Living with less – the key to happiness
Look around your home – you're probably surrounded by things you've worked hard to own – that 50” flat screen didn't come cheap, nor did your fibre broadband, the latest iPad and a comfortable, luxurious sofa. But do these things really make us happy? Research shows that spending money on experiences boosts our mood more than buying things, so why are we all so focused on consumerism?
We live in a word where less is rarely more. We want the latest model, the fastest car, to win the race. Yet we wonder why we still feel empty; we feel like something is missing. The art of minimalism, as practised by Buddhist monks, illustrates this point perfectly. These monks (and other traditional Buddhists) lead a minimalist lifestyle; they don't believe in forming attachments to objects or possessions. Buddhists believe attachment causes suffering. Think about it this way; chances are you're attached to your favourite mug. If it breaks, you're angry and upset – you've caused yourself suffering because of your attachment.
So is living with less – a minimalist lifestyle – the key to happiness? We thought we'd find out.
The inspiration for this article comes from the Minimalists – Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Founders of theminimalists.com, these two found themselves feeling discontent as they approached the age of 30. Despite having everything they ever wanted – everything we think we need to be happy such as high-earning jobs, big houses, fast cars and the latest gadgets – there was something missing. Both quit their jobs in 2011 to begin a life-changing journey into minimalism, becoming full-time authors and speakers covering topics ranging from writing and publishing to simple living and personal growth. You can read about their 21-day journey into minimalism here. We've broken down some of the finer points, so you can road-test this type of lifestyle for yourself.
What do you really need?
Our lives are filled with clutter. But how much of what we own do we actually need? Working out what's essential and what isn't adding value to your life may sound simple; believe us when we say it's far from easy to do! But start small, with the easy things. That box of dusty old VHS tapes, pile of old magazines or drawer packed with old charger cables for long-since-gone gadgets – these are things you can clear out of your life. If you're ready to get started, there's a fun way to do this – the Minimalist Game.
How to play the Minimalist Game
You'll need a friend or family member who's willing to embrace minimalism and de-clutter their life; so count out your hoarder friends that keep hold of every Christmas card you've ever given them! On the first day of the month, both of you must get rid of one thing from your homes – it can be anything. Sell it online, donate it to charity or just bin it. On the second day, it's two things, then three on the third day and so on. Try to make it to the end of the month – nobody said it would be easy and it's quite a challenge.
It's not just about things
Minimalism, or living with less, involves mindfulness too. It's not just about chucking out things you don't need. It's a complete lifestyle overhaul designed to increase your positivity, reduce your dependence on material possessions and change the way you view things. It's also about looking after yourself; your health is important.
Diet and exercise
A healthy diet and regular exercise are vital for health and happiness. Moving for 30 minutes a day can help reduce your risk of heart disease and obesity, getting those endorphins flowing and boosting your mood. Even going for a walk, gardening or housework counts. You don't need to join a gym to get fit – there are plenty of other options; why not sign up for a dance class or go for a run around your city?
At first, exercising will seem like a chore, but once it becomes a habit, you'll find you can't live without it. You'll look forward to your morning run or yoga session as 'me' time; an opportunity for solitude and the chance to strengthen your body.
Changing your diet to one which includes plenty of fresh, raw and unprocessed foods will help you to be happier. Chocolate, crisps, greasy takeaways and sugar can all cause spikes in blood sugar, increase your risk of heart disease and obesity and leave you feeling tired and depressed. Eating well-balanced meals, cutting out dairy, ensuring you eat plenty of protein and increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables will boost your outlook on life. Forget about calorie counting. Many 'diet' desserts and meals are packed with preservatives, artificial ingredients and empty calories. It's far better to cook your own meals, so you know exactly what you're putting into your body. Try out one of our recipes, such as our courgette pasta or easy-to-make soups.
It's easy to assume you need your dishwasher, your 50” TV and your iPad. These things aren't just costing you money though; there's more at stake. They are costing you time. Time to earn the money to buy them, and time to operate them and take care of them. That expensive car you bought on finance? You'll be working every weekend for the next year just to make the payments – no time for a family holiday. They also take up space, which means you'll need a bigger, more expensive home to hold your belongings.
Detach yourself from material possessions. It's all just stuff. Wanting and owning stuff doesn't make you a bad person, but it does mean you need to take a long, hard look at your priorities. Focus on what's important. Family, friends, experiences, travel – these are the things which will make you happy. Do a job you love. Come home to a house that isn't packed to the rafter with unnecessary things. It's unlikely you'll look back on your youth and remember fondly the iPad you spent £600 on!
If you really want to, you can make changes. Get off Facebook, sell your tablet and start living. Fill your life with experiences and surround yourself with people in order to be happy. Start small and don't set yourself a bigger challenge than you can handle. The simple art of de-cluttering can help you to lead a more minimalist lifestyle; move into a smaller flat if you have to. But make these changes now, before the year is out, and you'll notice you feel less anxious and depressed, more happy and content.