Voluntary Simplicity – The Path to Happiness?

Many people, over the course of their life and careers, lost sight of what truly matters and what they truly value.  If we prioritize our lives by putting those things that have the most value and meaning at the top of the ladder that is when we can truly find happiness.  What it comes down to, in the scheme of things, is finding out what you really can’t live without and deciding what you can.

I’ve been speaking and writing for quite some time about the need to stop and look at your life, determine what’s important to you, and design a life in support of your values and beliefs.

Some people have a mistaken impression of that suggestion. They ask me: “David, what do you expect me to do? Quit my job, remove myself from the rat race, turn off all technology, sell all of my material possessions, move to a farm in South Dakota, and live off the land?”

Of course I’m not advocating those things. I am simply suggesting that, over time, many of us lose sight of those things that we value most deeply. It isn’t until we design our lives and lifestyles around those beliefs – when we prioritize the things we value the most at the top of our lists – the we truly find happiness and fulfillment.

It isn’t a stretch to know that Money Will Never Make You Happy. Many of us have come to learn that one the hard way. Penelope Trunk, the Brazen Careerist (I love her writing), says it takes only $40,000 per year to make you happy. Only $40K? That’s right. Once you’ve met your basic needs – yes, needs (I know most of us aren’t accustomed to thinking this way) – incremental increases have little affect on your happiness.

But living on $40,000 does sound like you’re destined to live a life of frugality, if not poverty. Isn’t that what voluntary simplicity is all about?

People choose to live a simple life for any number of reasons, ranging from the ecological, health, and spiritual, to the social, ethical, and political.

For whatever reason one opts for a simpler existence, there’s more to choosing a simpler life than downsizing and deprivation.

One thing is for sure: The simple life is not all that simple. According to The Simple Living Network, “Many, diverse expressions of simplicity of living are flowering in response to the challenges and opportunities of our times”. They list 10 different approaches to simplicity:

  1. Choiceful Simplicity: Choosing our path through life consciously, deliberately, and of our own accord. As a path that emphasizes freedom, a choiceful simplicity also means staying focused, diving deep, and not being distracted by consumer culture.
  2. Commercial Simplicity: There is a rapidly growing market for healthy and sustainable products and services of all kinds. When the need for a sustainable infrastructure in developing nations is combined with the need to retrofit and redesign the homes, cities, workplaces, and transportation systems of “developed” nations, then it is clear that an enormous expansion of highly purposeful economic activity will unfold with a shift toward sustainability.
  3. Compassionate Simplicity: to feel such a sense of kinship with others that we “choose to live simply so that others may simply live.” A compassionate simplicity means feeling a bond with the community of life and drawn toward a path of reconciliation.
  4. Ecological Simplicity: To choose ways of living that touch the Earth more lightly and that reduce our ecological footprint.
  5. Elegant Simplicity: The way we live our lives represents a work of unfolding artistry. An elegant simplicity is an understated, organic aesthetic that contrasts with the excess of consumerist lifestyles.
  6. Frugal Simplicity: By cutting back on spending that is not truly serving our lives, and by practicing skillful management of our personal finances, we can achieve greater financial independence.
  7. Natural Simplicity: To remember our deep roots in the natural world. It means to experience our connection with the ecology of life in which we are immersed and to balance our experience of the human-created environments with time in nature.
  8. Political Simplicity: Organizing our collective lives in ways that enable us to live more lightly and sustainably on the Earth which, in turn, involves changes in nearly every area of public life — from transportation and education to the design of our homes, cities, and workplaces.
  9. Soulful Simplicity: To approach life as a meditation and to cultivate our experience of intimate connection with all that exists.
  10. Uncluttered Simplicity: Taking charge of a life that is too busy, too stressed, and too fragmented. An uncluttered simplicity means cutting back on trivial distractions, both material and non-material, and focusing on the essentials.

It all makes sense, but that’s quite a lot to accomplish all at once. When it comes to simplifying my life, I have to keep things simple.

I straightforwardly and consciously have to determine what’s really important to me, what’s really enough, and what I can do without – and that includes people, places, situations, and things in my life.

Thanks to Melanie Rimmer of Bean Sprouts for including this post in her Festival of Frugality.

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