After a decade of disruption and exhausted by overconsumption, more Americans are living simply as an antidote to turbulent change.
In this article, discover 3 breakthrough lessons that are leading to this change.
Ramit Sethi on I Will Teach You to Be Rich tells the story of “Raj”, a highly skilled Indian immigrant who has been living in the United States for the past ten years.
“I live here in Fremont now and I have about $150K with me in my bank, most of it stored away like that for more than 1 year now because I needed it to buy a house,” says Raj. He’s saved $150,000 in cash, all while sending a portion of his income back to his family in India (a practice known as remittance).
Most U.S.-born workers can’t save this amount of money in their lifetimes, let alone in a decade. How does he do it?
Ramit theorizes that Raj, like many Asian immigrants to the United States, has sought-after skills that lead to well-paying jobs. But instead of falling into the relative income trap like nearly all U.S.-born workers, Raj is living simply in a small apartment, supporting his parents back home, and putting the rest of his income to work as savings.
Many of us are still trying to recover from the hangover economy of post-2008. We’re realizing that debt is not freedom, clutter is not security, and waste is not comfort.
Raj has decided that buying a home might not be the right move for him. Instead, he’s beginning to invest his $150,000 in retirement savings.
He might change his mind about that too. But the point is that he has options. Raj isn’t living paycheck-to-paycheck. He’s not flirting with financial ruin every time his company’s stock price dips a few cents.
He’s more agile, more responsive to change, and more capable of weathering tough conditions because he’s living simpler.
How are you living?
Living Simply and Minimalism
The “simple living” concept goes back hundreds of years. It’s not new. It’s not a fad.
The only difference between simple living movements of generations past and the minimalism movement of today is the role of technology.
Technology has increased as a transformation factor in how we simplify our lives at the dawn of the 21st century. Modern-day minimalism is less about building your own furniture and living in a cabin by a pond. It’s about using technology to de-complexify life:
- You can go car-free because of Zipcar and public transportation.
- You can un-own your DVD collection with Netflix.
- You can remove your physical library with Amazon Kindle.
- You can get rid of dusty photo albums with a digital camera/smartphone and some cloud storage.
The list goes on.
To me, minimalism is the culmination of centuries worth of thought on one question: What’s actually important in life, and what’s just cruft?
Simplicity isn’t the answer in and of itself. It is the means to discover that answer for yourself.
Here are three breakthrough realizations that led me on the path to living simply:
1. Nothing You Get Will Ever Make You Happy
Here’s a reminder of what I think everybody knows in their heart, nothing you get will ever make you happy … nothing. It doesn’t matter how many people respect you, how much money you have, how many things you have, we all know that.
But, who you become will make you very happy or very sad.
— Tony Robbins
There are a bunch of things going on in this quote, so let’s run them down point-by-point:
- “Here’s a reminder …” This is something you already know.
- “… everybody knows in their heart …” This is the voice that comes to you in quiet moments, when your smartphone’s tucked away, the TV’s off, and your Facebook tab is closed. It’s there if you’re listening for it.
- “… nothing you get will ever make you happy …” Your external life and your internal life are far less connected than you might think.
- “… people respect you …” Approval from the Herd isn’t necessary or sufficient for happiness.
- “… money you have …” Wealth isn’t a guarantee of happiness. Neither is poverty a guarantee of misery. That’s why poor people living in Third World conditions can have greater self-reported happiness than 1-Percenters living in rich countries.
- “… things you have …” Having too many things can actually run the other way, becoming a burden. When Simplicity Institute surveyed 2,500 people who self-identified as living simply 87% of respondents reported greater happiness after reducing their possessions.
- “… who you become …” You have to live with yourself. Your values, your beliefs, your personality. Personality development is about becoming the best version of you that you can be.
Robbins knows what many folks who are living simply know too. That happiness doesn’t come from your possessions or anything external.
It is affected by those things, yes. But often what we think is helping is actually hurting.
What we need most is less, not more.
2. Dignity Is More Important Than Income
Dignity has no relationship to income. Yet, we act like it does even though dignity is far more important to our individual well-being than money.
Dignity is about autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It’s about self-determination.
Self-determination is the ability to make choices for your own life on a level playing field.
Yet, everywhere we see people volunteering to constrain their own freedom. People are trapped.
Dignity is also about how you are treated by those around you. For most of us, the people around you that end up affecting you the most are the ones you spend the most time with, voluntarily or involuntarily.
That rarely means family and friends for most.
Instead, we spend a third or more of our waking lives interacting with bosses, co-workers, and customers who have a tendency to tear us down, take us for granted, and play political games behind our backs.
The lack of self-determination and respect in our lives is an infringement on our dignity. Loss of dignity is a big reason why we have become the most over-medicated nation on the planet here in the United States of America.
It is important to remember that all around the world our fellow human beings are being robbed of their dignity from a lack of legitimate choices, lawlessness, religious strictures, or all of the above. And yet, others in the third world live happy and fulfilled lives in what we in the West would call a state of poverty. The difference between the first group and the latter is dignity.
Everywhere we are learning that absolute income is not the determinant of human happiness, flourishing, and fulfillment.
Dignity is the feeling that we have some measure of control over our own lives and its direction. The respect of our communities. The right to be treated like a human being and not a faceless, replaceable cog in a machine. These are what really matter.
We have an obligation to people who forcibly have their dignity taken from them to not so easily relinquish ours the way we do in the West for status symbols, fads, and trinkets. We have an obligation to fulfill our potential.
3. The Real 99% Are All Dead
The Occupy Wall Street movement grew out of discontent with the 2008 financial crisis. Inequality, greed, and corporations run amok were the enemies of the Occupy movement. The rallying cry for the movement was “We Are the 99%,” a reference to the income inequality between the 1% richest Americans and the rest.
Of course, most of the protesters were well-educated, disproportionately rich and white, and would be considered 1-Percenters compared to the rest of the world. The irony was not lost on many media outlets covering the phenomenon, who pointed out the hypocrisy.
Even that’s not going far enough. The truth is, the Real 99% are all dead.
Most of the people who have ever been alive lived short, brutish lives ravaged by disease and hunger.
You’re only here reading this because you descended from the tiny sliver of a fraction of people who lived long enough to reproduce an unbroken chain of human beings (your ancestors).
In nearly every measure, we are the most fortunate group of human beings to ever have existed on planet Earth. Whether we measure it by longevity, infant mortality, technological progress, speed and ease of communication, freedom to travel, or access to courts of law, we have it better than 99.99% of everyone who has ever lived.
Yet, we do not act in alignment with this fact of life. We rush through our time-starved, distracted, and dissatisfying lives on a crash course with high blood pressure, hypertension, and burnout.
Despite having the most abundant variety of foods available to us than ever before possible, we fill our bodies with junk and feel tired and exhausted most of our days.
There is an antidote to this behavior. And because it is so simple, it is often overlooked, misunderstood, and under-appreciated.
Ready? Here goes:
Just stop for a second.
Hit pause on your burdens. Rest. Reflect. Feel gratitude that against all odds, you came into existence at this marvelous time in human history when technology is transforming society at a rate and scope faster than any time before.
If you cannot appreciate the amazing world around you, at least give yourself a break before you give yourself a heart attack. Or you will end up joining the real 99%—in non-existence.