Many an existentialist can be heard or read, repeating their manifesto ad nauseum— simplify, simplify, simplify— and though some may find it a beautiful adornment for a coffee cup, few ever truly heed those words and put them into action. Our society is clamoring to tell us that we need more, that we should want more, that more things will make us happy, and yet, we know from our own experience that this is not the case. We acquire more and more possessions, thinking that the next new shiny object will make us happy and satisfy us, but before long that new toy has lost its shine, and we must move on to the next useless thing. We continue to drink salt water, thinking it will quench our thirst.
I’m thinking in particular of a certain fruit-based company (to remain nameless) who touts a new item to covet every year or so, advertising that this new shiny rectangle is even bigger, better, and faster than the previous shiny rectangle, and it does everything the old one used to do, only with slightly more excellence. Please don’t hear me as a disgruntled nay-sayer of this company, I confess it was not long ago that I fully indulged myself in every word that streamed from those town hall meetings, but over time, those objects have lost their luster for me. Due to the law of diminishing returns, it seems to me that at a certain point, more isn’t really better, and new isn’t always best. In fact, I think it’s costing us more than just our money.
I believe that when we acquire luxury possessions that we don’t truly need, we pay for them with more than just currency, they cost us a part of our soul. When we constantly upgrade our stuff, instead of being content with what we have, our hearts find their worth in the external, in material possessions, rather than in who we really are. We buy these things because we want to see ourselves as successful, and we want others to perceive us that way as well, and our society has convinced us that the measure of our success is the number of things we have.
Our society has fattened itself on the excess of materialism, but there is another, more subtle gluttony we are guilty of. In the name of progress, we have developed for ourselves an ever-increasing litany of entertainments with which to distract ourselves from our own lives. We are bombarded with light and noise from every angle at every moment, and in order to drown out the din of the world, we generate our own commotion of energy and sound which we pump straight into our own brains as though intravenously. Many cannot even drive their car, or walk down the street without holding a screen in front of their face, (much to the detriment of everyone around them, but I’ll save that topic for a later date). I am absolutely convinced that these devices are ruining our country, and we are willingly submitting ourselves to their rule, thinking that our lives are better off. We happily relinquish our freedom from these machines for comfort, and we demonstrate that we were never truly worthy of freedom in the first place.
We are so overstimulated as a society, that we can’t truly remember what true silence is like, or how it feels to truly be in the dark. To begin our day we are jostled awake by a small screen streaming news from what happened on the internet while we were asleep (nothing of consequence, as usual), we fill our commute with some manner of noise, we sit in front of a computer screen all day at work, and then we try to soothe ourselves in front of the television when we get home, until we have sufficiently drugged ourselves into a subconscious stupor so that we can fall asleep in front of another television. Our standard for entertainment has been so skewed by years of abuse, that it is rare that anything holds our attention for very long. We constantly keep ourselves distracted by so much noise that we don’t have time to be alone with our own thoughts anymore.
The key to contentment is simplicity.
I want to regain my senses again. I want to be content with simple things. I want to be able to take in every detail of the world. I don’t want to wake up one day and realized I missed my life because I was distracted. I’m tired of upgrading material possessions to keep up with everyone else. I’m tired of being told that what I have isn’t enough, that I need more in order to be happy. I unsubscribe from that notion, and I propose a new one. I propose contentment. I propose simplicity. I believe that if we learned to marvel again at simple things, we would be far more content than the wealthiest man in the world, for money is finite, but the earth has no shortage of offerings.
We must learn to drink in the simple things like the sight of the ocean, the sun rising over a mountain range, the feel of thick grass under our feet, a warm cup of coffee in the morning, the taste of a good meal, or the experience of reading a well-written book. What I'm talking about is truly being in the moment. We must learn to hear music again— not just have noise to fill the empty space— but truly listen to music so that we can enjoy it. I’ve found that in these things, I can be perfectly content, and the shiny objects and material possessions don’t seem so alluring anymore. I’ve found that the less I have, the less I need to be happy. When I delight in the simple things, I find that life slows down, and I have more time to enjoy every second of it.
At the end of my life, I want to be able to say I was awake for it.