How to Make an Active Minimalist Happy

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Why is it, that being “happy” remains an elusive thing – so much so, that it often attributed as a life goal? Like happiness is an end state – that once we attain it, it is forever ours?

Outside of survival needs (food, water, shelter), most of us desire the same basic things, like being loved and accepted by our family, friends, and greater communities; being safe, in good health, and free from worry; having the freedom to exercise our passions without judgment and consequence. Any sensible person also knows that these “basic things” can easily be taken for granted, and that in this day, having any of them is, unfortunately, still considered a privilege. There are many things outside of our control that can disrupt the balance and rhythm of our lives. And sadly, it is too often in moments when we confront our own mortality that we realize just what is truly important. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Minimalists, and especially active minimalists, tend to emphasize the importance of just “being” or simply “doing” what is natural. Becoming a minimalist is often a product of some sort of discontent, so stripping away the excess garbage allows us to discover our hidden values. The moments we live outside of work and social media are where the raw, unscripted parts of our lives emerge – the words and behaviors that expose our own humanity. The behaviors we exhibit outside of the job title, the family role, the caretaker, the provider, and so on. We are most passionate – most human – when we take off the mask with our titles and roles. And we all wear masks in most places, if only for society to function properly.

Unsurprisingly, it is in those moments when we’re true to ourselves that we feel most liberated. And when we are true to ourselves and accepting of that truth, we begin to feel that elusive thing we call happiness. Personally, I am happiest in an environment where I can naturally “be.” Not “expected to be,” not “supposed to be,” not “meant to be.” Some of you may wonder, what if to “be” is to also be toxic, violent, or condescending? Color me an optimist, but I believe that if someone is truly happy, that person would also be in a position to genuinely be supportive of others. Happy people don’t put others down.

Fancy gifts, money, and swanky dinners can be treats for just about anyone, but for a minimalist, genuine relationships cannot be beat. Shared moments, experiences, and passions can be cherished more deeply than new things, and they cannot be taken away from you.

The Tragedy of Losing Curiosity

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Children transport us back to the time where everything was new and fresh and unknown. A child’s mind is a blank slate waiting to be filled with knowledge, and then opinions, and then tendencies. And most healthy children will ask you questions every day – sometimes hundreds of questions, as they hunger for knowledge and permissions and opinions.

Over time, the questions subside, as they settle into current levels of knowledge. Our behaviors and opinions take root. Our brains stop developing after age 25 and its malleability declines slowly, occasionally reawakened by new challenges, but only when we intentionally take them on or when they are thrust upon us. The wonder that surrounded our childhood fades and the standard formula of bill payments, insurance fights, and dirty laundry swoops in. Our patterns of choosing reaction over creation and survival over adventure encases our lives in a steady march toward a fixed, unrelenting worldview as we subconsciously harden our tendencies and shield our opinions from external influence.

We stop chasing wonder and start chasing comfort.

I am I. You are you. And nothing will change that, we declare. Nothing will pollute all the hard work to create personas we so carefully crafted. But why bring this up? This is a blog about minimalism, where less is more. Why bother hungering for more knowledge, more thought, more fluffy blab when we’re already overscheduled, overworked, and overindulging? This is a blog about the magic of less, not the pursuit of more. And so, you might look at me and think that I’m a fraud.

Life is hard. But humans have been endowed with a wonderful gift. It’s a gift that has been written into the genetic code of many living organisms other than us. That gift is adaptability. Adaptability is one of the central themes of the literary classic “L’étranger.” Our survival is dependent on our ability to adapt to the life interruptions and challenges that are rudely wedge their way into our lives. Adaptability, though, can be dangerous when misused. It can cause us to get stuck on the hedonic treadmill – becoming numb to what was formerly special.

We get so stuck in who we are and what we represent that we easily decide that our way is the only way. And we’ll look for sources – friends, families, statistics, internet, books – to validate it. We stop being curious about what we could do, who we could be, and as a result, we stop learning. We stop growing and we start decaying.

I’m not saying we should all go out there and learn 10 languages or abandon all your goals in pursuit of other things. I’m saying that perhaps you’re an engineer, but you might try your hand at art. Or that you write chicken scratch, but perhaps you’ll try calligraphy. Or that you’re a cardio guru, but you might meander to the weight rack for a while. Or that you specialize in the written word, but you might try your hand at numbers. Perhaps you have predispositions to certain things, but your predisposition shouldn’t dictate everything you do.

Kids with their wild imaginations will try anything. They get excited about things we find mundane. I would love it, if, in the spirit of Halloween, we put on a costume, and tried to play another role outside of what we are used to.. Because you never know what you’re capable of or what you just might discover if you don’t suit up and venture that extra mile.

Having Interesting Stuff Does Not Make You an Interesting Person

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Back in my Buffalo days, I scoured estate sales. For the uninitiated, an estate sale is literally an open house event where everything inside the house is for sale. They usually happen because relatives don’t know or don’t want to deal with the stuff in the house after the owner dies, so in a effort to liquidate all the extra STUFF, they hire an estate liquidation company to appraise everything, advertise the sale, and run it, sometimes for several days. It’s definitely an odd thing for a 23 year old to do on the weekends – walking into dead people’s houses and buying their stuff – and in retrospect, not a great use of my time, because even though I’ve seen it all – floor-to-ceiling collections of snowmen toys, elaborate glassware, two hundred year old plates passed down multiple generations – the collections of “stuff” didn’t tell much of a story. After a while, every dead person’s house was the same – a bunch of uninteresting piles of stuff.

We often use our stuff to craft and depict our identities as though we were being studied by the rest of the world. And we do the same for others – that guy with the Porsche, that woman with the extensive Gucci handbag collection, that man who owns a rubber ducky collection, that woman who owns a swimming pool. Those things are infinitesimal parts of a person blown out of proportion by ads in an attempt to persuade us that what we own will magically transform us into what we aspire to be or what we think we represent. Sexy, says the Chanel perfume ad. Daring, says the Michael Kors ad. Healthy, says the Whole Foods ad. Trendy, says the H&M ad. Athletic, says the Nike ad. Powerful businessperson, says the Banana Republic ad. Classy, says the fine wine ad. Adventurous, says the Patagonia ad.

Fun fact: You could buy their products and be none of those things.

Curating a collection of interesting stuff tells me very little about a person. Does owning comprehensive makeup collection make someone a good makeup artist? No, it just tells me that person spends a lot of time buying makeup. Does owning fancy shoes tell me that person has good taste in footwear? No, it just tells me that person spends a lot of time buying shoes. See a pattern?

Yet…why does it matter? We care a lot about “being interesting,” but what does that entail?

I don’t really care if my neighbor has a bigger house, more expensive car, or even on the flipside – a smaller car, a smaller house. We meet others based on mutual interests, which is a good place to start connecting with others, but two people can like the same things and still be completely incompatible.

If we truly want to get to know someone, then we would go straight for the heart. We would unearth that person’s strength of character by asking the loaded questions. Things that will get you straight to the depths of “interesting” that we desire so much.

“What do you fight for?”

and

Who do you fight for?”

and

How do you fight?