By Josh Rueff on May 23, 2013
Living a simple life – people love to talk about it, argue about it, and many country and southern rock songs have been drawled out about it.
Most of us can see the benefits of less stress and slowing down from time to time, but an entire life devoted to simplicity?
Seems weirdish. Even a little cultlike – isn’t that something the flagellating/self-starving/reclusive monks teach?
But does it work?
Is living a simple life better than what I’m doing right now?
That depends on the life you’re living, but in many cases the answer is yes – the simple life is better – it’s healthier, more enjoyable, and fulfilling in ways our modern lifestyles don’t allow. Find out how below.
Maslow and His Hierarchy
First off, let me say that living simply is not everything. An artist that starts finger painting because he wants to simplify may be driving the concept down a one way street to a cardboard home (Although it did work for Iris Scott).
Living a simple life only works if you need it. Let me explain.
Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who wrote A Theory of Human Motivation. In this book he demonstrates the stages of human growth with the hierarchy of needs below:
I can’t say that I believe this is the alpha and omega of human theory, but it’s a start, and it helps give a good visual on what most people want in life.
To get a snapshot of the problem, take a look at America – we (and most other nations) are a success driven country. Nothing wrong with that. I like success, you like success, we’re all on board. Here’s where it gets a little less pretty.
We measure our success by salary. “How can I make money?” This question is asked of the all-knowing Google 4,090,000 times every month.
Why is money the measure of success? Because of what it represents – before money existed the measure of success was how many camels, sheep, servants, and strapping sons you had. Now however, we barter and trade with money, so the more money we have, the more things we can accumulate (and the more status we earn).
Money helps fulfill just about every one of Maslow’s categories. On the lowest level it buys us food and shelter. Next up is safety, which we are all helplessly addicted to – money buys security systems, guard dogs, and even weapons. Supposedly money can’t buy love or friendship, but lots of people seem to think so, and realistically, who has a better chance of helping you, Warren Buffet or the cardboard-house finger painter?
Being able to make money builds confidence, self esteem, and in a shallow sort of way, the respect of others.
But one thing money holds little power over is the most important and highest form of human growth; self actualization. We’ll revisit that soon.
I’m not here to preach about the evils of money, in fact, I like having and making money. The question I like to ask myself though, is: “What am I giving up in my pursuit of money?”
Americans are statistically some of the most confident people in the world. We also have the fattest bottoms.
In the US, living life to it’s fullest has become living life in excess. Yes, we’re “rich” (I don’t think you really own much if you’re hundreds of thousands in debt, but that’s just me), yes we get to see lots of movies and drive fast cars and date fat women.
But what do we give up by pursuing life in excess? And it’s not just America of course.
That’s the million euro question of the day – “What does the world lose by pursuing money and life of excess?”
How Pursuing Money and Living in Excess Kills
That’s right, it kills. Not Jason Voorhees chainsaw massacre style – it’s a more subtle assassin and it kills quietly. Sometimes it’s very patient about it.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Japan’s life expectancy is 84 years. The United States is 78 (79 if you round up). The difference is in the culture. The Japanese looks down on eating in excess, in fact they only fill themselves to 80% capacity (how they know when they reach that number I have not a clue). A lot of it is “luck” (location) as well, as their diet consists primarily of fish, veggies, and rice. More on that here.
An early death is better than a long life wasted, and the most important thing money and excess kill is time.
The pursuit of money quickly becomes a embittering machine of irony when you consider what people want from money and what they often get.
When I earn money, I do it to gain the coveted items on Maslow’s happy camper list: Food, shelter, safety, self-esteem, and respect.
But every time I work to earn money, I lose time – time I could spend on even more fulfilling things: Relationships with my wife, family, friends – time enjoying activities that increase my self confidence apart from material things, and time in the highest form of human growth on Maslow’s hierarchy: Self actualization. So I sacrifice one for the other.
Time is the most valuable commodity.
I have a dilemma. I want to make money for my family and my own needs, and I want to enjoy the activities apart from money that fulfill me. But I have to choose between one or the other.
But hold on. Do I?
When I observe my actions it becomes clear that money is not the problem at all – it’s my actions and habits that kill the time needed for other areas of life.
When I work 70 hours a week, I have very little time for my wife, or myself even – I’m killing valuable time pursuing money.
On the other hand – If I spend all my time at home, I won’t make the money that helps in the areas my relationships and pastimes don’t.
So what’s the answer? Balance.
Balancing time is the answer, and most of us are far out of balance because our culture is a culture that places too much value on money and things.
This unhealthy balance leads to debt, overworking, stress, and worst of all, the killing of time in the most important areas of our lives.
That’s why living a simple life is better.
How is Living Simply Better?
A simple life is about securing simplicity. Deep I know.
Remember when I said that living a simple life only works if you need it? If you’re able to spend all the time you want with your family, wife and children – If you get all the time you want with your friends, and spend all sorts of great time in your favorite sports, hobbies, and pastimes – And if you’re able to create all the time you need for the highest rung of human growth according to Maslow: Self actualization; engaging in creative, intellectual, moral, spontaneous, and varied activity – Then congratulations, you don’t need to simplify.
For most of us, we need the balance of time that so nimbly eludes us.
Living simply, as I mentioned earlier, allows you to secure simplicity – to sever activities and habits that kill too much time and hurt the most important areas of life.
What are those activities and habits? Work is a big one. I’m all for work – fact is, I’m a bit of a strange bird in the fact that I love to work.
But how much is too much? We spend our lives sleeping, working, and dying. That’s what takes most of your time – sleeping and working – whilst your body is in the glorious throes of incremental decay. Kind of makes me hope this isn’t the only life I live. But we’ll leave the meaning of life for another day.
Cutting time from work means cutting the desire for things – what do we really need?
Simplifying my life has allowed me to work less on the things I hate, and more on the things I love. It’s allowed me to make more time for my family. It’s actually made me more productive, and helped me get more money thanks to cutting my expenses.
Living a life of simplicity produces more variety, opens up new chances for spontaneity, frees up time for family and relationships, and reduces expenses so you can accomplish more with less. Living simply can make your life full, happy, and fulfilling in every stage of human growth.
And that’s why living a simple life is better.