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Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable,
but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.
With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre
life than the poor.
Henry David Thoreau
Can we be happier by consuming less?
Well, many philosophers argued that a simple life is much more fulfilling than being immersed
in luxury.
By consuming less, we save money, we save energy, and, we also save the most valuable
asset we have as human beings, which is time.
This not only allows us to experience the joys of simplicity; it's also an act of
rebellion against our consumerist society.
Let's talk about this.
We buy stuff that we actually don't need, depriving ourselves of hard-earned resources
(even going into debt), only to further enrich an already wealthy minority.
It seems that many people aren't aware of the societal brainwashing that's going on,
planting a perpetual 'sense of lack' in our minds.
In other words, the nagging feeling that we aren't complete, unless...x, y, and z.
Even though the consumerist society reigns supreme in all corners of the world, the human
tendency to purchase more than needed has been subject to criticism for many ages.
Henry David Thoreau was an American philosopher who, at one point, began to pursue a simple
and self-sufficient life by retreating into the woods near Walden Pond.
He lived there in a self-built cabin for a period of two years and two months.
This life-decision was an act of resistance against society, and part of, what he called,
'civil disobedience'.
Thoreau described civil disobedience as a form of non-violent rebellion against the
government.
In his opinion, the government brings people more harm than good.
In his seclusion, he wrote his masterpiece 'Walden', in which he, among other things,
describes the joys of a simple life in the midst of nature, and how he manages to survive
with very little.
As he states and I quote:
..a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.
End quote.
Needless to say, in his solitude and through his simple lifestyle, Thoreau felt “wholesome”
which only further supports his criticism of overconsumption.
Admittingly, we need to consume to some extent.
Some things are necessary, like food and shelter, but these are relatively easy to obtain and
easy to satisfy.
I quote Epicurus on this one:
The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required
by vain ideals extends to infinity.
End quote.
So, what then, drives people to work overtime in jobs that they don't like, so they can
buy more than they actually need?
Well, most people are easily influenced by their environment.
Trends, fashion, a guy's name on their underwear…
Even though we don't need those things, companies repeatedly succeed to convince us
otherwise.
We can feel utterly content in one moment, but experience a sense of lack in the next,
because of the many voices that tell us that we need this, and that, just to conform to
the rest of the herd.
Or even worse: just so that people won't look down on us and ignore us.
I quote Stoic philosopher Seneca:
What fools these mortals be!
They allow the cheapest and most useless things, which can easily be replaced, to be charged
in the reckoning, after they have acquired them; but they never regard themselves as
in debt when they have received some of that precious commodity, – time!
And yet time is the one loan which even a grateful recipient cannot repay.
End quote.
Time is our most valuable asset, and it's running out as we speak.
We can exchange time for money, but we cannot exchange money for time.
Yet, we waste our lives in the pursuit of keeping up with the Joneses.
Or as Fight Club's main character Tyler Durden states: “...working jobs we hate
so we can buy shit we don't need.”
The consequence (and I paraphrase Durden here) is that the stuff you own ends up owning you.
It becomes a burden, a deadweight, something that costs us more than it brings us.
So, what does it bring us?
Status, respect, praise, short-term pleasure?
These things are completely beyond our control and unnecessary for experiencing contentment.
Now, the voices that tell us to consume, aren't really the problem.
These are external forces that are not up to us.
The problem lies in us allowing ourselves to be manipulated.
The root of this weakness lies in fear.
Alain de Botton describes a phenomenon of modern society called 'status anxiety'
as, and I quote, “the constant tension or fear of being perceived as 'unsuccessful'
by the society in materialistic terms.”
End quote.
So, what's the solution?
First of all, I'd say: care less about what other people think.
Friends that only accept you because of your status and material success aren't really
friends, and there's nothing to be gained by impressing people that you don't even
know, just for the sake of impressing them.
Are people ridiculing us because we don't measure up to their definition of success?
Well, that's their business; not ours.
Once we accept that our wholeness does not depend on material success, we can truly enjoy
the richness of a simple life.
As Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching once wrote: “those who know they have enough
are truly wealthy.”
End quote.
A simple life doesn't mean that we should ascetically renounce everything material.
Besides the basic necessities, there's value in things that serve us in the practical sense.
Ours is the ability to discern between necessity, practicality, and luxury, so we prevent ourselves
to become prisoners of our possessions.
Being content with little is the ultimate civil disobedience in modern times.
It loosens the grip that society has over us, by not needing what they have to offer
in exchange for our time and labor.
By owning and needing less, our existence becomes less complicated and less stressful.
A life of simplicity grants us the space to truly enjoy the time that's given to us,
to spend our time on what we deem as important, and to be in the moment which doesn't require
anything more than our attention.
As Thoreau states, and I quote:
Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify!
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Simplify, Simplify | A Philosophy of Needing Less

13 Folder Collection
jeremy.wang published on March 30, 2020
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