Throughout the ages the wise has cautioned humankind about thinking that “it is amount of money and not the state of mind that matters.” The money will not console us in our old age and it will not enable us to live without sorrow. It may buy us physical comforts but it never brings us contentment or banish our grief.
The wise recognized the suffering that comes with the endless pursuit of money. It is our attachment to money and our mistaken belief that money is the key to a fulfilling our life that is the problem, not money itself. When we don’t have enough money we have two options, we can earn more or we can learn to simplify our life. There is a tendency for our expenditure to go up as we earn more, so we may not be any further ahead for having more money.
Living well does not necessarily depend on having more money or more things.It may mean simply to simplify our life. Duane Elgin in his book Voluntary Simplicity says:-
” To live with simplicity is to unburden our lives – to live a more direct, unpretentious, and unencumbered relationship with all aspects of our lives: consuming, working, learning, relating, and so on. Simplicity of living means meeting life face to face.It means confronting life clearly, without unnecessary distractions, without trying to soften the awesomeness of our existence or masking the deeper manifestations of life with pretensions, distractions and unnecessary accumulations. It means being direct and honest in relationships of all kinds. It means taking life as it is – straight and unadulterated.”
More than thousand years ago the Stoics recommended this kind of life. They warned for example against eating extravagant meals because we will lose our ability to enjoy simple diet. Instead of enjoying wholesome sandwich with a glass of milk, our discriminating palate would want freshly prepared pasta with finest herbs and cheese, accompanied by a brand of sparkling bottled water or a glass of the finest red wine. The sandwich and the milk is probably more healthier and less expensive than the pasta, sparkling water or the red wine. Further, rather than mourning the loss of our ability to enjoy simple things, we take pride in our newly gained inability to enjoy anything but “the best.” The Stoics, however, would pity us. Besides enjoying extravagant diets, those who live in luxury also wear expensive clothes and live in expensive, finely furnished houses. The Stoics warn us to dress to protect our bodies, not to impress other people. Likewise our housing and furnishings, our mode of transport should be functional not for showing off.
The Stoics work hard to avoid falling victim to this kind of connoisseurship. Indeed, the Stoics value highly their ability to enjoy ordinary life – and indeed, their ability to find sources of delight even when living in primitive conditions.
If we take the advise of the Stoics and live simply with intention, we will find that our needs are easily met, for as Seneca reminds us, life’s necessities are cheap and easily obtainable. Those who crave luxury typically have o spend considerable time and energy to attain it; those who forgo luxury can devote this time and energy to other, more worthwhile undertakings.
Gandhi said ” The essence of civilization consists not in the multiplication of wants but in their deliberate and voluntary renunciation.”
After meeting the King of England, a reporter commented to Gandhi on how scantily dressed he had been in the presence of the King. Gandhi replied, ” It’s okay. The King had on enough for the both of us.”
Gandhi lived a life of simplicity – straight and unadulterated; face to face; unpretentious and unencumbered; without unnecessary distractions; without softening the awesomeness of his existence or masking the deeper manifestations of life with pretensions, distractions and unnecessary accumulation. It takes courage to live simply.
1. Chop Wood Carry Water, by Rick Fields, with Peggy Taylor, Rex Weyler, and Rick Ingrasci
2. A Guide to the good Life, by William B. Irvine