“…ambition or contentment? This simple question led me back to a more balanced view of life and put me in touch with the Me I used to know…”
– John Geddes
As I mentioned in an earlier post, to become happier, we need to appreciate what we have and make some changes in our lives.
Raymund Tamayo discusses this in The Two Sides of Contentment: “It is easy to fall into confusion when you talk about contentment. Others tell us to be content with what we have right now and live simply, while others tell us not to be content where we are now and expand our horizons. In searching for an answer, here is what I found: Clearly, there are two sides to contentment!”
His conclusion is that “Contentment [is] a matter of being content with what you have – but realizing that we will always have to improve and get better….”
Following his advice, take a look at the list you made of things you think would make you happier if only you had them, what I’ll call your “happiness goals.”
“What is not started today is never finished tomorrow.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I’ll bet some of your happiness goals are well within reach. Some will probably happen on their own. Maybe you’ll have more quiet time as your puppy grows up or your youngest child starts school in the fall.
Perhaps they’ll happen because of something else you’re already doing. One of my happiness goals is “a cleaner house.”
I doubt fairies will start dusting for me, but as we have less stuff, cleaning becomes faster, so in the same amount of time, the house is cleaner. It’s almost like magic.
You’ve probably starting making plans for some of the other happiness goals on your list. Maybe you’re planning that road trip, looking for a church to join or enrolling in a meditation class.
Check your list to see if there are other things you can start doing in the next few months. Don’t make excuses.
Problem-solve ways to fit things into your life. Maybe you don’t have time for a meditation class but you can check out a book from the library and get up 10 minutes before the kids do. Or perhaps you don’t have room for a garden plot – check into a local community garden.
Happiness goals that seem too hard, whether due to budget, family responsibilities or work schedule, can often be met with a little creativity.
“Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.”
– Simone de Beauvoir
If you haven’t already, think of specific plans for your long-term happiness goals. What does a specific plan look like?
Since a spinning wheel isn’t in my budget, I might say, “I’ll set aside $5 a week toward a spinning wheel.” To make it more likely I’ll actually follow my plan, I should say which day I’ll do it and where I’ll keep the money. Knowing me, I may not even have $5 in cash, so my plan also needs to say how I’ll get the cash to put in the jar on my desk every Monday.
Don’t write off happiness goals that seem out of reach – brainstorm solutions. You might be able to talk your family into giving up something, say ordering pizza on Friday or drinking soda, using the savings for a vacation. This is a good way to teach your children about budgeting, planning and priorities.
A longer term happiness goal for me is early retirement. I’m working on that by learning to live with less and exploring ways of making money that don’t feel like “work.”
“Only by learning to live in harmony with your contradictions can you keep it all afloat.”
– Audre Lorde
What about conflicting happiness goals like my huge plot of land in the middle of nowhere and my urban condo? This is where you need to spend some extra time thinking about why you think those things would make you happy. What is it you’re really looking for?
Maybe I’d be happy with a large lot in the ‘burbs if I could ride my bike to the grocery store, library and restaurants. Or, maybe a condo in the city near a large park would satisfy both of my happiness goals.
“At first, dreams seem impossible, then improbable, and eventually inevitable.”
What about luxuries you can afford only if you win the lottery? Maybe you want a yacht as a sign of success or to impress people.
In that case, you’ll probably lose your interest as you begin to appreciate simpler pleasures. As I mentioned in an earlier post, you’re likely to find that your priorities (and, therefore, your happiness goals) change as you continue on your journey to minimalist living.
But maybe you don’t want the yacht to show off or to feel successful. Think about what the yacht represents to you, perhaps adventure, quality time with your family or freedom from responsibility.
If that’s true for you, don’t give up on your dream just because it’s impossible. You can find what you’re looking for within your own particular circumstances and budget.
Think about less expensive ways to bring adventure into your life. Maybe you can save for a motorcycle or take up roller derby.
Check into classes, especially those run through community colleges and parks departments. Through classes, I climbed Mt. St. Helens, sailed a catamaran and learned to ride a motorcycle, all without having to buy any equipment.
Classes are a great way to try a new hobby even when you can afford the equipment, since they let you see if you like the activity before you invest a lot of money.
Maybe the yacht represents time with no work or family responsibilities. In that case, try setting aside some time for yourself. Maybe you can attend a retreat related to one of your favorite hobbies each year.
Even if all that’s possible now is half an hour a week at the library or coffee shop, it can make a big difference in your stress and happiness levels.
If you’re looking for more time with your family, consider a camping trip, a weekly game night at home or some other activity that fits in your budget like bowling, hiking or bike riding together.
Maybe the yacht represents the fun of meeting people from around the world. Think about volunteering at a national park for a summer or attending local ethnic festivals.
Of course, I don’t know what you wrote on your lists, or what you’re really looking for, so these are only examples. The point is that by discovering what you’re really looking for in your happiness goals, you can find contentment, whatever your budget and time constraints.