Live simply, find happiness; what adds up to a great life
What one would say is a wasted life, another would call spectacular, is a reflection that’s been on my mind lately, but something I’ve always believed in since I was a kid in school, trying to make sense of the world.
It came to the forefront of my mind with an excerpt I read by Annie Dillard:
There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.
A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet.
Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.
A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one. But who would not call Pasteur’s life a good one, or Thomas Mann’s?
Louis Pasteur, a French chemist and microbiologist, made life-altering discoveries on his way to becoming known as “the father of microbiology and immunology”. On the grand scale, his life was simple but remarkable. He changed the world. And then shrink that scale of what he achieved into the day-to-day routine he had to achieve what he did, and we may have deemed it undesirable. Doing research every day, for hours, is not something most people would constitute a quality or thrilling life.
Life needn’t be complex; we often make it unnecessarily so. As I’ve shifted to being more secure in who I am and the life I want to create, I’ve noticed a background sense of safety in living simply and to my needs. Around the obligations of my job, I like to spend hours of my day simply writing in innumerous forms: taking meaningful notes as I read. Writing to you about what I discovered about life. Exploring the art of digital communication. Tweeting transient snippets of anything I find interesting at the moment.
I also love working out and riding my bike—not for the sake of training, but for the sake of therapy. And teaching people about how or what or why to exercise. I also love staring at things in detail. And improving my financial and logistical security.
It’s all Maslow: I’m in love with the practice of living a simple and secure life through the things that give me basic logistical and psychological safety.
People may see my life as boring—yet surprisingly thrilling after a few years; I’m exhibiting a serendipitous life led by health, wealth, and happiness. I’m surrounded by amazing people who want to do good and improve. I’m engulfed in the brains of many great thinkers and writers. I’ve broken through time and space to converse with those not here today.
Another example: people may look at a gardener hobbyist and think it seems tedious to garden all day. But if you reconfigure your stance on it, you can see it adding up to something more meaningful than that. Imagine being immersed in nature, inundated in its fragrance. Distilling the power and energy it has to offer. Being familiar with its inhabitants—the microscopic cultures and lives we forget about. The entropy of life and death, many times over. It’s filled with minutiae that I’m just too inexperienced to see. And maybe that’s what it is that clouds us. Inexperience.
Another I like to think of is someone who walks as a hobby. I’m in and out of this one. To others, spending two, three, or four hours walking is a dull day. But over time, it accumulates into a fascinating life. You become an observer of your region. You become attentive to your four selves. You acknowledge the sheer variance of daily life that goes on around you. Seeing new things get built, new people and encounters, hidden gems you never would have known about otherwise. I was taken back in shock, recently, by the realisation that I’d never experienced as much of the beauty of where I live—until I started walking. You could write a book with all the information and learnings you soak up on a walk.
The most valuable skill you can acquire as a human is the ability to help yourself—as a prerequisite—and other people feel safe. That requires an open and attentive understanding of each others’ needs and a genuine commitment to their lived experience. If you don’t feel safe, anxiety will bleed through. You’ll project things onto other people, and the things you care most about (relationships, craft, ambitions) will be tainted.
There is something magical about architecting solutions to problems out of energy. And I encourage it in everyone I meet. While I used to think that simple living was the opposite of happiness and art, I now believe that it can be what makes good art possible.
P.S.: Sorry it’s late.