It is Day 1 of the “Less Things, More Happiness” challenge. The guidelines are outlined in my previous post. The main objective is to improve long-term happiness without having to resort to materialistic things based on science-backed techniques.
I set a timer for 10 minutes and went out to enjoy nature. It was just me with my clothes and the air. It did not cost any money.
Literally, all I had on were basic clothes: a t-shirt, shorts, socks, underwear, and shoes. I noticed I had brand name clothing on, like most people. Remember, this is not about capitalism being bad or being a hipster. Nike (and many businesses) are there for a reason. They provided better stuff that is more affordable, more convenient, or higher quality.
Now, you can argue until the end of time on if they are truly doing this or ripping you off. Some companies can start doing this and arguably Nike’s shoe prices are getting a bit inflated for the extra value they truly provide. But overall, I still think they have done a great service. Read the founder’s book Shoe Dog for a better picture.
And if you are interested in better understanding why capitalism and business isn’t always evil, there are two easy-to-read books I recommend: #GirlBoss and The Education of a Millionaire. Both are written by people who used to be anti-capitalist hippies until they stumbled into businesses that changed their eyes and made them rich.
The point is that I am not a minimalist hippie nor do I think you should become one. I have adopted some minimalist-type traits because I see the value in them. There is a lot of happiness and efficiency you can achieve by simplifying, as you will see…
Now, on with the story.
I walked around the block, feeling the toes in my feet and the well-knit fabric of my shoes. I appreciated, marveled, and reminded myself that I could be happy right now right here, with just me and my clothes. I did not need to spend $1 or $100 or $1,000,000 to have a blissful time.This is the practice of savoring the small things that go unnoticed and taken for granted.
And anyone is capable of this. Air is free and plentiful. And everyone has clothes, even homeless people.
But I realized that I was not truly minimalist. There were a bunch of possessions in my home that tie me to my location. I had to eventually return there and to the possessions that bring me joy.
Matthew Santoro’s teeth video explains this well. He is a famous YouTuber and he released a video showing how he brushed his teeth. He literally had a bottle of listerine, floss, an expensive electric toothbrush, a gizmo that he lights up his teeth with to make them brighter, and white strips.
This is the stuff that can chain someone to a location and lead to excessive spending. I do not have as many stuff as Matthew or other Americans, but it is important to keep in mind. Some people cannot be happy unless they have truckloads of possessions. That’s the opposite of minimalism.
I do have enough possessions that when I think about traveling the world one day, I wonder, “How am I going to take my electric shaver, toe nail clipper, toothpaste, toothbrush, and heater with me?”
The truth is that you can buy what you need on your journey. I can’t remember who I heard this quote from but it was from a travel blogger.
But the immediate excuse I had (that maybe you have too) is: “I don’t want to waste my stuff or pollute the environment by throwing away something that can still be used just to travel to a new place to buy it again.”
Some of us can’t afford to do that.
I thought about it and I came to a (temporary) conclusion. We can buy what we want as long as we are still free enough from our possessions to do what we want.
A recent interview I saw by the billionaire John Paul DeJoria said it best. You own your possessions if you can give it away whenever you want. Otherwise, your possessions own you.
This is profound and really important because a lot of rich people have their possessions own them. Warren Buffett has said in many interviews that he knows a ton of rich people who are owned by their possessions. And that’s one of the reasons he live in his modest, tiny house.
Some people don’t care about traveling and want to stay in one location for the reason of their lives. For these people, their freedom can be limited and they won’t care.
But others want to travel the world but they are stopped from doing so because they can’t leave their stuff (their dog, their cat, their hair curlers, etc.). If they do travel, it is limited to a 1 or 2 week visit of an over-saturated tourist spot before they have to return.
Money can help. (Like I said, I’m not a minimalist when it comes to money) You can pay for a babysitter. You can buy a new hair dryer.
But money alone cannot grow your inner independence.
So, back to my walk. My focus for this walk was on two practices that science has shown grows your long-term happiness: gratitude and savoring the good.
I said these thoughts in my head:
- I am grateful for my health.
- I am grateful for my body.
- I am grateful for my youth.
- I am grateful to have four working limbs (my knees started hurting when I said this – I have knee pains. But I am still grateful).
- I am grateful for my educational opportunities.
- I am grateful for a lack of illness and pain.
These may seem generic or dry if you don’t think about them in the right way. I have read a lot of stories of people with horrible lives. I have met people without limbs, health, lack of illness, or educational opportunities. I have experienced horrendous pain before. I kept these experiences in my mind to remind myself of the weight of the awesome stuff we take for granted.
I try to read about a lot of cool stories of successful people overcoming incredibly horrible odds and bad childhood conditions to inspire me and keep me grateful. But I still think I am just a bit above average in my experiences of people with tough times.
I want to do a bit more volunteering and learn more about the horrible situations of people in the world to keep things in perspective. If you are interested in further reading, a great place to start is the book Getting There. I did an interview with the author Gillian Segal worth watching too.
For the savoring part, here is what I savored:
- The different designs of leaves on the trees.
- The different types of trees.
- The sun in the sky making all sorts of cool reflections on the trees.
- The awesome weird shapes and sizes of the trees.
- The clouds in a light-blue sky.
But not everything on my walk was awesome. This won’t be a typical “mindful love and purity” woo-woo story. I want to be honest.
I ran into at least twenty mosquitoes and flies. The place was infested with them.
I started itching everywhere. They bit me everywhere. There flew around everywhere that I could see them one by one.
But here’s the lesson:
I was reminded that not all possessions are bad. We evolved as a community to create objects to solve our problems. It’s just that business, marketing, capitalism, and modern society can sometimes make us over-consume and get wrapped up in having too much.
For example, at that moment, I realized mosquito spray and shelter was good. I was itching so badly that I wanted to sprint inside.
As the timer was about to ring, I savored the different size of trees I could see one last time. I savored the incredible setting sun that rippled different shades of orange across a canopy of treetops.
All of a sudden, I remembered that the area I was in used to be a brand new area open to the public 10 years ago. I used to come here as a kid and there was a sense of newness, open fields, and excitement.
Now, a ton of houses had been built here and the trees had grown much bigger, crowding out there area. I marveled at how this area was now considered “old and worn out” in my eyes. But then…
I reminded myself that it was always old. The earth and older trees had been here for hundreds of years, the rocks for thousands. It was just my perspective.
I finished by thinking of what I had overheard before I started this walk. I overheard someone watching a ton of YouTube videos. She had a short attention span so she went to a new video every 20 seconds.
Why did I bring this up and why is it useful to you? You’ll see soon enough…
Here is some of what I overheard:
- A gossip YouTube channel talking about how Justin Bieber deleted his Instagram after some more drama with Selena Gomez. She tweeted some vague but pointed comments about him, then went on Snapchat to apologize for how selfish that impulse tweet was.
- A YouTube vlogger just bought a big house at the age of 18 and was vlogging the whole thing. She said it was an investment.
I realized I was reacting to what was happening. I was disappointed at the arrogance of Selena because I thought she was more mature than that, I thinking about how the vlogger made a bad financial choice but will learn from it (even though I don’t know much about real estate), and I was getting jealous of this vlogger’s house.
The point is that this stuff sucks you into small-minded thinking and makes you less happy. So avoid it. It also reminded me that I need to work a lot more on thinking so much and reacting, which meditation to solve.
Social media is not all good. There are things that I like about it (how it teaches people things they don’t know and how it inspires people).
But there is bad too. Even if social media gurus like Gary Vaynerchuk won’t admit it. (He may be too caught up running a business to really see the ins and outs of it.)
- Social media causes a lot of toxic, unhealthy social comparison.
- It has caused unhealthy thinking that has caused suicide and murder.
- It can encourage gossip, negative thinking, and bad influences.
- It can force you to live up unto unhealthy beauty standards.
I recently saw Gary have two girls on his show who were social media stars of a new social platform called Musically, where you lip sync to songs. They had several million followers.
What Gary doesn’t know is that these girls (and the other 11 year old’s on there) sing a lot of inappropriate songs for their age on there, like:
- Drunk texting a one night stand.
- Cursing up a storm and bragging about sex.
You don’t have to look far to find these. And you can tell by their faces that they think it’s so cool. I don’t think it’s a good lesson to be teaching but hey, tell it to the musicians singing these songs.
My only problem is this is that science has shown that social comparison (comparing your accomplishments to others) is the worst thing you can do to your happiness because it prolongs and worsens sadness. And social media feeds are one of the worst inventions for that since a lot of your friends (a.k.a. people you know who aren’t really your friends) love to show off their better lives on there.
I’ve seen a lot of people fall for the comparison trap. I have caught them talking and dwelling about how one guy bought a car or something else that they can’t afford themselves (even if that guy went into debt to buy that car).
This Is What I Have Committed To Do To Solve This
I do not know if I can help someone else. But I can help myself. And that’s where you should start. Think of the airplane safety tip they give before takeoff: Put an oxygen mask on yourself before your children in case of emergency. You can’t help others until you help yourself first.
This is what I will do to improve my experience of life:
- Use free site blockers to stay away from social media feeds, especially Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. I doubt anyone else will tell you this because they want you to watch their content.
- Do more of these “Happiness walks” (maybe indoors next time) where you remind yourself you can be happy with just the basic clothes on your back and the air that you breathe.
Hopefully, you can use the takeaways I have discovered to better your own success in your life.
Also, remember these things:
- You don’t have to cut out all your possessions. Some of them are there to help you.
- Money and wealth are not bad. They can make your life much easier. But money alone will not help you become free from your possessions or reach your highest levels of happiness.
Thanks so much for reading this whole thing. I am sorry if I rambled and went off topic. I would have focused on just gratitude and savoring for this walk but I let it flow because my thoughts related to the topic at hand. And it seemed to have lead to some interesting ideas.
Perhaps this will also show that you are not the only person struggling with meditation. All of our minds naturally wander along.
For Day 2 of this challenge, I want to spend less time thinking about random stuff and more time practicing happiness exercises. Meditation helps with this, but this walk really reminded me how many thoughts our monkey brain has, which distract us from experiencing the present.
I challenge you to do exercises I mention along with me rather than just read them. This 7 Day Challenge is meant to be a collaborative experience to improve our lives.