Simplicity - or how to find happiness (LebensLiebe episode 11)
A very warm welcome to LebensLiebe by Martina Dopfer – your podcast & blog for living, laughing, and loving.
This blog summarizes the first English episode of LebensLiebe and looks at simplicity and the art of living a simple life.
In this blog you will learn how simplicity can bring more quality into your life through…
….sharing and connecting with others;
…clearing out your closet;
…connecting with nature.
Simplicity in theory
This week I have been thinking a lot about simplicity. I think, simplicity is deeply connected to gratitude. And there is so much we can be grateful for, right? However, sometimes I think about all those things I am grateful for and notice, too, that there is almost too much I feel responsible for. I am very much aware of the fact that we all have different notions of possessing too much or too little. Yet, the topic of simplicity in life has been a lot on my mind and as I started doing my research on it I noticed a lot of people are currently debating a simple life and how to live it.
I found designers, artists, entrepreneurs, bloggers, travelers to describe their notions of simplicity in books, articles, and blogs. Today, I would love to add my thoughts to theirs a little and really, I hope that you are up for sharing your thoughts in the topic with me, too. Maybe share them in the comments on iTunes or SoundCloud, or on my Facebook page or just direct message me. I would love to hear more.
So what does simplicity really mean?
When you check out academia, you will find quickly find the so-called simplicity principle, which is being applied by informatics, mathematics, programming, and decision theory. This principle or law is also called Occam`s Razor. The idea is that our mind chooses the most simple, possible interpretation of an observation of the real world. In other words, we act and decide based on the easiest option that arises in our mind based on a particular situation. Those perceptions can also be considered minimalizations of how we perceive the world and minimizations of the potential of our decisions. At the same time, Occams Razor basically says: The most simple and minimal option for decision is the best.
Now it is up to you to decide, whether you want to agree with that or not. I suppose, the application of Occam's Razor works for you because our brain is constantly overloaded. We think a lot, we take in 1.000 of impressions from computers, smart phones, people around us, and only rarely we give ourselves the time to calm down. More so, we rarely create the spaciousness in our minds that we would actually need sometimes.
I want to be totally honest: I really struggle to think and act simply all the time. I tend to overthink things. I lie in bed and listen to my mind chattering, I prepare decision lists before I go for a decision. Yet, in the end, most of my decisions truly come from the belly and base a lot more on intuition and trust than on rational thought.
The question that pops to my mind therefore is: Is there – maybe, just maybe – a chance to connect more with our intuition? I am actually persuaded that there is a chance to fully tap into this potential of simplicity which allows for relaxation, space, and lightness.
Relaxation through simplicity
You have probably heart about Henry David Thoreau, the great American traveller searching for the meaning of life. His search brought him into the woods of Massachusetts, where the 27 year old man stayed in his self-constructed hut for two years. He did so because he wanted to connect with life itself. He wanted to get more in touch with his thoughts and his surroundings.
The result of his time out is a wonderful book called “Walden or life in the woods” which some declare to be the ultimate guide to a happy life. The book summarizes Thoreau`s insights on a simple life.
To me, one of the most striking quotes from this book is:
“Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.”
Apart from society, Thoreau found time for himself. It was then that je noticed how much space for thought the simply life creates. He found this kind of simple life in a self-constructed hut, which merely provided for his basic needs. And yet, it was there, where Thoreau got the chance to connect with his higher self and nature at the same time. He found a reason for his existence in exactly that connection.
I often talk to people about the meaning of life. Not seldom I notice that many people don`t even pose this question to themselves. And you know what: I actually don`t think that`s a bad thing. For years, I have been cracking my mind about this question and thanks to my background as a researcher I truly believed that there is that ONE single path in life that we have to go to find the meaning of our life.
Today, I would rather argue that mere thinking and following strategic procedures is not it. Instead, we should just do – that is, think less, do more, and focus on the simple things.
Similar to the people in 1865, we hear increasingly more about people quitting society and moving to the wilderness. They pursue the idea of an autonomous life and build them self autonomous houses in nature – for instance. I suppose, this is them expressing their deep wish of disconnecting from the noise of society in order to be able to listen more to their inner being.
Because in addition to the time to reflect, nature seems to give those people something else, too: Silence. They find silence.
I remember a young writer who wrote about her past months of travelling the Canadian wilderness. She reported of the noise – the loud voices in her head at the beginning of her journey. Even though she was out and about, she just couldn`t find peace. Instead, her many thoughts took all her energy. The chattering mind took over for a while. Over time, the could let go of one thought after another, and it was then that silence moved into her body and mind. In other words, her simple life in nature allowed her to find relaxation and connection.
A lot of noise in our heads arises from sentences like „you have to…“ or „you must…“ You have to have or achieve certain things… you have to be a certain someone, get a particular role…. Etc. You have to basically fit into the system to be understood and accepted by society.
I am totally sure that „you have to“ is not necessarily a recent phenomenon. I am sure it has created noise in our heads throughout human history. Otherwise, people in the 19th century wouldn’t have responded to Thoreau`s history as strongly as they have to. Even today, his story inspires to re-think our world of consumption and capitalism.
Maybe the true question today therefore is: How much of what we have to we really need? How many of your possessions make us happy?
Less is more: Sharing economy
We are living in the time of the so-called sharing economy. It is part of our daily life. In many areas of life, sustainable behavior is being expected and the idea of less is more is being discussed on a regular basis (and not only among us hippies and yogis).
The sharing economy evolved from the idea that we all possess things that we do not necessarily use all the time. Let’s take the car as an example: Maybe you have a car, maybe you are a member of a car sharing community. Who possesses a car knows that it causes regular costs like insurance, service, gas etc. We have to cover those costs whether we use our car or not. Yet, often our car is just standing around – if you live in a city like Berlin as I do most of my time, your car sometimes stands in its parking lot for several days. The fixed costs, however, have to be paid anyways.
As the user of a car sharing offer you profit from the fact that you only have to pay for real time usage. If you don’t drive, you don’t pay. Consequently, the basic idea of the sharing economy is to share goods, which we need, however, we don’t use them all the time.
Digital media like apps and platforms facilitate this kind of sharing. They create trust in the community and help everyone to profit by saving money, time, and gaining flexibility. In the end, the sharing economy creates a new appreciation of sharing as value add for everyone. It also helps to answer that question: How much do I really need? Do I need a car or am I actually ok with public infrastructures and sharing offers?
Naturally, answering those questions depends a lot on where you live. If you live in a place with no public transport or in a rural area where you rely on your car for almost everything, your answer to that question will be very different from a person living in the Big Apple or Berlin.
We notice our place of living has a huge impact on what we need. But I would like to argue that the simple thought of conscious sharing is a beautiful reminder of what you really need, or what you could share, maintain, and acquire jointly with others. I think it is also a wonderful way of getting on touch with others, of helping out, and of improving each other`s lives quality.
1: Re-think your notion of sharing
Therefore, my first advice for you today is as follows.
How much of what you have in daily life do you really need? Which things could you easily share with others? Maybe there is a chance for you to make your life and that of others better? Maybe there are entirely new chances for you to interact with others?
Hunters and gatherers
Humans evolved as hunters and gatherers. Initially, hunting and gathering was a survival mechanism. Humans have come to collect things to create increasingly more comfort. Hunting ensured food and warm clothing. Even today the gathering of beautiful and apparently useful things for our cave is part of our daily lives. Yet, I argue that a lot of the collecting is more a holding on to things that become a burden over time.
I often talk about possessions with others and notice my own astonishment. Because I very much differ from others with my constant fear of having too much. I hate it when my fridge or my drawers are too full. I don’t like wasting food and too much clothing confuses me. And I have a feeling that I know where this is coming from.
I totally decent from a family of hunters and gatherers. While the things we had were really appreciated and taken care of in my home, throwing stuff away was very much despised, too. My grandfather basically detested capitalism by declaring that everything can be repaired and nothing ever had to go. This led to a basement filled with things that we might need again at some point in the future (but honestly, would you use 30 year old skis?). We ironically call this basement the museum today.
Naturally, I have to keep in mind that my grandparents experienced a war and were part of a generation that had to rebuild an entire country. They did so with all their energy and the live my generation can lead today is greatly owned to them. For that I am very grateful. And yet, there are certainly things that I think, we have to let go off ourselves.
My many stays abroad were a similar reminder of simplicity to me. Every time I moved to another country for a while, I told myself to move lightly. Before doing so, I also always cleaned out my apartment and got rid off many things with the thought: Thanks for having been my companion. Now go out and make someone else happy. This was an incredibly releasing feeling.
Having arrived with light luggage at the new place then, certainly made me miss some things. But at the same time, I always really enjoyed the new space that I had created for myself.
Two years ago I arrived in California with 1 big and 1 empty small suitcase. After unpacking most of my drawers stayed empty. Suddenly, there was so much space for new thoughts and ideas – for a new me.
I would like to think that full drawers and cases overload me since they don’t give much space for my creative me. If every corner of your life is packed, where is the space for your true you? Where is the space for the true you of tomorrow or the day after? Where is the space to reinvent yourself?
2: Clean out your closet and create space for the true you
Create space for the amazing you of tomorrow. Look around in your apartment and ask yourself: Do I need this particular object – may it be a piece of furniture, decoration, or else. In addition, ask yourself looking at a particular object: What does this do to me? Am I happy about it? Or do I feel some heaviness when I look at this object? If you feel that an object releases feelings of weight, maybe you are ready to let it go.
One really important thing I would like to add to that: Just because you decide to let go of things, you do not have to throw everything away. Maybe you organize a swapping party for your friends. Or you give those things away for free online and make a stranger happy.
True happiness for the small things
I am 33 and most of my girl friends have kids. Many of our conversations circle around possessing and simplicity.
When I was kid living outside of the city I used to go for a lot of walks. The first blossoms in spring were a wonderful reminder for the life coming back after winter. Sometimes then I took a small stone with me as a reminder for the change of season and a reminder for the life that is constantly evolving around us. As a kid I did those things without much thinking. The longer I live in the city, the less I think about stones as reminders. But until this day there is a stone on my desk, which I took with from one of my most challenging hiking tours in the Bavarian alps.
I also used to pick up the first chestnut – and actually I do this to this day. I don’t even remember when, but as a kid my mum told me that the first chestnut is a lucky charm. So now, I don’t keep the first chestnut any more, but give it to the person next to me at this point as a lucky charm. The chestnut is a similarly nice reminder of the changes and seasons of life. In fall, the entire world prepares for an ending and a new start. The nature smells like mushrooms and earth, the trees change their colours, and the entire landscape is fired up with beauty.
Taking this kind of beauty in, being able to become part of it, and noticing its messages is a holy blessing to me. It cant be bought and it cant be sold. But if it could, I don’t think it would hold the same meanging for me. Because it is also this deep connection with nature that withholds so much energy and happiness for me.
Thoreau says that he met himself in the arms of mother nature. We all live as a part of nature, which is so generous, so giving.
When I talk to young mothers, we often speak about this innocent happiness of discovery in children. The question that naturally comes up in these conversation is: How much do we really need to give our children? How much is already provided? How much do we need to buy them?
It is then when most young parents confess that they feel much of what makes children happy is already out there. In fact, kids are a lot better than we as grown ups to appreciate, to see, and to embrace. It is them who reminds us that there is so much happiness in small things like a stone or a chestnut, if we are just ready to see through the eyes of a child.
That is simplicity in it’s purest form. It is the simple act of discovering beauty in the small things that surround us every day.
I thank you very much for having been with me today.
I hope you will enjoy embracing simplicity in your life, too.
Love and light***
Some links that might be interesting:
The simplicity principle in perception and cognition
Listen to this podcast episode.