“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” ~Seneca
Many of us say we want a simpler life, but we don’t make any changes because that would require us to make hard choices that go against the flow. We say we want to be less busy and enjoy more of our days, but it feels easier to do what everyone else is doing, even if it’s actually harder.
The path of least resistance is a well-paved six-lane highway that barrels forward in one direction. The constant hum of traffic tricks you into thinking it’s the best way to get where you want to go. If you’re interested in a simpler life, take the next exit because I’d like to share a new route with you.
But first, a few important questions…
Why do we accept rules, expectations, or beliefs forced on us as adults? If this comes at a cost that consumes our soul and leaves us questioning life, why do we view this as a fair trade-off?
Why do we subject ourselves to the torture of leading chaotic lives? Do we think our sacrifices are worthy and just because they’ll enable our kids to live better lives? Does our reality really reflect the life we want to pass on to our kids? Or are we passing the torch to a relay they don’t actually want to be a part of?
At some point, we forgot why we work. And the forty-hour work week is something no one questions. It is what it is. How is it that every job needs the same length of time to complete its tasks in a week?
You need to have a source of income to put a roof over your head, food in your belly, and clothes on your back. I won’t debate you on that. After we fulfill these necessities of life, we start to get lost with everything we think we need to be happy.
We live in a consumerist culture. As a result, we’ve come to believe that our wants and needs are the same thing. This requires us to make far more money than we really need for a happy life. It traps us in jobs we don’t want. And it forces us to spend our most precious resource (our time) on things that don’t make us happier.
I know, I’ve been there myself. In my mid-twenties, I was in a job I hated, living with someone who deserved better, in a city I didn’t want to be in. Rather than address the root of my unhappiness, I bought a brand-new shiny sports car. I was depressed and I wanted a car to fulfill an emotional need. Spoiler alert: All I got in return was more depression and a bank-draining monthly payment to remind me you can’t buy happiness.
I don’t want to spend my life endlessly consuming in an attempt to avoid my feelings and needs. I want to be present in every moment and enjoy as much as I can, like my niece, who’s coming up to her third birthday. She’s already the world’s greatest mindfulness teacher.
Like a penguin marching through the Antarctic, she waddles forward with purpose. She stops to let that grass tickle her toes. She laughs as the feeling of a breeze kisses her cheeks. She is present with every ounce of her being. I’m with her, but a moment before I’m whisked away by the thought of upcoming projects and emails I “need” to respond to.
Modern society squashes the whimsical out of you like a fat June bug under a careless foot. The decades of school and meaningless work are like buckets of water drowning a campfire. Only the embers remain. The fire that burned within your soul waits for oxygen to stoke it back to life.
To reach the simple life you have to make the hard choice to carve your own path. It’s that voice that says don’t settle and points you in the opposite direction of everyone else. It’s the words of Dr. Seuss who urges, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”
Getting started with a simpler life doesn’t require anything you don’t already have. It only requires you to focus on everything worth appreciating in your life as it is right now.
The purí tribe lived along the northern coast of South America and in Brazil. Philosopher Henry David Thoreau modeled his life after their ability to live simply, present, and fulfilled. Their way of living was in the presence they gave each moment: “For yesterday, today, and tomorrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday, forward for tomorrow, and overhead for the passing day.”
While we can’t all uproot our lives and live in the woods like Thoreau, and modern life is decidedly more complicated than life in the time of the purí, their commitment to presence offers a simple solution to the chaos of an ever-connected life.
By doing less and being more engaged in everything we do, we’re able to enjoy our lives now instead of waiting and hoping we’ll find happiness and fulfillment sometime in the future, when we’ve accomplished or earned enough.
But this requires us to tune out the noise of the world, an ever-present buzzing that drowns out the voice of our soul as the years add up.
As a kid, that voice whispered to us about exploration and adventure. We were driven by curiosity and refused to be idle.
Everything was exciting.
Everything was magical.
Everything was a gift.
Living this kind of life comes back to our ability to be present like the purí tribe.
It’s in these moments of presence that we get a chance to listen and hear what our soul is saying. We know deep down that material things will not make us happier. We know deep down that all the promotions in the world will not fill the void of missing out on life. We know deep down that the rat race is a game we don’t need to be a part of.
Being present with these uncomfortable feelings is the beginning of a new and rich life.
Left unchecked the rat race crushes your soul like the grass beneath an elephant stampede. This way of living is toxic for the mind, body, and soul. It’s a disease that fills you with stress, destroys your family, and gives you little to hope for.
This is the reality I was facing when I was forty pounds heavier and had hit rock bottom with my mental health. I often found myself drinking with the hope that I wouldn’t wake up.
It wasn’t until I was present with this pain that I could see that I needed help. And it wasn’t until I faced my feelings that I was able to strip away the things that didn’t fulfill me so I could make space to enjoy the now.
If you’re living like I once did—distracting yourself from your discontent and missing out on your life as a result—know that things don’t have to continue this way.
At any time, you can choose to be honest with yourself, let go of the things that drain your spirit, and allow yourself to find joy in the simplicity of the now.
At any time, you can tune into life’s simple pleasures—the excitement of your dog’s wagging tail, the unexpected smile of a passing stranger, or the way your son’s eyes light up when he smiles—and recognize that this is happiness. And It’s available at any time if you’re not too busy or caught up in your head to appreciate it.
The purí tribe would point overhead to the passing day as a reminder that this is the only day we have. There’s no sense looking backwards unless that’s the direction you want to go. Each and every day carries a new opportunity to be present and live a rich life.