Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The quest for a simple life

"Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify."
Henry David Thoreau

I think one of the great problems of our time is that our lives are filled with physical and mental clutter. Every day, we face the challenge of steering a clear path through a chaotic world full of choice. It feels a bit like we're on a path sabotaged by distractions - constant, conflicting messages that hit us from a thousand angles. I think it makes our lives unnecessarily complicated.

The outside world is a huge mixing pot of clashing voices and media platforms (who do we listen to?), retail brands (what do we buy?), food that hails from every corner of the globe (what do we eat?). The internet is essentially a virtual reflection of all of this, giving us access to anything at the press of a button, and we each own at least two screens. In the midst of all this, we're left confused, stressed, unfocused, and ultimately unhappy.

I hate that feeling at the end of a long day, when I've been flicking from one tab to the next, one screen to the next, seen a million flashy adverts on these screens, and answered to (sometimes useless) conversations on every platform imaginable, before proceeding to amble down the aisles of the supermarket, disillusioned by the colours and brand names screaming for my attention. Moments like these make me feel mentally exhausted, and I think they take their toll on our general levels of concentration and calm.

Some days I feel more relaxed than others. Some days, I take things slower, multi-task less, make simpler choices. These are the better days. I think there's something inherently satisfying about being able to live simply - and no, I don't mean spending your life chewing on straw in a field (although my inner farmer loves this idea) - but just doing your best to cut away at the unnecessary detail that is so very distracting. The stuff that gets in the way of having clear head space.

For me, simple living is a work in progress - something I aspire to get better at as I go along. Having less 'stuff' is one of the things I'm working on - trying to move away from mass-manufactured junk that I don't need, and make more mindful choices when it comes to the objects I accumulate (this is a lot harder than it sounds). Food is another area where simplicity is extremely satisfying - choosing simple, seasonal and preferably local ingredients without all of the anomalies that come with pre-packaged foods.

Staying afloat of the mess that is the media can sometimes be daunting - it's easy to get overwhelmed by its often contradictory messages. I think it's important to keep a safe distance while staying informed, acknowledge that the stories we're being told aren't necessarily true - nor can they be fit neatly into boxes of 'right' or 'wrong'. This distance is what helps me stay sane, pretty much.

I also think it's highly satisfying to enjoy simple pleasures - reading books, having good conversation, sitting in nature (even if this is a small patch of grass on the corner of your street), leisurely walks. If we can do our best to block out the chaos that modern life imposes on us, I think we can work towards being happier people, and do the world a lot of good in the process.

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