There is no one-size-fits-all definition of a simple life, but for me it is about uncomplicated, sustainable living. A life of happiness and intention which isn’t ruled by possessions or the expectations of others. Living a simple life is about having the time, energy, health and resources to focus on things, topics and people that matter. It’s about doing and having less, while gaining and giving more. It’s about choice, control and contentment, rather than reacting to societal pressures, norms and rampant consumerism. It’s about finding real happiness and a high quality of life.
“There is nothing that the busy man is less busy with than living: there is nothing harder to learn”Seneca
Being clear about the life you want to lead is important. Below are ways I’m working towards that simple life:
Pursuing Financial Independence
I wrote previously about answering two key questions, “what if money wasn’t a constraint” and “what if you could pursue these ambitions without the pressure of needing to work”, in my blog post Waking up! Discovering FIRE and a new sense of optimism.
The Financial Independence movement focuses on accumulating assets until the resulting passive income provides enough money to cover living expenses for the rest of your life. It’s based on a simple formula: spend less, save more, and optimize the difference. By doing so you are able to live the lifestyle you want without taking money into consideration.
For many of of us, our whole lives revolve around money. How to earn more, how to pay the bills, how to get out of debt, what happens if I lose my job, will I have enough money to pay for healthcare and retirement? Money and work dominate our daily thoughts. Imagine a life where we didn’t have to worry or think about about either. Time and the mental headspace are finite resources. We can’t get them back and they are something to treasure.
Without the complication and pressure of needing to work, life is simpler. Having the time and means to choose how you live, lets you focus on the things that really matter.
Clearly financial independence won’t happen overnight, but the journey towards that goal necessitates living a simpler and more focused life, which can only be a good thing.
Meditation and gratitude
It’s said that being grateful about the simple things will make it simpler to be happy. Being thankful and appreciative has been scientifically shown to improve psychological health and well-being, with a strong correlation to increased happiness and a reduction in depression.
To cultivate the practice of gratitude, I have been keeping a daily journal of things, people and events I’m grateful for each day. It’s a pretty simple process, where I jot down three things each night I’m thankful for. This journaling process forces you to reflect and think about the positive, and extract happiness from the little things. It also allows you to reflect, as you quickly build up a nice long list of how many good things there are in your life.
I’ve also been using the guided meditation and mindfulness app called Headspace. This is very much a learning process for me, but practicing the art of being present and taking 10 minutes a day to just breathe has been really positive.
Be physically active
Regular exercise is key to sustainable physical and mental health. You don’t have to pay for expensive gym membership, and personally I think it’s better to get outdoors.
For those that of us who spend the majority of the day sitting at their desks in front of a computer, putting some time aside to move is important. My wife and I now get up a 5am each morning a go for a walk or run (maybe more realistically a slow jog). It is a beautiful, peaceful time of day where we not only get in some exercise but get time to talk and connect.
Instead of going shopping on the weekend, consider a hike, participating in sports, or simply playing with the kids. It’s cheap and good for you.
Less is more
I’ve written about this topic recently in the The benefits of subtraction – the freedom and happiness gains fo owning less and Living with Less to Gain More. I am a firm believer in “less” being a key ingredient to living a simple, sustainable and happy life.
This reductionist mentality – focusing and enjoying the things that matter, rather than the unending pursuit of more – is also key to getting your finances under control. Keeping up with the Joneses or always needing the latest and greatest gadget is unsustainable and is the antithesis of the simple life I want to pursue.
Contemplating the Regrets of the Dying
Bonnie Ware, in her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, shared common themes that surfaced again and again in her time working as a palliative care nurse, caring for those with less than 12 weeks left to live:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
- I wish I’d had the courage express my feelings
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
- I wish that I had let myself be happier
There was no mention of earning more money, wishing that they’d be able to buy a bigger TV, live in a bigger house or get the latest iPhone. The regrets of the dying had nothing to do with obtaining wealth or money at all. Instead, when looking back on their lives, they thought about dreams unfulfilled, prioritizing work or friends and family, suppressing feelings and not realizing that happiness is a choice.
We can learn from the regrets of others and live a simpler, more fulfiled and happier life before it is too late.
Path to a simple life
A simple life isn’t one without purpose, challenge or meaning. For me, it is the opposite. Key tenets of this lifestyle are time, choice and freedom. The topics listed above all have these themes embedded in them and are not mutually exclusive. The desire for financial independence requires a rejection of thoughtless consumerism. Gratitude and happiness are intrinsically linked to being true to one’s self, connecting with others and pursing meaning.
A simple life isn’t driven or focused on money: indeed, the journey towards a better, simpler and more content life has the positive side-effect of negating the power of money over our lives and thoughts. It is a virtuous cycle of small wins, forward momentum and reinforcing positive behavior.
What is your definition of a simple life? What is working for you?
Thanks for reading
Mr Simple Life