Friday, November 20, 2009

GUEST POST: A Critical Reader’s Take


[image:shirleyjacksonawards.org]

Below is a guest post from Anonymous, a Biglaw attorney and regular reader of this blog.

Let me just say that I generally agree with Anonymous´ overall critique. I actually don´t see a great deal of conflict between his argument and the content of this blog. How his critique fares against other facets of the Simple Living/Voluntary Simplicity movement is, however, another matter. But that is for you, my dear reader, to decide.

On a separate note, I have to say that I am a bit disappointed with the lack of critical guest blog submissions. I´ve received tons of submissions focusing on (1) the benefits of pursuing a Simple Living lifestyle, and (2) incredibly positive commentaries about me and this blog in particular. While I appreciate the enthusiasm it would be great to publish posts with a much more critical perspective. Nothing kills ideas faster than group think and intellectual complacency.

Bottom line, if you have ever been pissed by something written on this blog, or just generally disagree with some specific aspect of this nebulous yet wonderful thing called Simple Living, drop me a line.

A Critical Reader’s Take

I read Jack’s blog because, as I suspect is the case with most of its readers, I identify with Jack. My life often feels cluttered and weighed down by unnecessary STUFF. I yearn to spend my days hiking mountain trails rather than trapped behind my lawyer’s desk. I attempt to alleviate my depression by purchasing a new jacket, drinking an extra drink, taking home a new girl, thinking that THIS time when I get what I want I will be happy. But of course, when the newness dies away, I find I need something else; the brief moments of satisfaction do nothing to quench my desire for more. The cycle continues, until I find I have accumulated an apartment full of crap I no longer want and certainly never needed, a hangover I can’t shake and a phone full of the numbers of young women whose faces I can’t recall.

So yes, I certainly identify with Jack. And I thank Jack – I have done so in a personal email to him – for sharing his adventure with us. It is inspiring to “witness” his courage and boldness in forsaking the life of temptation and luxury. And moreover, I think Jack has stumbled onto something that is – at least in part – profound and wise. I agree that this life that we have been geared to build with our higher education and white collar jobs does not necessarily hold the key to happiness.

But though Jack and I agree on the diagnosis, we disagree on the cure. Or at least I believe that Jack’s only found the half of it. Jack seems to think, and from the comments it looks like most of his active readers agree, that the answer to the problem is to cut the STUFF out of your life. “Simplify” is the motto, which I take to primarily be a mandate to rid your life of the physical clutter (unnecessary possessions, money, etc.) and maybe also to rid yourself of the desire for this materialistic clutter. The ideal also seems to include some kind of ill-defined spiritual contentment that necessarily follows from a life of materialistic simplicity. (Clearly Jack or others in the simplicity movement will take issue with my characterization, and I look forward to correction and clarification).

Here’s my disagreement with the Simplicity strawman I just built: Simplifying is all well and good, until you come to define your happiness by how Simple you can be. How is being defined by how much clothing you lack any different from being defined by how much you have? How is thinking happiness resides in a tent in the woods any different from believing you will find it in a mansion? In both cases you are looking for it out there, in a reality that doesn’t exist. “If only I get (lose) the big screen T.V., if only I get (lose) the condo, if only I get (lose) the girl.” When the world is telling you that the T.V., the condo and the girl will make you happy, and you realize that it won’t, it is natural to swing back in the other direction, thinking it is the lack thereof that will do the trick. Too often I’m seeing those with good intentions get sucked into this trap (and yes, I would hate to see Jack, a man I admire, be sucked in as well).

I don’t believe that Simplicity is necessary for true happiness. At least not the capital S Simplicity for which Jack strives. Our STUFF is a convenient whipping boy, but I think there is something deeper and more nuanced at play. Our dissatisfaction lies not in what we have or don't have, but in our very need to define ourselves by these materialistic measurements - for richer OR poorer. It is not only our things and our relationship to our things that need to be re-evaluated. If we’re taking a serious look at where we can find real happiness, I think all of us, especially those in the Simplicity movement, need to consider our attachment to our lack of things as well.

42 comments:

Family on Bikes said...

I agree with you - I don't think happiness lies in either the posession of lack of posessions. The STUFF has little to do with happiness at all.

I think the journey Jack is on is a journey of finding where his passion lies. For him, maybe that passion is in a tent or on his bike or working for an environmental NGO. It really doesn't matter - as long as he finds it.

As a family, we are now leading a life more simple - with only the STUFF we can carry on our bikes. That being said, we opted to store a lot of our STUFF and will look through it again once we get back home in a year or so. If we still want it then, we'll keep it. If not - it'll go.

The beauty of it is that we know the STUFF doesn't bring us happiness. For us, time together as a family exploring our world is true happiness.

Nancy
www.familyonbikes.org

Anonymous said...

I understand the whole voluntary simplicity movement and I tend to agree and disagree with this post. I do agree that giving up the STUFF just for the purpose of defining yourself that way is the same thing as accumulating the STUFF to define yourself. So therefore giving up the life of material excess is just the same as embracing the material excessive life IF that is the only goal.
Where I disagree is I've always thought of the voluntary simplicity movement as a starting point to define what makes oneself happy. In my mind VS is the jumping off point of self discovery. And by ridding yourself of all the excess in your life helps give you a space to find out what in life truly does make you happy. Finding out where that level of pure contentment is, and maintaining that particular point of materialism.
So great point and post, but I do hope/think/believe there is more to the movement of voluntary simplicity then just giving up material possessions.

Jason said...

Interesting. So what's the solution? If acquisitiveness and asceticism are (as the guest poster seems to be saying) both sides of the same coin, what are we left with? "Don't Worry, Be Happy"?

weston said...

I agree that there seems to be a recurring (albeit by no means prevalent) issue of some in the voluntary simplicity world to have a "simpler than thou" attitude. The view I prefer to take is the approach in Your Money or Your Life where the authors have you calculate how much of your life energy you had to expend to make the money that you use for a purchase and then determine whether that purchase is worth expending that life energy.

I have found that for me (at the age of 55 and after 29 years practicing law) that when I look back on my life the things that give me comfort, pride and happiness all resulted from either human interaction, nature or spending money on experiences. Looking back now I feel more and more strongly that if I had spent less money on "stuff" I would have been able to have far more of those experiences and memories that I now treasure

Cassua Chen said...

I would like to quote Leonard Cohen that “Simple living is not a virtue; it is a preference”, therefore, should be treated so. This simplicity movement only serves a purpose to help people like us to declare our preference to simple living without shame against a society that encourages conspicuous consumption. After all, our society’s wealth is built upon consumerism and one could argue that people like us do not contribute in this sense. The simplicity movement only helps bring closet simple lifers out to the open and is not going to solve humanity’s struggle in achieving happiness.

Regarding my own story, I do not know what comes first, preference to simple living or hatred to workplace bickering. I quit working for others 6 years ago, and am now on my own and much happier.

For those whose unhappiness derives from workplace power struggle and still need to work, I suggest try manual work. I had two Masters Degrees in science, but hated working in an academic setting. The only job I was extremely happy with was working in a warehouse packing. I was in Germany and they paid me well. If that type of job was available in Canada, I might still be working today.

Joe said...

It depends on state of mind. For example, let's say there is a large plasma screen TV in my apartment. Is it a posession? Do I own it? Or is it just another one of the things in my apartment.

It depends on my mindset. Am I a "guy who has a sweet plasma", or would I freely give it to my friend if his TV broke?

Do you own your things, or do they own you?

Kevin M said...

2 points:

I agree with the premise that either extreme is probably not the answer. Now according to some lifestyle design blogs out there, all you need is a laptop and a plane ticket and you'll be AWESOME.

1) I always assumed Jack was getting rid of "STUFF" so he could travel more easily and not be weighed down physically or mentally by what he left behind.

2) When I think of simplicity, I don't think of owning nothing, but owning only those things you use and enjoy using on a frequent (weekly or more) basis.

MK said...

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said "attachment". It's the attachment to anything (or nothing in this case. That seems to breed discontent or ego or a competitive spirit.

That being said, material objects do seem to hold a special spell over folks in this society. Getting rid of stuff (some, most or all) can literally make you feel lighter. And the process can be an important one on the way non-attachment.
Things also seem to have a special power in separating us from authentically connecting to other people. I noticed, for example, that I tend to compliment people more on their clothes or hair than on their kindness or sense of humor.

Good post. Thanks for the food for thought.

Christian said...

Stuff cannot create permanent happiness because stuff, by its very nature, is impermanent. If your stuff makes you happy you will most certainly suffer some time in the future!

In fact, stuff can not give us happiness or unhappiness. It is how attached we are to our stuff that causes happiness or unhappiness.

If you are attached to your money you will need to protect it. Very stressful. Not happy.

I seen some very unhappy people with very little stuff. They were greedy and selfish and protective.

I have seen some truly happy people with lots of stuff. They would gladly give you everything they own because they know that it does not contain their happiness.

However, the natural consequence of know that stuff does not bring one permanent happiness naturally inclines one to have less stuff.

And here is where one should be careful; you can get very attached to the simple life!

So, look at your attachments, and not your stuff, to see where suffering arises. Then you will find unconditioned and permanent happiness.

Meg said...

My view is that the goal of "Simple Living" is to remove distractions from your life, the minutiae the wear you out, so that you focus on what really matters to you. Some people have to remove more than others to do that. Some people have to get down to bare bones to even realize what they really miss and therefore what really matters. Some people have to be pushed out of their comfort zone to discover stuff they wouldn't otherwise experience.

But yeah, simplicity isn't about competing to be the most deprived person you know. It's about finding what you really enjoy and focusing on that.

Meg said...

@Jason

What's left? Buddha tried both. Then he settled on the middle path.

My motto is "Everything in moderation, including moderation."

Helene said...

"I read Jack’s blog because, as I suspect is the case with most of its readers, I identify with Jack."

Actually, I identify Jack's blog with my brother. My brother David, could have written this blog, word for word. And I have the exact same set of irritated reactions as I do with my brother. But well, David and I haven't stopped being siblings.

Anonymous, I too am engrossed in the process of decluttering. It was very difficult at first, but as I got over my first few terrors, I began to learn the difference between what I wanted, and what I needed. I also began to value space. I want to see lots of empty space in my house, and I can't have both the object, and the space it takes up, so I have to choose. I'm doing this also with my emotions, with people in my life, and with activities that previously seemed thrust into my life, simply because I didn't know how to say no.

The reason for doing it all has to do with where consciousness is poised. That is the best way I can explain it. The reward is in the consciousness.

Good luck. I thoroughly enjoyed your contribution, and didn't experience any irritation. Except in that I wish you'd at least give yourself some sort of a handle. I mean, "anonymous" is what I'm trying to get away from....

Wire said...

I've hung around enough Buddhist forums to see this "disagreement" is fairly identical to the Theravada approach vs. Zen approach "disagreement". One says "outward renunciation is part of the path" and the other says "outward renunciation isn't important as long as inward renunciation happens". As I have learned it, though, the Buddha taught that outward renunciation is helpful for inward renunciation. The reason is because all that outer STUFF keeps us too busy and wound up to tend to the inner STUFF. It's like first cutting down the weeds in your garden so you can then dig into the soil to pull up the roots.

Also, someone said "What's left? Buddha tried both. Then he settled on the middle path." Again, as I have learned it, the Buddha gave up indulging wants on the one hand and denying needs on the other hand. That was his middle way. He remained a renunciate, living in voluntary simplicity, till the end of his life.

To the guest poster's point, I agree one can become attached to outward simplicity. I think one must remember that outward simplicity is merely a tool to help one cultivate inner simplicity.

Srividya said...

I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting to get rid of excess stuff and live a simple life, especially in Jack's situation. I think what an exercise like this does, is bring about a feeling of "moral superiority". I have definitely been there on many occasions and I think Jack is probably getting it as well.

As for the other thing I disagree in the "simplicity movement", is the fact that working for money at a for profit is somehow despicable. If working for an NGO is your calling then so be it. But I am not sure how much of it is real calling and how much a matter of conditioning.I know people who left their jobs and went in for the NGOs only to realize that even they are run by humans and has egos, competitiveness, personalities and mismanagement to contend with.
Jack, would love to hear your response.

Christian said...

@Meg

You have an incomplete understanding of what the Buddha meant by his teaching of the Middle Path.

"Monks, these two extremes ought not to be cultivated by the recluse. What two? Sensual indulgence which is low, vulgar, worldly, ignoble, and conducive to harm; and self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, and conducive to harm. The middle path, monks, understood by the Tathâgata, avoiding the extremes, gives vision and knowledge and leads to calm, realization, enlightenment, and Nibbâna. And what, monks, is that middle path? It is this Noble Eightfold Path, namely: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration."

Buddha traveled only with a bowl and a robe. That might sound like extreme but it is not regarded as extreme practice in Buddhism.

For more:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_way

http://www.buddhanet.net/cbp2_f4.htm

Meg said...

@Christian

"You have an incomplete understanding of what the Buddha meant by his teaching of the Middle Path."

I'm not sure why you assume that and, personally, I find that a rude assumption. I know plenty about Buddhism, trust me. I didn't feel like it was necessary to go into more detail, though, just to show all that I know as I'm not trying prove anything here about me, merely pointing out that there is an alternative to the extremes and that there actually is someone who recommended such a way (since we're too often presented with people yelling on either end of things).

The Middle Way said...

Thank you all for your responses. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that many of you have seen and considered the issue I was addressing.

I agree with the general sentiment in some of the comments that while Simplicity is not necessarily the answer, it can certainly be a helpful place to start letting go of some of our wants and attachments . I think your comments have helped to clarify my point that we shouldn't confuse the start of the process with the end or let ourselves get bogged down in the muck of ego that can accompany the Simplicity/Hippy/Spiritual-seeking/whatever process.

I also want to emphasize that I wasn't really advocating a stance on where people should fall in the spectrum of comfort and ascetism. If you really want to buy (or ditch) that cool jacket, go for it, but let's be alert of the fantasy that it's going to be the key to happiness. I catch myself doing it this all the time. For me at least, it is constant work.

@ MK - I agree about the "specialness" of material things, and also the remainder of your post. Well said.

@ Helene - your comment had an effect on me. I understand what you are saying and could not agree more that consciousness or awareness is a reward worth sacrificing for. Oh, and the above handle is for you... ;)

@ Christian's last post, please remember that the Buddha lived in a very different time. My belief is that there are a number of arahats walking around today, and you'll find many of them living in normal accomodations, not begging on the streets or living in caves. Buddha's middle way (as I understand it) was an admonition against ego and attachments in whatever form they may take, as well as a practical piece of advice on the best method for realization of the nature of reality. Learning to live as our true selves in 2009 is certain to mean something different than it did in 500 BCE.

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Helene said...

Meg,
I'm glad you responded. I was a little ticked on your behalf that anyone would assume what you know and what you don't know.

In an attempt to overcome some of my bad habits, I made some rules for myself a few years ago. They go like this (this is me speaking to me.)

1.Don't describe other people. You don't know who they are, and what you see is exactly what they are not.

2.Especially, don't describe people directly to them. It is offensive.

3. Do not begin a sentence with the word "you". Find some other way to make your point.

TMW: I really dig your handle! That is my type of handle.

Christian said...

Who is the master of one's feelings? The other or ones' self?

"He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.

Ticked off? By me!? You should try living with a good monk for a while! BOY! Talk about rude!!! :^)

If something hurts you or offends you, that is a sign tell you to look deeper.

I just realized I am speaking to people not ready for this part.

If I say I love you all, and I am writing these words for assistance and not in ego leaping, would that matter?

With Metta,
C

Meg said...

Thanks, Helene!

And those are great rules! It amazes me how much others assume about others, especially based on a few sentences said online!

I especially hate it when people tell me how I feel. And I know that they often don't mean anything by it, but it's still annoying -- especially since often they don't know how I'm feeling. As I've told my husband, don't assume you know what I'm feeling and especially don't tell me what I am or should be feeling. Just ask! And I think that's why we're doing so much better now in our marriage -- he doesn't assume that just because I look angry that I'm angry with him. (And usually I'm just tired or maybe frustrated with something completely unrelated to him.)

Marissa said...

I like this post because I don't think it postulates a specific answer to happiness. But I didn't like it because, much like what I view as the biggest flaw in the VS movement, it still seems to suggest there is an answer, except we just don't know it yet; as if happiness is something that can be achieved or bought like a condo or a tent or neither (whichever you prefer) simply by finding some mythical "key." Even the wording is revealing -- it turns happiness into an object.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think there is an answer, there is no "key;" there is no formula for achieving happiness because happiness is a feeling, just like sadness. It's not permanent or something we can achieve and hold on to.

Maybe the biggest impediment to feeling happy more often is our tendency as humans to overthink it or try to imagine it as an object to be achieved. I mean, geez, if a formula existed, I'd hope by now, between the discoveries of quantum physics and penicillin, that we -- a fairly intelligent species -- would have found it.

Of course, this is not to say we have no control over how often we feel happy; I think we can all do more to realize what makes us smile and what doesn't just by recalling our own memories. For instance, I'm consistently at my most content when I'm making those I love smile and they're doing the same for me, no matter if it's in a condo or a tent. And while being with those I love may sound like my "key," I can't forget those I love the most are also the ones who make me cry the hardest. That realization, at least for me, proves there is no key. There is no one person, no one environment, no one anything that will make me happy permanently because such a "thing" doesn't exist. There are only moments; moments that I don't need to overthink and analyze, but simply feel when I'm lucky.

Also, as a disclaimer, despite all the dirty hippie "feeling" sh*t I just wrote, I do indeed shower. Not smelling like ass generally gives me a few fleeting moments of happiness, as well. :)

Marissa

Anonymous said...

The issue is not a matter of preference, "simplicity" versus "material". The issue is a matter of purpose. Obtaining, divesting or achieving anything is meaningless without a purpose.

One's purpose is not simply to chose between a tent and a mansion. That choice is merely incidental. To seek purpose, what is important is defining who you will serve; yourself or others.

Serving ourselves is quite easy, but often leads to vanity and a lack of meaning. Serving others presents a lifelong challenge, but prevents an excessive focus on self. It also allows you to leave a mark, which can never be obtained through personal possessions.

Beauty, talent, fame, money, refinement, top skill and brain are all nice, but do not give you a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day.

shahba-gahba said...

Interesting perspective; I'd never thought about it that way before.
Personally, "voluntary simplicity" is more a by-product of trying to stay mindful and honest with myself in the present.
I've enjoyed the comments as much as the post!

Helene said...

Marissa, at 1:22 PM: "For instance, I'm consistently at my most content when I'm making those I love smile"

Do you know Marissa, in my whole life I never thought about that. I have huge difficulties relating to people, and I need lots of alone time. But I also know that I have the capacity to do things for people, and actually make them smile. Thank you so much for handing me a key by putting it into words.

Marissa said...

Helene,

You're welcome, but my underlying point is that there is no "key." While I think my highest peaks are with people, so are the biggest lows. It's all about the context and I think that context can't be simplified into something explainable or even understandable. Happiness just is.

I expounded upon this opinion on my own blog the other day:

http://marissapayne.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/happiness-is-not-something-you-achieve/

Now, I just need to stop searching, myself, and live by my own words...

Sam said...

Yes, happiness is just a feeling that is just as normal as sadness, anger, excitement, anxiety, etc. etc. Instead of searching for "happiness," I prefer and hope to have the feelings of serenity and peace. I believe those are the feelings that enable us to handle all the other feelings. Living authentically is what I strive for. That is, living as my true self, living each day as it comes and hoping to have the peace and serenity to handle all the ups and downs in my life - oh, and not to waste another minute thinking about what was or what will be.

Jack said...

@anonymous,

“Where I disagree is I've always thought of the voluntary simplicity movement as a starting point to define what makes oneself happy. In my mind VS is the jumping off point of self discovery.”

Couldn't have said it better myself. In my case, decluttering stuff was the start of a much more internal process that continues to this day. I would say that the decision to get rid of STUFF was at first fairly instinctual, but it led to unexpected places. Just look at my latest post on being a volunteer.

@Family on Bikes,

“I think the journey Jack is on is a journey of finding where his passion lies. For him, maybe that passion is in a tent or on his bike or working for an environmental NGO. It really doesn't matter - as long as he finds it...The beauty of it is that we know the STUFF doesn't bring us happiness.”

This feel right. I think for me decluttering allowed me to focus on what truly made me happy. But that's a very personal journey and I don't think it is the same for everyone.

@Cassua,

“The simplicity movement only helps bring closet simple lifers out to the open and is not going to solve humanity’s struggle in achieving happiness.”

I find it sad that embracing simple living is such a big deal in places like the US where overconsumption is prized. You can kinda figure out that simple living is not a direct road to happiness because it only serves as a first step toward happiness in a place where overconsumption is prized. I figure that there are other steps to take in countries that are no so materialistic.

Jack said...

@weston,

“The view I prefer to take is the approach in Your Money or Your Life where the authors have you calculate how much of your life energy you had to expend to make the money that you use for a purchase and then determine whether that purchase is worth expending that life energy.”

That's a functional view and its pretty valid in my opinion. But I still say that for a lot people, me included, decluttering is an essential first step in the process. Now, that does not conflict with the YMOYL analysis at all.

@Jason,

See my responses above. I don't think there is a great conflict here, or, at least, not between my own vies and the author.

@MK,

“That being said, material objects do seem to hold a special spell over folks in this society. Getting rid of stuff (some, most or all) can literally make you feel lighter. And the process can be an important one on the way non-attachment.”

Totally agree. See above.

Jack said...

@Joe,

I asked myself those very same questions. Things definitely owned me, hence this blog...I don't think everyone is in the same boat and I don't think decluttering would work the same way for everyone. But I'm happy how it all turned out.

@Kevin M,

“1) I always assumed Jack was getting rid of "STUFF" so he could travel more easily and not be weighed down physically or mentally by what he left behind.

2) When I think of simplicity, I don't think of owning nothing, but owning only those things you use and enjoy using on a frequent (weekly or more) basis.”

This is the best summary of how I feel in response to this post. I personally think that I am in a place where I have avoided both extremes and while some people would not got as far as I have, where I am is the perfect balance FOR ME.

@Helene,

“Anonymous, I too am engrossed in the process of decluttering. It was very difficult at first, but as I got over my first few terrors, I began to learn the difference between what I wanted, and what I needed. I also began to value space. I want to see lots of empty space in my house, and I can't have both the object, and the space it takes up, so I have to choose.”

That's a good explanation of how I started the process. I think I had made the mental distinction between want and need by the time I started so it was probably less stressful for me, but the idea is the same.

BTW, I named the poster “anonymous;” never actually discussed what he should be named in the post.

Jack said...

@Meg,

That sounds good to me.

@Christian,

“However, the natural consequence of know that stuff does not bring one permanent happiness naturally inclines one to have less stuff.”

That's sort of how I feel right now. It's a wonderful place to be in life. And I do get your point on attachment. I think I need to read on more on Eastern philosophy.

@Meg,

“My view is that the goal of "Simple Living" is to remove distractions from your life, the minutiae the wear you out, so that you focus on what really matters to you. Some people have to remove more than others to do that. Some people have to get down to bare bones to even realize what they really miss and therefore what really matters.”

I said this above. This is another great summary of what simple living means to me. Again, I don't see a conflict between the poster and what my journey has revealed to me.

Jack said...

@Srividya,

RE: for profit vs. NGOs, I really don't understand the distinction. People have different personalities, preferences and opportunities for happiness. They should gravitate towards a career that allows them to flourish professionally and gives them the space to pursue happiness, whatever that means to them. I have friends who have found that in for profit institutions for sure.

And btw, I will admit that I feel totally and completely “superior” to anyone who is stuck living a life of meaningless excess, knows it, and is unwilling to change their life to achieve a more “simple life,” whatever that means to them.

@Wire,

“...I agree one can become attached to outward simplicity. I think one must remember that outward simplicity is merely a tool to help one cultivate inner simplicity.”

I tend to agree with this. See above. Having no real knowledge of Buddhism I don't feel qualified responding to the rest of your comment.

@Christian,

Again, having no real knowledge of Buddhism I don't feel qualified responding to your comment.

Jack said...

@Meg,

I thought that's what you were doing as well. I'm sure Christian was just trying to be helpful. Sometimes the words we choose online are not as precise as they should be. Just look at some of my earlier posts...

@The Middle Way,

Thanks for responding. And for the post.

@Helene,

See my response to Meg above.

Jack said...

@Christian,

I think I understand your point. However, for better or worse, there might be a bit of a conflict between how you express your thoughts (regardless of intentions) and the netiquette that has developed around the blogosphere. I think your point is valid though.

@Meg,

That pisses me off as well, but I've gotten calmer with this whole blog thing. You have to parse out your feelings and what others believe you are feeling, all based on words on a computer screen...

@Marissa,

While the post might now postulate a specific answer to happiness it assumes that for most adherents of the simple living movement getting rid of stuff if an end in itself. I don't believe that. I think that many, like me, see it as just an essential part of a much larger process. See above.

Jack said...

@Anonymous,

“Serving ourselves is quite easy, but often leads to vanity and a lack of meaning. Serving others presents a lifelong challenge, but prevents an excessive focus on self. It also allows you to leave a mark, which can never be obtained through personal possessions.”

I think that's an interesting point, particularly given my new emphasis on being a volunteer (see latest blog post). However, are you saying that satisfaction and “happiness” can only be found in the service of others?

@Shahba-gahba,

That's, I think, another way that I see the process.

@Helene,

Not sure smiling is what I look for, but I can see what Marissa is saying.

Jack said...

@Marissa,

Great post.

@Sam,

That last one is the one that I am trying to master at the moment. It sounds like you are way ahead of where I am at the moment in terms of undestanding.

TravelingOnTheOutskirts said...

"in our need to define ourselves" To which I say, different strokes for different folks. I know that buying a new coat isn't going to make ME happy, but OTHER people seem very happy buying new stuff every day (even if they have 6 coats already ;).

Without a huge lawn to cut, 10,000 pairs of pants to wash, or a ton of dishes to wash, I can take the time to find what makes me happy. "Simplifying" my life was the way I found happiness.

So let's say you think getting rid of all your stuff will make you happy, you can only get rid of so much before you've got nothing left to get rid of - then what? Then what will make you happy?

"Everything in moderation" I apply it to my life and I feel I'm more balanced and it keeps my drinking in check! ;D ;p

I love your new handle btw, it's perfect - find the middle ground - the stuff that makes YOU happy (it might take a while to find) and stick to it! :)

~Jess~

Hayden Tompkins said...

I wouldn't say I get "happiness" from simplifying my life (it is impossible for the locus of happiness to be external, in any case) but I do garner substantial peace of mind.

I know what I have, where it is, and how to quickly get to it. When we need to reference our mortgage paperwork, I can lay my hands on it in less than a minute.

Perhaps this peace of mind is a byproduct of working in the legal field, but nevertheless I am nervous otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Very valuable ideas - I have never thought of the Simplicity movement that way! This was definitely written by a lawyer :)

Linda said...

This post reminds me of the sermon of the Mount: "blessed are the poor in spirit".

I agree with the writer of this post that it doesn't matter how much you own, as long as your stuff doesn't own you. Being owned by your possessions or controlled by your consuming (and by that also destroying the environment) is the opposite of the "poor spirit".

But the opposite of consumerism, simplicity, doesn't mean you're free. You can still be owned by greed or envy.

I also believe that - since we live in a society that promotes competition, achievements and power struggle - simplicity in it self can become a competition.

Becoming the "simplest" and most "saintly" person of them all can be an all-consuming race. Like it says in the post; defining your happiness "by how Simple you can be". And then the very idea of simplicity is lost.

The early Christian saints warned against pride (in the meaning "opposite of humility"). I believe that today, pride destroys the pure joy in living (with or without possessions) by turning life into a struggle, a competition (whether it is for riches or simplicity).

So the trick, I guess, is to learn how to live with a "poor spirit", whether in a mansion or a tent.

Jack said...

@Jess,

That's basically how I feel. Having the time and energy to focus on worthwhile stuff is the goal, after all.

@Hayden,

Feel the same way.

@Anonymous,

I am sure the author will take that as a compliment

The more I read, the sicker I get said...

You navel-gazing little shits are a real hoot and a holler. So glad you have plenty to eat.