerate gifts for every occasion. There’s part of me that wants to simply dismiss this – who has the time for that?! – however, I’m always moved by her thoughtfulness. I love the way these cards & gifts makes me feel, even if the gifts are sometimes hit-or-miss. (Know what I’m sayin’?)

Lately, when I’ve had these thoughts, I’ve found myself doing a deep dive into them. Asking myself why, if I want to be like those people, I am not. I’ve been following up on such thoughts with a very important question: What needs to be in place in my life for x-y-z to happen? Take the book-reading example. What is missing right now, that keeps me from reading a book?

Possible Answer 1: Time

The obvious reason that I am not able to read more books, despite wanting to, is that I don’t have enough time. Okay, well Jen, if you magically had more time, would you choose to read a book?

Hmmm, maybe not, I’d probably have other things I’d need do with that freed up time. Clearly, I don’t have enough time because I’m prioritizing other things in my life.

Possible Answer 2: Priorities

So, what would it take for you to prioritize reading a book over the “other priorities” in your life? Complete and utter boredom? No, not exactly. I’d need to feel that things are settled; that my projects and to-do lists are handled; that the other things that I’m striving for in life, that I’m trying to achieve, are being attended to. So, to be able to use my time to read a book, I need to get through all the stuff on my to-do list? Here’s the real problem: MY LIST NEVER GETS SHORTER! Does yours? For every item that I cross off my “to-do” list, I add 2 more. In all my years, this has been true. Which leads me to another question: WHY?

After taking a good hard look at the conundrum, it’s quite simple. Throughout my daily existence, there is an underlying essence of needing to do and be more. I feel I am not enough. I am not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, stable enough, settled enough, accomplished enough, successful enough to deserve to sit back and read a book. So, what is missing right now that keeps me from reading a book?

Root Cause 1: A sense of contentment

I long to sit and read a book. The thought of cozying up in a window seat, overlooking the aspen trees on my property, with a fire roaring in the corner, a hot cup of coffee in one hand, and a great book in the other, brings me a sense of peace. To be able to do this, I need to find contentment in my life before-hand, even if it means I’m leaving some things partially undone.

One of the downfalls of being a highly ambitious (insecure?) person for whom where they are, what they are, and who they are, is just never quite enough is that we don’t allow ourselves to do the things we merely want to, because we’re too busy doing all the things we think we need to. But the reality is that there will always be another need-to-do that sneaks up on you. That is life. Some of the items on our “need-to-do” lists might never get attended to and that might be just fine. Because, as it turns out, you (and I) are already enough. Where we are today is not a permanent representation of where we will be in 5 years, and where we want to be in 5 years won’t manifest overnight.

I’m not saying that you need to abandon your drive, ambition, and complete to-do list, but simply to reflect upon it. Are your ambitions in line with your values? These are two distinct things and don’t always support one another. If you don’t know what the root cause is to your lack of follow through in a certain area of your life, you’ll never be able to change it.

I haven’t quite cuddled up with a hot cup of coffee and a book just yet, but I did mail my holiday cards. One of my most important values is making those whose lives I’m a part of feel loved. So, this weekend, my writing took a backseat to my loved ones. Today, I’m back to writing.

  Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don't.
― Steve Maraboli