Wherever you are in the world right now, take a minute to pause whatever you are doing and just be.
Appreciate whatever beauty is in front of your eyes. A brick building, a worn wooden table, a maple tree in your backyard, your coworker’s smile, the steam from your morning coffee.
Now focus your attention on these words. Simplicity is a gift and virtue, if only we remain conscious enough to not let it slip away. Allow me to unpack the art of living a simple life.
Are you frustrated or tired?
It happens. The wonder of life is the full range of the senses and emotions that you are gifted with, along with your capacity to grow and experience positive change over time.
But doubt and discontent can easily creep in and spoil your spirit. You become frustrated or tired and start drifting through a fog. You can easily be overwhelmed by life’s demands of providing for a family, a frenetic career, or even being shoved into ‘survival mode’ with financial, medical, or relational emergencies. “No man is an island,” says John Donne, but it can be easy to become trapped in your little bubble.
We need help and encouragement from each other, from a healthy community, while at the same time staying grounded in who we are as individuals.
The simple life.
With that being said, I have found that 4 concepts can help you live a simple life, a life where you can look back and see refined gold and vintage wine, and be content and eternally thankful. I will give practical examples of living out each concept, and I hope that they will take root and grow, and lead to fruit that can improve and brighten the lives of others. Let’s begin.
A simple life is a life of balance.
Why is it that balance is so attractive, but also incredibly subtle and underrated? It’s because like it or not, this is the way the world works. We have day and night, the four seasons, the yin and yang in eastern philosophy, equanimity from the Greek philosophers, male and female, work and leisure, and the list goes on and on. Cycles of permanence that somehow bring fresh novelty and excitement each time they roll around.
Have you ever thought about how satisfying it can be to look at balanced scales? Why do we even want to fix little things like a crooked picture frame, a squeaky bike wheel, or a dying plant? Because order is good. It is a fulfilling thing. Now everyone has different expressions of order and that’s what makes variety exciting. But remember: a simple life is a life of balance. Too much of a good thing can become bad. Everything in moderation.
“What you reap, you shall sow.” But this is fluid. You can change the course of your life at any time with your mindset and your choices.
Have you been eating too much takeout or fast food because you’re too busy with an entrepreneurial project? Do you spend too much time at work to escape what might be waiting for you at home? Do you spend too much time in solitude because you’re in pain, and you don’t think anyone will understand your situation? Are you breaking down your body with excessive and obsessive workouts? Counterbalance this by trying to cook simple meals 3 times a week. Set an alert to save your work, and shut your work computer down at 5 PM sharp. Commit to attending 1 or 2 community events a week, no matter how you feel. Fall in love with rest days when you realize that this is the only time muscles can grow. Seek the purity of simplicity by reaching for the satisfaction of balance. The upside of this sort of exercise is that it also forces you to consider how you were made, what your personality is, and what your boundaries are.
A simple life is a life of acceptance.
Feeling accepted is one of our core human needs. This starts with us though, you and me. We must accept ourselves first, as we are, and strive to grow gracefully and patiently so that we can accept others, and the hands we are dealt in life.
This skill takes discernment, though. We can easily fall into the trap of becoming limp, the stereotypical ‘go with the flow’ peace, love, and happiness Cali bro that essentially falls for everything because he stands for nothing.
Hear me out though: the opposite can be much, much more dangerous and destructive. You know what I mean — when life throws you curveballs, things don’t turn out the way you want them to, and you recoil and clench your fists in defiance. You’re at odds with your Higher Power: you want your way, and you want it now.
Maybe you get dumped by your fiancé, passed over for a promotion you’ve worked hard for, or a dream of moving abroad to another country burns to the ground (idk, maybe because of a global pandemic or something). You get the idea, fill in the blank.
Watch out! That’s when life starts getting complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. Do what you can to reach your goals and improve your life, but accept the results of what comes your way. I cannot stress this enough — acceptance is not a passive activity, it is a daily, active decision. But it is a decision that can liberate you from the past and open the door to a simple life.
A simple life is a life of gratitude.
Give thanks! Rejoice! Celebrate the accomplishments of others. Wonder and marvel at the skills and gifts of those around you, at work, or at play. A simple life is a life that dwells intently on being grateful for the many good things we’ve been given, both big and small but especially recognizing the glory in the small things.
Let’s listen to Emerson instill in us a mindset shift in taking things one day at a time, which keeps gratitude fresh and vibrant:
“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could — some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in. Forget them as fast as you can for tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well and serenely.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Whatever path you take in life, heed these words: do not lose your child-like spirit of wonder, creativity, and imagination. This spirit will shine brighter in you the older you get, simply because it becomes a rare sight to behold.
Gratitude can heal many ills. Gratitude and envy or bitterness cannot coexist. Gratitude quiets the mind and simplifies life.
A simple life is a life of self-awareness.
Finally, a simple life is a life of self-awareness. Now, this may mean different things to different people. Let me be clear: if you are naturally a reflective type, then your focus should be on using your strong self-awareness to take action. Guard yourself against the unhealthy spiral of overthinking everything. This is the very opposite of a simple life. However, if you are naturally an achieving and go-getter type, then your focus should be on pausing your strong force of action long enough to understand the ‘why’ behind your activities. This will refine your thinking well enough to define what matters the most to you, even if you still enjoy doing other things.
Self-awareness is so important because this is the very thing that will inform you of the path you are on, moment by moment. Are you grateful? Have you accepted what’s happened in your life today? Is there a healthy balance with the habits of your life?
When you are self-aware, emotions can become clear. You allow space for consideration and thought in between the ‘stimulus’ and the ‘response’. And when there is understanding in that space, you can then let go of what isn’t necessary or essential, hand over your cares to your Higher Power, and be free.
“When we are truly in this interior simplicity our whole appearance is franker, more natural. This true simplicity . . . makes us conscious of a certain openness, gentleness, innocence, gaiety, and serenity, which is charming when we see it near to and continually, with pure eyes. O, how amiable this simplicity is! Who will give it to me? I leave all for this.” — François Fénélon
The art of living a simple life is a noble pursuit. Pursue it well, love others, be patient and rejoice in the fruitfulness and peace of a simple life.