We are Nike’s ‘Just do it’ generation. We want to live exciting, fulfilled lives; buying new stuff and seeking new experiences to avoid being bored and feeling cheap.
They say that ‘less is more’, but lots of us just aren’t convinced. We may appreciate that accumulating wealth and filling our lives up with busyness can lead to becoming too materialistic and frantic, but it seems that there aren’t enough good reasons why ‘less’ is really ‘more’.
What if we ask instead why ‘more’ might be ‘less’? A guy called Barry Shwartz spent a lot of time thinking about this question and came up with some really interesting ideas. In his talk on The Paradox of Choice, Shwartz describes a shopping trip he took to his local supermarket where he had the choice of 175 salad dressings. 175 salad dressings! He suggests that the overwhelming amount of choice we have about the stuff we buy and things we do makes us less able to enjoy the choices we make. More choices mean we are always comparing what we have to what we could have had if we’d chosen differently. We experience less contentment as a consequence of more choice.
‘More’ not only makes us feel dissatisfied with what we have, but also sends us chasing after material possessions, wealth and status, rather than investing in relationships, enjoying the moment and taking time just to be thankful. When we strive for affluence in our belongings and experiences we pay with a decrease in the quality and quantity of relationship and community. There’s only so much that we’re able to focus on at any one time, so we lose the space needed to engage with the the world in a meaningful way.
How do we achieve ‘less’ and gain ‘more’? It starts with the small things. Firstly, it means less stuff. There’s a common misconception that having less really means having nothing. But less isn’t the image of the Buddhist monk meditating in an empty room. Less isn’t nothing. It’s just less. This means different things to each of us. If we have loads of clothes, we take the stuff we don’t wear to a charity shop. If we usually stock up on an inordinate amount of chocolate, we cut down. Secondly, it means less busyness, less time-consuming activity. We all have little things we know we spend too much time on. If we usually fill every waking hour with music, we choose to spend some time in silence here and there. If we normally spend three hours a day on Facebook, we take a walk instead!
The most exciting thing about ‘less’ is that it leads us to ‘more’. More time, more creativity, more space. It allows for a deeper, more sustainable way of life. No matter how much stuff we crowd our lives with, it cannot be enjoyed without an attitude of ‘less’. Until we are drawn into the rest and stillness of ‘less’, we don’t truly experience the soaring high of ‘more’. It’s a straightforward challenge: more is not better when it is too much, it doesn’t make us happy.
‘The best things in life are the nearest. Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you.’ – Robert Lewis Stevenson