Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more; seeing less so I can see more; doing less so I can do more; acquiring less so I can have more.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn –
Every week I speak and work with people who have “made it” in a material sense. They have acquired the things we have been brainwashed to perceive as the cause of happiness: cars, aeroplanes, houses, exotic holidays, “designer-label” clothes, watches and jewellery. Yet, in spite of this material wealth, many feel kind of empty or suspect that there must be something more.
Our education system is not there to serve your desire for a happy, meaningful and creative life. So we are not taught the things that would show us how to live in that way. For most, the education system is just sufficient to make us into malleable obedient citizens (with a limited capacity for critical thinking), good employees and good consumers. As soon as we finish our education we are inducted into a life of compulsive frenetic activity and the never ending accumulation of “stuff”. Many will bribe, cheat and steal to achieve status with no thought for the suffering it might cause. Thus, we spend our lives dashing from place to another, acquiring one thing after another. We have been brainwashed to believe that our value depends on things. We focus on what we do and what we have instead (more importantly) on who we are. We look for validation, meaning, satisfaction and happiness outside of ourselves. Ironically these things that we seek are already within us. Our work is simply to learn how to get out of our own way and experience it.
The results of this way of living (in our consumerist, egocentric society) are all around us and include such aspects as: terrible inequality giving rise to needless suffering; wars, man-made global warming, xenophobia, unhappiness and the destruction of the only planet we have. People who already have way more than they need or could ever use in a lifetime, continue in an unconscious autopilot mode, accumulating more and more, pumping up their egos whilst making themselves and many others unhappy in the process.
The stakes are big; we are not talking just about your personal happiness but also the future of our species and planet. So what can you do?
Voluntary Simplicity/Simple living
Simple living is a way of living that cuts through the belief that to be happy and successful, we need to live a “frenetic always distracted” life that is filled with fast-paced work, stress, conspicuous consumption, the pursuit of material wealth and external recognition for its own sake.
Voluntary simplicity is a way of life that rejects the high-consumption, materialistic lifestyles of our consumer culture and affirms a simpler and more meaningful life. The rejection of consumerism arises when we realise that our predominantly western-style consumption is ruining our only home, Earth. Lives of high consumption are clearly unethical in a world of great human need. The meaning of life is not simply to consume and accumulate an excess of material things. Extravagance and acquisitiveness are in reality an ignorant, unfortunate waste of one’s life and not worthy of the social status and admiration they currently attract. The affirmation of simplicity arises from the recognition that very little is needed to live well – The rich man is not the man who has a lot but rather the man who needs little. Abundance is a state of mind, not an accumulation of material things, which simply leads to a desire for even more material things. Personal and social progress is measured not by the conspicuous and cheesy display of wealth or status, but by increases in the quality and richness of daily living, the cultivation of our relationships, and the development of the intellectual and spiritual aspects of ourselves. Attributes of the simple life include: a reverence and respect for nature; a desire for self-sufficiency; a commitment to mindful rather than conspicuous consumption; putting creativity and contemplation over possessions; a bias towards minimalism and functionality. It arises when we make ourselves individually and jointly responsible for the intelligent use of our planet’s resources for the benefit of all beings.
Duane Elgin (a prominent proponent of voluntary simplicity) has defined simple living as; ‘a manner of living that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich; a deliberate choice to live with less in the belief that more life will be returned to us in the process.’
If we want to change the world then we must stop feeling that we are doing our part by simply recycling our rubbish. We must become the change that we want to see.