Why I endeavor to live simply, and why I think it will make me happier.
I have overcomplicated my life, and I have grown accustomed to it. I didn’t know it was happening, and I still often fail to recognize it when it does. I admit, I am an addicted consumer. Maybe not in the senseless way that you’re imagining; I’m not hoarding new sneakers or amassing thousands of DVDs. But in my own way, I feel an imbalance of possessions by category: tangible vs. the intangible. The intangibles would be things like sharing a mug of champagne with my wife under the brilliant stars, deep in the desert of Big Bend National Park. Or enjoying a glass of water with ice chipped off an iceberg along the coast of Northern Newfoundland. But the more mundane, tangible side of the balance might be things like books, furniture, debt, kitchen gadgets…things. Consumerism as a measure of happiness is driven into our culture through ads, pop culture, news, and technological innovation. It’s the way of our society and you can’t help but become entangled in the web. There is a quick fix for everything, a cure to all that ails you. The faster, bigger, cheaper, newer, lighter, the better. But there is another way to live, and it doesn’t have to be extreme. We can live simpler lives that make us happier, healthier, and ultimately more successful by doing the things we love with purpose and intention. I’m not there yet, so I approach this notion with a tone of humility rather than experience. But it is my speculation that by putting emphasis on the quality of my experiences, rather than quantity of my possessions, I can maximize the potential of my time here on earth.
So what do I want to do with my life? Well, I have tons of ideas, but only time will tell which will take root. But it doesn’t matter as much what I am doing, as how I am doing it. And by this I mean that while the top of the mountain affords a beautiful view to all those who stand upon it, our individual experiences in reaching that destination will alter its perceived value accordingly. If I have planned my hike, packed my gear, prepped my food, and grunted my way to the summit, the view will be a profound reward of high value. But if a tour bus dropped me off near the peak so I could snap a quick photo with my iPad, I might value the view as nothing more than another stop along the way. The geotag on my Facebook post will say I was there at the top of the mountain, but I couldn’t tell you anything about the landscape in the photo. I’d never know how steep the last climb is, or how the cold stream in the valley will numb your toes, or how the dewy stunted pines smell as you exit the tree line. These are the intangibles; this is where the value lies. I truly believe that the extent to which we perceive happiness is directly correlated to the challenges we have overcome. By the confines of human nature, happiness is defined by its contrast from sadness and visa versa. Let us not cheapen the experience of life but instead elevate it to its greatest potential.
So if I want to simplify my life, why should I introduce new challenges or reject the comforts that seem to make life simple? Wouldn’t it be simpler to just ride the bus to the top of the mountain? To illustrate my reasoning I’ll bring an unsung hero into the limelight: our composting head (or toilet if you’re reading this from shore). Without going into explicit detail, though I promise I will in the future, the composting head is an extremely simple tool that is often perceived as overly complicated. Yes, of course it takes more effort than a quick flick of the wrist to flush your waste, and yes, I have to carry our waste off the boat. But when taken at full value this system is extremely efficient and ultimately convenient. In an ordinary household toilet we use fresh water, a limited and valuable resource, to flush our waste “away.” But where is “away?” For the end user, the process is deceptively simple, just push the lever and say goodbye to your mess. What we aren’t then seeing is the massive infrastructure, depletion of resources, and countless dollars it requires to support such convenience. With a composting toilet we must meet these realities head on. I am conscious of how much waste I am creating and how it is being disposed of. And by internalizing the waste removal process I am ensuring that the waste I do create is transformed into a state that can readily give back to the planet: compost. We must not confuse convenience with simplicity. It is convenient to use a flush toilet, but it is simple to use a composting head. In going right to the dirtiest of examples I wish to relay the sense of satisfaction that can be attained from doing things the simple way. We can find fulfillment in the reclamation of our own responsibilities and in doing so will leave a positive impact on the people and places that surround us.
Simple isn’t going to be the easiest, the fastest, or the most convenient. It isn’t going to be the most glamorous, or the most popular. But it will help to provide the intangibles, and emphasize the importance of quality above quantity. I suspect I’ll find a greater return on my investments in experiences than in my possessions, and so I am going to give it a try. In my continued effort to live with intention and purpose, I will aim to avoid swapping convenience for simplicity, and to carve out a fulfilling life with an abundance of memories which define my legacy.