The Beauty of Simplicity
The fabric of society in supposedly civilized societies has become frayed – stretched, strained and subjected to innumerable pressures. Many of these frayings were imposed in the interest of adding value to life by increasing choices for people. This has actually diminished our quality of life and induced a mental paralysis, the result of having too many options, and too many decisions to make.
I believe in the innate power and virtue of simplicity. History’s most tragic errors and mankind’s most disastrous initiatives can be traced to conspicuous consumption and a desire for instant gratification. We have strayed from the notion of “if I work and save, perhaps someday I can own (insert commodity – a house, a car, a refrigerator, a business). These days the thought process is “I want everything, and I want it now”. The notion of what one wants, why one wants it, and what one may have to do to obtain it, is seldom considered.
Not surprisingly, conspicuous consumption and a disregard for the power of simplicity have increased people’s discontent. There is more dissatisfaction as people cease to value what they have, and covet more what they do not have.
Our lives are built around the notion that the person with the most “stuff” is the most successful. Ingenious manufacturers of “value-added” commodities have made it their business to cater to this notion, selling people on the idea that the health of the national economy depends on their continuing to spend, to choose from forty different types of coffee, eighty different kinds of cars, dozens of cell phone models, 32 flavors of ice cream, 500 cable television channels, and I don’t know how many types of computer hardware and software.
The concept is pervasive. Anyone trying to buy juice or cereal knows there must be a hundred different configurations and mixtures on the grocery shelves – some enriched with extra calcium, some with reduced sugar, some a mixture of cranberry and whatever fruit the manufacturers got a good deal on last month.
The result of this is more than an overextension of credit and unsustainable debt, which are bad enough. A more subtle attack is the one launched on our psyche. Being confronted with constant choices contributes to the stress that has become a part of our daily lives. From the time you get up in the morning to a given alarm sound to the time you choose which uniform to wear to bed, today’s consumer is in a state of near-constant dithering. Our society is more stressful when it should be more measured, more satisfying.
We overlook the virtue of simplicity – of raking leaves, reading books, having friends over to visit. Too often, what comes naturally is undervalued because it seems to come without effort. Simplification is, as one might expect, pretty simple. By moderating one’s consumption, and consuming what is needed, and by forming the habit of asking yourself “Do I really want this?”, many of our lives will be less cluttered and more fulfilling.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.