This is week fifteen of the Season on Flourishing.
In a world which is overly busy, it is worth reflecting on how little we actually need to be happy. This is a common theme, even a cliche, but it is not thereby wrong. Perhaps it is so common precisely because the problem it addresses is so pervasive. We really can reap great benefits from living, if not like Buddhist monks, at least a little more simply.
I think simplicity is often misunderstood. It is about being happier by focusing on what you actually need and not being distracted by extraneous things. Simplicity is not the enemy of success (see Cicero as an example). Simplicity isn’t about eating buckwheat for every meal and never watching T.V. (though Epicurus did famously say that with a crust of bread and a glass of water he could rival Zeus himself for happiness). Simplicity is about recognizing what is essential and what is merely nice. It is about cultivating an attitude where you can appreciate the finer things of life but are not dependent upon them. It is about self-sufficiency, about being content and unfazed by most (if not all) of the vicissitudes of life.
● For a quick introduction to Stoicism, an ancient philosophy centered around simplicity, listen to the Philosophy Bites podcast on the topic.
● If you want to try out Stoicism for yourself, take part in Stoic Week. Do it with them (at the end of November), or do it with us this week (or do it both times). Also, check out the rest of the website. It has some great stuff on it.
● With all this talk of Stoicism, I must point out it’s much-slandered contemporary, Epicureanism. Personally, I find Epicureanism offers a more compelling picture of how life works, though it has not had Stoicism’s historical staying power. Read Epicurus’ “Letter to Menoeceus.” It is an excellent introduction to his philosophy and a must-read for anyone interested in simplicity as a way of life.
● For a related, though somewhat different approach to living simply, check out the modern Voluntary Simplicity movement.
● For a scholarly take on the (modern) history of the idea of simple living, read The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture by David Shi.
● Listen to the old Shaker spiritual “Simple Gifts.” It is a beautiful song with a beautiful message.
● Read Walden by Henry David Thoreau. It is a classic text about one man’s experience living simply.
● While much of this week has been focused on not needing things, take some time also to appreciate a thing you have. Once we have things, we usually move on and take them for granted, but think back to how you felt when you wanted it and when you first got it. Try to see it that way again. Notice it and appreciate it. To help in that endeavor, meditate on this insightful Calvin and Hobbes comic.
● Get rid of some of your unnecessary stuff. Donate it to a thrift store. One person’s burdensome junk is another’s useful tool.
● Share your experiences this week with a friend. Letting go is easier with support and you’ll be introducing them to a valuable idea.
Have other ideas for how to celebrate Simplicity Week? Comment and let us know!