Ah, the Simple Life!
Sam Trumbore | May 26, 2016

I want to make this time of year stretch out and last for months. The beginning of June is one of my favorite times of year. The days are warmer and longer.  Wool hats, ski gloves, heavy coats and rubber boots have gone to the basement for storage. Gone are the worries about waking up and having to deal with ice on the windshield and snow in the driveway. The flowering trees right now are spectacular as the leaves pop out, covering the rest of the trees that a month ago looked bare and lifeless. Finally, we can eat outside in shorts and short sleeves, feeling the gentle breeze on our skin while smelling the scent of lilac in the air.

Yet, how many of us are pausing in our busy lives to relish these delicious days of late spring and early summer? More likely we’re spending it looking at pictures of spring on Facebook and Twitter someone else has taken. The pressures of modern living only seem to get more intense with the expansion of electronic communication. I wondered twenty years ago how I was going to keep up with email. Now I’m monitoring Facebook, Twitter, and to a lesser degree Instagram and LinkedIn too. People text me and Facebook Messenger me (I’m on Viber too).  Every morning ten or so of my meditation friends tell me, “Thanks for meditating with me” on Insight Timer App.

And those are the beginnings of the pressures many of us face each day in the fierce competition to get ahead in the global marketplace. To get ahead, one needs to look good (clothes, personal grooming, car, home in an attractive neighborhood) and have good connections (in professional and personal circles with professional and business associates, friends and neighbors). Parents see this in their workplace and worry for the future of their children. So they monitor their grades and sign them up for activities that will help them both have fun but also groom their college applications to get into the elite schools, a prerequisite for making the connections that will turn into the high powered careers that will bring them both wealth and satisfaction.

A newer stress today is developing competence in communicating across cultures.  In a globalized world, assuming American culture as the norm is less and less acceptable. In Asian cultures one must first establish one’s level in the hierarchy of status before knowing what form of address to use. One cannot competently offer or accept an invitation in the Middle East without an understanding of hospitality expectations and norms. Understanding the reality of emotional triggers set off by micro-aggressions is essential for developing better communication between races in the United States.  None of this is simple.

All these pressures of modern life drive us to cope using the idea of “having more.” Many people in the business world are driven by acquisition to project status and power. But there are subtler ways many of us get caught up in this same process. I get caught up in wanting more stuff so I can use less and less fossil fuel. I hungered for a Prius to reduce my gas consumption.  I sold a car to raise cash for solar panels for my roof. Now I want a solar hot water heater for my roof like the one the Butt’s have on their house.  I’d also like to put a “trombe wall” collector on the southern side of our house to assist in heating our home in the winter.  I also love my gadgets. I get great joy from my rice and tea makers, my Contigo mug, and the fantastic new Vitamix brand blender we just bought. I can rationalize them but …

Another response to the pressures of modern living is to simplify our lives and resist the demands for more. We know that if 7 billion people consumed stuff at the rate Americans do, we’d need several more planets to find all those resources. We may intuitively know that our happiness isn’t dependent on all the stuff we have here. But turning that into action may not be as simple.

Here are some guides to consider if you are ready to simplify your life:

  • Consume less. Spend more on fewer items that affirm your values and your aspirations for others. Buying organic produce from a local vendor or CSA can be a great way to offer good jobs to people who are striving to protect both our health and the ecosystem. Buying less clothing but of better quality using organic fair trade cotton made by workers who get union wages. Support “Circular Economics” that reuses what already has been extracted and generates no waste.
  • Share more. There is no need for each person to own a power washer, a tall ladder or even a lawn mower or a snow blower. Neighborhood cooperatives facilitated with electronic communication can make the sharing economy an effective way to keep down the amount of stuff we accumulate – and maybe help us make new friends in our neighborhood.
  • Do less. Many of us (myself included) are impulsive about when we jump into the car to run off on an errand or go shopping for food. By thinking and planning ahead, we could log many fewer miles using our cars. That small change could reduce our stress and create more free time and producing far less carbon dioxide. And you’ll be happy to know that studies have shown, in many cases, the carbon footprint of shopping on line is smaller than getting in the car.
  • Give more. The greatest satisfaction in life doesn’t come from getting but from giving. When I was videotaping members of our congregation for the Growth Through Service Video, the most common expression I heard was, “I get more than I give” or the satisfaction I receive far outweighs the cost of what I give. And giving of our time and talent can be really simple in a place like our congregation where there are opportunities to give each Sunday!