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Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand: What Matters in Life?

By: Bridgette W. Gottwald, LPC, NCC

You’re probably wondering how on earth rocks, pebbles and sand have anything to do with what matters in life. It turns out that these elements and what they represent are relevant to mental health, too. Go figure! This lesson by a professor might surprise you and make you healthily reflect upon your own life. 

A philosophy professor stood before his class and picked up a large, empty mayonnaise jar which he proceeded to fill with rocks. He asked his students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was, so the professor picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar.

He shook the jar lightly and the pebbles rolled into open areas between the rocks. He asked again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. 

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it in and the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous yes. 

The Rocks 

“Now,” said the professor, “This jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children–things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full – the important stuff.  

The Pebbles

The pebbles are the other things that matter…like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else, the really small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important and that truly matter.

The Rest is Just Sand

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children and spend time with your family and loved ones. Take time to get checkups. Take your partner out dancing. Commit to date night. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, and fix the disposal. Take care of the rocks first — the things that matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

A Final Thought

The professor produced two cans of beer and poured them into the jar, filling the empty space between the sand. The Professor then said, “No matter how full your life is, there is always room for fun and a few beers.” If you feel as if you’ve forgotten how to have fun, and you’ve gotten bogged down in work, or some of the less important things in life, don’t forget to engage in the aspect of play. Us therapists define play as intentionally wasting time – allowing oneself to engage in an aimless and purposeless activity. For example, this could look like running in circles in the yard with your dog, dancing to music, counting clouds in the sky with your child, etc. Often, the simplest moments can be the most meaningful and memorable. 

If you’re having trouble distinguishing or developing the rocks, pebbles, and sand in your life it isn’t too late. A therapist can help you determine what your values are, what matters most in life and how to tend to it. We all go through hard times, and a strong support network is what gets us through – these are your rocks. Give us a call at Symmetry Counseling (312-578-9990) today to get matched with one of our talented therapists in Chicago

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