The Simple Life Philosophy


The Simple Life Philosophy


Bradley Swenson Photography

Bradley Swenson Photography

Chip Grossman

There seems to be an ever present focus in the Western World on having nice things. As it turns out, this mentality can create unhappiness.

There are a lot of nice material things in this world. There are nice houses, nice cars, nice clothes - the list goes on and on.

It’s easy to equate happiness to nice things. Lots of people do it. Some people spend their whole lives working so that they can buy nice material things in the future, often to realize it doesn’t bring them the happiness they were expecting.

I’m not here to bash that mentality. That said, I support a contrary philosophy. I believe that giving more things up, and simplifying life as much as possible, brings greater happiness and success. In the words of the Tao Te Ching:

“If you want to be given everything, give everything up”.

But giving things up is hard. Possessions can be nice! The problem with possessions, though, is that we become attached. We even become attached to things before we get them. I often notice fear in myself when I start to think about how I’m going to make enough money to buy certain things.

To a degree, I should be doing this. It’s important to be financially oriented, and everyone has their own unique financial situation. The thing is, money and happiness don’t have a 1:1 pairing. Daniel Kahneman, the inventor of Behavioral Economics, discusses this in his Ted Talk:

“We looked at how feelings vary with income. It turns out that below a salary of $60,000, people are unhappy and they get progressively unhappier the poorer they get. Above that we get an absolutely flat line.. Clearly what is happening is that Money doesn't buy you happiness but lack of money does buy you misery”.

So attachment to money seems healthy to a degree. That said, a problem arises when non-vital possessions start to shape our decisions. If you're making life decisions based on the premise of making enough money to buy nice things down the road so that you'll be happy, you might hit a road block. I'm talking about the possessions that we want but don't need. Possessions beyond the basic needs of safety and security. I'm not saying we shouldn't indulge at all, but it's important to have a healthy relationship with possessions and to know that more isn't always better.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a serious attachment to my possessions. My things bring me joy, but they also create suffering and hold me back. A perfect example is my closet. My closet is large, and it’s full. Full of clothes I mostly don’t wear. Yet I have a tough time parting with many of these clothes. Why? A host of reasons. Maybe they're expensive, represent a memory, were given to me as a gift, etc.

What do all these clothes create? Indecision. I waste time thinking about what I’ll wear. It would be easier if I only had a few pieces of clothing. I recently read a Forbes article that discusses why Steve Jobs and other notable corporate executives wear the same thing every day - largely because it’s easy on the brain.

Our brains are like a cell phone battery. We wake up with a limited amount of power, and each decision that we make drains the battery (If you want to learn how to recharge your battery with mindfulness go here). Thus, if you want to save your battery for things that matter, make more easy decisions. That’s why I’m trying to simplify my life and reduce the size of my closet.  

Along with making life simpler, giving things away makes you feel good. It makes the people who you give to feel good. Despite the good feelings, though, giving stuff up isn’t something that comes naturally to me. It’s something I have to actively work on.

I learned this lesson big time last week in the place where so many life lessons happen: In the back of an Uber.

I was picked up by Tonya after attending a Tony Robbins conference, and I felt the good vibes as soon as I got in the car. There was an entire box of free candy. Not breath mints. Full. Size. Packs. It reminded me of that feeling I used to get on Halloween when someone would give me a full size candy bar. Flat out good vibes.

Tonya was super talkative, and I came to learn that she is a huge giver. She told me a story about how giving has always been a natural thing for her. When she was a kid, she would take her allowance money and use it to buy food for the homeless people. She told me a couple stories, and one that stuck with me was the story of the favorite fur coat she ever had.

A few years ago Tonya saw a coat that she adored and bought it on the spot. The coat fit her like a glove. It was the perfect winter accessory.

On a cold night a few weeks later she was walking down the street with a friend when she saw a homeless person who looked cold. So what did she do? She took her favorite coat off her back and gave it to the man. Her friend asked her why the heck she was giving away her favorite coat when she could just go back to her home and grab a different coat for the man. Tonya told me about this:

“I knew that if I went back to my house to get the man a coat, maybe he wouldn’t still be there when I came back. I was given an opportunity in that moment to put others before myself. The things I love the most are the ones I know I need to share with the world. It’s easy to give away something that you don’t like. It’s harder, and more powerful, to give things away that you really like”

It’s easy to focus more about the things we have than the people in the world. The world becomes a cold place when we live like this. The cold doesn’t suit me well, so I vote we warm things up a bit.

I’ll conclude with some wisdom from the Buddha:

“Live simply and give much”

Sum Up

  • We live in a society that is focused on material things, and a common misconception is that accumulating more and nicer possessions will lead to more happiness.

  • Research indicates that up to a salary of $60,000, more wealth leads to more happiness. Beyond that, however, the line goes flat. Mo Money, Mo Problems.

  • Attachment to possessions can hold you back from taking risks.

  • Simplifying things makes your life easier. The fewer decisions you have to make, the more brain energy you have.

Have fun simplifying!


Chip Grossman

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