Living Simply, or Less is More
Living in America is a unique experience. We are possibly the ultimate land of plenty. Food is abundant. Energy is relatively cheap. There are jobs, houses, clean water, clean air, almost every where you look. Seen on the whole, it really is the good life.
Then why are people here hungry? Why are they so poor they can't have even the most basic of shelter? Why are folks so angry that they will kill and loot when presented with the opportunity? Why does "to consume" rise up as the highest form of civic duty? How can so much stuff lead to such empty lives--debt, depression, divorce, death, lots of bad "d" words.
I can't say that I am immune to the American drive to have. I have a modest house, but do have 3 cars, a bunch of instruments, hundreds of CDs, lots of stuff. I catch myself wondering if my wife and I could really try to raise a couple of kids in our house (none yet, just planning) when I'm sure there have been numerous families in this house in the 50 years since it was built. So I'm as much guilty as the next person. Is it enough that my things tend towards the smaller, modest side?
I find that as I get older (a long way to go still, 32 as of this writing) the stuff we gather seems to be of less importance. Or more clearly, having less, smaller stuff seems to be of more importance. Focusing in on the key stuff, and discarding the rest. Being a conspicuous non-consumer. With less things comes less worry, and more time for life and enjoyment. That seems to be a reasonable goal to me. I'll never be driven to make lots of money, but I am finding myself driven to figure out what I really enjoy, and finding ways to make those things an integral part of my life. Most are cheap or free, like hiking, playing music with good friends, meeting a friend for a beer, laughing with my wife.
I drive a small car, cheap to run and buy. My house is small, certainly by modern standards. Even my classic car is an inexpensive, small Triumph. Less just seems cleaner somehow, less compromised. Want less, and you can have what you want. This is something I struggle with, even while having seen the benefits. But the struggle is worth it.
The huge mansions they build now, the monster trucks, the brashness of it all disgusts me. We seem to have what we can, not what we need, or even what we really even want when we know what that even is. I don't expect folks here in the US to live like lots of the world's population, with only a few possessions in a one room hut where lucky. But a refocusing on smallness would free up so many lives from the empty pursuit of more. That's the ultimate unobtanium, after all, since there is always more, well, more.
I'm a big believer that happiness is a choice. Bad happens, as does misery. But over all, I believe that a person chooses how they ultimately respond to the world. Things do not bring happiness--it is not a goal to achieve or a state to buy up into. You simply are or are not happy. It is as easy and complicated as that. I certainly don't mean to imply any great mastery of this myself, but in a moment of clarity while in college I saw the potential and dropped out of the computer science program and into music, one of my proudest moments.
So have more less. Happiness is worth that much.
September 2, 2005