About the Author: Shelley Abrams spent close to 25 years as a corporate technical writer before branching out on her own as a freelancer in 2010. She loves writing and doing research and enjoys the diversity being a freelancer offers. She has contributed to blogs on spirituality, personal development, mindfulness, and health and wellness. She has written and maintained philosophical and spiritually based content for a paid membership site. She is currently co-authoring a non-fiction book that offers a unique spin on history and geology. She also does analysis and report writing for a marketing research firm. She has an MBA, as well as, a certificate in non-fiction writing. When she’s not writing, she likes being out in nature or just reflecting in the quiet. She finds history, geography, philosophy and meta-physics fascinating. She also loves traveling, meeting new people and experiencing different cultures. To learn more about Ms. Abrams’ writing experiences, visit her website at www.write2spec.com.
When you think of spring cleaning, what comes to mind? Deep-cleaning the house? Throwing things away? Simplicity? Happiness? It’s an annual ritual many of us go through. We almost always do it for practical purposes. As we accumulate more stuff we need to put it somewhere, so we get rid of some stuff we no longer use. We rarely do it for altruistic reasons, even if we give our things to charity. And, we rarely do it for its intrinsic value. But maybe we should rethink that!
In today’s society we strive to have it all. We work for it, we shop for it, we dream about it and we beat ourselves up when we don’t have it. We feel un-wealthy, unworthy and definitely NOT satisfied or happy! Why? Because we have been programmed throughout our lives to think that an accumulation of things is what constitutes happiness. And we use this accumulation of materiality to define who we are. So if materiality isn’t the answer to happiness, what is?
Let me answer by telling you a personal story.
A few years ago I was visiting friends and it struck me how simplistically they lived compared to me. They made more money, had fewer possessions and seemed happier. I had so much more - well, you know, stuff! And I certainly didn’t feel truly happy or satisfied. I had fallen into the cultural trap of always wanting more, and I bought it, racking up debt while running out of room to store it. It was at that moment I realized how much happier I was when I was younger and had less stuff. There was less stress, I had fun and if I’m honest with myself, I laughed and smiled more.
So, I made a decision. I really don’t need this stuff anymore! That isn’t what life is about. It’s about experiences and finding contentment, inner peace and happiness in or through those experiences. So I embraced spring cleaning year-round. And I embraced doing more of the things I liked to do.
Guess what? As I got rid of stuff, shopping only when I needed to, enjoying what I have and not stressing for more, I felt lighter, happier and dare I say it… more carefree! And, the less time I spent pursuing material things and instead focused on doing things that made me feel good about myself and my life, the more I sensed that deep satisfaction everyone seeks. In other words, I simplified my life and am happier because of it!
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, psychology professor and a leading expert on happiness, calls it “the flow” - doing what makes us feel good on the inside, not what we think makes us look good on the outside. In his 1999, American Psychologist article, “If We Are So Rich, Why Aren’t We Happy”, Csikszentmihalyi highlighted several reasons for feeling unhappy when our day-to-day activities consist mostly in pursuing material things and wealth. One reason was the concept of expectation versus value - the more we get the less satisfied we become. For example, you binge on a box of cookies thinking it will make you feel better, but the more you eat the less you enjoy it.
He also explained that the more energy we put into pursuing what we perceive will make us happy instead of what actually makes us happy, the less energetic we feel overall. If we really want to be happy, we need “flow”.
In his book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”, Csikszentmihalyi suggests three actions we can take to be happier:
In this same book, Csikszentmihalyi sums it up by saying, “happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.”
Sri Paramhansa Yogananda espouses similar things in his book “How to be Happy all the Time”. In his book, Yogananda states that while there is material prosperity, people lack inner happiness because they look for it externally rather than internally. He mentions that happiness stems from being in control of your habits and what he calls “appetites” – the “over-demands of your senses”. He says that in order to be happy we shouldn’t be looking for things; instead we need to be content with what we have and in our pursuit of what we want. He also emphasizes simplicity, which he describes as “a quiet path of moderation”.
This quote from Yogananda’s book is a good way of understanding happiness as it pertains to simplicity: “Joy is too delicate a flow to bloom in the sooted atmosphere of worldly minds, which crave happiness from money and possessions. Joy wilts too, when people water it inadequately by placing conditions on their happiness, telling themselves, ‘I won’t be really happy until I get that car (or dress, or house, or vacation by the sea)!’ Materialistic people, however frantically they pursue the butterfly of happiness, never succeed in catching it. Were they to possess everything their hearts ever craved, happiness would still elude them.”
Now you understand that wanting and pursuing “stuff” does not lead to happiness, but does it mean to be happy we have to have nothing? If pictures of spiritual teachers living in absolute poverty come to mind, that is NOT simplicity and happiness as Yogananda and others define it. It means not buying things you don’t need – those “unnecessary possessions”. It means having enough. It doesn’t mean poverty or other extremes. It means comfortably living your life with, and doing, the things that truly make you happy and letting go of everything else.
So what are some ways you can live a more simplistic, happier life? Here are some tips from Yogananda:
Spend time without distraction every day. Don’t use your electronics, don’t watch television, don’t check emails. Instead, spend time meditating, in quiet reflection or observing yourself and others.
“Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. If you have them, you have to take care of them! There is great freedom in the simplicity of living. It is those who have enough but not too much who are the happiest." – Peace Pilgrim.
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