The Ideal Life Round-Up Contentment

Similar to the Ideal Life Theme of “Gravitas”, “Contentment” is quite idiosyncratic.

If “Gravitas” is part of my Ideal Life, it is because I have always felt as though, for some reason, I never properly grew up into an adult. If “Contentment” is part of my Ideal Life, it is because I have never been able to properly appreciate my stuff, no matter how much of it I accumulate.

You’ll remember that the times I have felt most satisfied about what I own are when my few possessions are neatly arranged, easy to access and have a designated home. What I own is not the problem; as a matter of fact, having more stuff only serves to aggravate the situation of discontentment.

At various times on the blog, I have expounded on something I call the “Dissatisfaction Cycle” or the “Cycle of the Imperfect Life.” It certainly would not be life-changing for most normal people, as an observation. It simply says that I, Lily Fields, tend to find and fixate on a thing, then I tend to obsess over the thing, then I start to scheme until I can possess the thing, upon which, at worst I feel instant remorse and don’t want the thing anymore, or, at its most banal, the thing loses its luster and I quickly start wanting something else.

It’s a hateful cycle. And, apparently, my little idiosyncratic theorization is backed up by, believe it or not, a real psychological concept of which I just this week discovered the existence. (Isn’t it fun when the Philosopher Princess hits on something real?)

The real concept in psychology, which relates to my Cycle of the Imperfect Life, is called The Hedonic Treadmill. It doesn’t talk about obsessing or scheming or remorse, per se. But it does state that our satisfaction level remains relatively stable over the course of our lives, always, eventually returning to a baseline regardless of the magnitude of the pursuit.

Should someone desire to break this cycle, the research says that emotional and cognitive work to reduce negative thoughts will be more effective to “step off the Hedonic Treadmill”, so to speak, than to pursue the next “high” that ultimately will not satisfy.

This, as you can imagine is my new obsession and this will surely not be the last time I talk about it! But that is for 2022. For now, we’re rounding up my year in Contentment.

In my Ideal Life, I am a person who:

  • takes care of what she has
  • knows what she likes
  • isn’t swayed by fads or trends
  • Is willing to spend a little more money for something that lasts
  • prefers empty space to the presence of stuff
  • has a wishlist and isn’t afraid to ask for what she really wants
  • can tidy my home for guests in less than 30 minutes
  • never feels overwhelmed by the mess
  • keeps flat surfaces clear
  • doesn’t buy something just because it’s a good deal
  • keeps a running list of repairs that are needed
  • does not impulse shop

Where are you coming from?

Well, let’s take a moment and applaud Lily Fields for detaching her self-worth from the abundance of her possessions this year. That was all I really wanted to accomplish this year: to stop throwing money at my problems of self-worth. No, I didn’t necessarily improve my self-worth or make a dent in my self-loathing (okay, maybe a tiny tiny tiny dent), but I did, at the very least, force myself to deal with how I used stuff to cover for an abusive relationship with myself.

Relying on the bounty which was already in my possession, or on the cast-offs from my friends this year, meant that I either had to deepen my affection for what I already had by how I cared for it, or be pleasantly surprised by what was offered. There was no Hedonic Treadmill, no scheming and no buyer’s remorse, no fads. Hallelujah, Amen.

I find it interesting that one of my Ideal Life statements, which I wrote years ago is “I keep flat surfaces clear…” because, in a nutshell, that seems to be the number one trick to keeping my brainfog under control. This brainfog is something which came into its own since the summertime, and for which it appears that I have been over here sitting on the answer the whole time. Good to know.

This year I had to face a paring down of our belongings due to (yet another) a moth infestation, compounded by rot in our flooded basement, which only further confirmed that I have a very low threshold for clutter and am most satisfied when I own next to nothing at all, or at the very most, just enough.

This year, I took care to learn how to repair, mend, use while broken (this will end once my new set of kitchen knives arrives, a little something Santa Poppy has ordered up for me. Seriously, people. Don’t try to go a year without owning a single kitchen knife that actually cuts. Your fingers deserve more love than that!)

I had to replace my dining room table this year, which to be honest, was, heretofore, my favorite piece of furniture in the apartment. It broke beyond repair (scalawags), after being repaired at least a dozen times. While I didn’t replace it with the same thing, I was able to quickly find a suitable replacement round table, because I knew what I liked. Knowing and articulating this, which I had done at some point, made quick work of my research. No, my new table isn’t as gorgeous or vintagey-adorable as my old one, but it is more stable and has an extension leaf. It’s more practical but less cute. Today, I’ll take practical.

Where are you going?

I’m desperately curious to see what happens when I walk into my favorite thrift store with 50 bucks in my pocket. Will I be pickier? Will I be reticent to break my no-buying-spree? Because it is no longer forbidden, will I not want to shop anymore? You will be the first to know.

That said, I want to pursue the lightness of heart and soul that come from possessing little, rather than the pursuit of “not coveting”, which was one of my goals for this year. For this, I have, as one of my 22 for 2022 (that is, my rather vague list of goals for the new year, which will, eventually, give rise to some more specific resolutions and challenges) “Get off the Hedonic Treadmill”.

As I discovered that there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, the importance of studying what is working as opposed to what is not working is more effective to making my misery less potent, or as Larsen and Prizmic say, “the down-regulation of negative affect may be more important to global subjective well-being than the upregulation of positive affect”

The word mindfulness is one that keeps cropping up in all the domains of my Ideal Life. I have to believe that in this pursuit of “Getting off the Hedonic Treadmill”, or “Breaking the Cycle of the Imperfect Life,” mindfulness will be key.

I hope, in 2022 to empty out more space: in my apartment, in my closet, in my mind and in my heart. In my Ideal Life, nothing is more precious than empty space.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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