Simple Living has an article by Duane Elgin on the simple life. He points out that most people are not choosing to live more simply from a feeling of needing to sacrifice and have less, but because they are seeking deeper sources of satisfaction than are being offered by our highly stressed, "consumption-obsessed" society. He says that real incomes have doubled in the U.S. in the past generation, but that the percentage of the population reporting they are very happy has remained unchanged at roughly 1/3 of the population. Divorce rates have doubled and teen suicide rates have tripled. So a whole generation has been raised in an affluent society and has discovered that affluence does not create happiness. Duane says that in the search for a more satisfying life, millions of people are not only "downshifting" (pulling back from the rat race), they are also "moving ahead into a life that is, though materially more modest, rich with family, friends, community, creative work in the world, and a soulful connection with the universe."
So this is what I would like for the new year: a life that is rich with family, friends, community, creative work, and a soulful connection with the universe. Simplicity. So here are Duane's ten different approaches to thriving in a "garden of simplicity. "
1. Choiceful Simplicity: Simplicity means 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. It means consciously organizing our lives so that we give our "true gifts" to the world -- which is to give the essence of ourselves. As Emerson said, "The only true gift is a portion of yourself."
2. Commercial Simplicity: Simplicity means there is a rapidly growing market for healthy and sustainable products and services of all kinds -- from home-building materials and energy systems to foods. 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: Simplicity means 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 -- with other species and future generations as well as, for example, between those with great differences of wealth and opportunity. A compassionate simplicity is a path of cooperation and fairness that seeks a future of mutually assured development for all.
4. Ecological Simplicity: Simplicity means to choose ways of living that touch the Earth more lightly and that reduce our ecological footprint. An ecological simplicity appreciates our deep interconnection with the web of life and is mobilized by threats to its well-being (such as climate change, species-extinction, and resource depletion). It also fosters "natural capitalism" or economic practices that value the importance of natural eco-systems and healthy people for a productive economy, from local to global.
5. Elegant Simplicity: Simplicity means that the way we live our lives represents a work of unfolding artistry. As Gandhi said, "My life is my message." In this spirit, an elegant simplicity is an understated, organic aesthetic that contrasts with the excess of consumerist lifestyles. Drawing from influences ranging from Zen to the Quakers, it celebrates natural materials and clean, functional expressions, such as are found in many of the hand-made arts and crafts from this community.
6. Frugal Simplicity: Simplicity means that, 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. Frugality and careful financial management bring increased financial freedom and the opportunity to more consciously choose our path through life. Living with less also decreases the impact of our consumption upon the Earth and frees resources for others.
7. Natural Simplicity: Simplicity means 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. It also means to celebrate the experience of living through the miracle of the Earth's seasons. A natural simplicity feels a deep reverence for the community of life on Earth and accepts that the non-human realms of plants and animals have their dignity and rights as well the human.
8. Political Simplicity: Simplicity means 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. The politics of simplicity is also a media politics as the mass media are the primary vehicle for reinforcing -- or transforming -- the mass consciousness of consumerism. Political simplicity is a politics of conversations and community that builds from local, face-to-face connections to networks of relationships emerging around the world through the enabling power of television and the Internet.
9. Soulful Simplicity: Simplicity means to approach life as a meditation and to cultivate our experience of intimate connection with all that exists. A spiritual presence infuses the world and, by living simply, we can more directly awaken to the living universe that surrounds and sustains us, moment by moment. Soulful simplicity is more concerned with consciously tasting life in its unadorned richness than with a particular standard or manner of material living. In cultivating a soulful connection with life, we tend to look beyond surface appearances and bring our interior aliveness into relationships of all kinds.
10. Uncluttered Simplicity: Simplicity means 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 -- whatever those may be for each of our unique lives. As Thoreau said, "Our life is frittered away by detail... Simplify, simplify." Or, as Plato wrote, "In order to seek one's own direction, one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life."
Want to join me in this new year's wish for an artful, simple life? For some simplicity support see The Compact. For more art in your life try 14 Secrets for a Happy Artist's Life.