Not that long ago, an entire generation of people were content to go to work, come home, raise their children, and go to the beach for their holidays once a year. They owned one car, one television, one radio and one telephone. If they were lucky.
People counted themselves fortunate to own a modest house, put food on the table and have a pretty garden with a picket fence. They were over the moon if one of their children went to university. They were content.
As a child I remember this sense of contentment emanating from my parents and their friends. Even while they worked hard as immigrants to create better lives, they rejoiced in what they had.
My father was content. More than that, he considered himself fortunate, wealthy, his life plentiful.
Even though he never owned a car, nor until decades later, his own apartment.
We seldom went away on holiday. We not only had no car, but also no television set. Not even a hi-fi. (That's an old fashioned record player, millennials). Though we did own one tape cassette player (old fashioned cd), a radio, and a telephone. Life was simple.
I was reminded of this sense of simplicity and contentment while sitting in a coffee bar the other day.
A couple with young child were joined by the grandparents. They discussed what they would do the rest of that Sunday – hang up a mirror, plaster a corner of the house. How masking tape was so important. Grandpa then leaned back and sighed contentedly. I have a whole week off, he said. He spoke of resting, gardening, repairing a hose. Simple, wholesome things.
Here are people, I though to myself, who are still content. With simple lives. They are not trying to negotiate the next deal for their company, or hedge the rand, or expand their house or go into air b&b or save the rain forests. They are content to hang a mirror of a Sunday afternoon. They simply live. Simply.
Is a yearning for simplicity not what drives us to go away to remote places? To stay in tiny huts while hiking, or on retreat, with all we own fitting in a backpack? To camp under the stars? Even staying in a luxury hotel or game farm means we leave our stuff behind. Life is simplified down to a few clothes in a suitcase, a few meals a day, some walks or drives. Reading a book. Simplicity.
It reminds me of my father and all the Sunday afternoons he spent playing chess or backgammon while sipping his whiskey and nibbling mezethes.
Before he died he told me to go live in Greece.
'What will I do there babba?', I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders, lifted his hands palm up and said,
'Live, my child. Live!'
We have forgotten how to simply live. So caught up we are in striving, angst-ting, trying to get more, to become more. We want more things, better things, upgraded things, more activity, more work, more cleverness, more planning, more sorting, more organising, more busyness. And when we get a spare moment we need to check on and report to all the devices, groups, chats, feeds and other chains our technology has bound us in.
Gandhi said, 'live simply, that others may simply live'.
Contentment is the key. Being satisfied with little. And feeling abundant in that simplicity.
There is enormous spaciousness in that. Which is obvious in a sense, as the less stuff around, the more space there is. Take a listen to George Carlin on 'stuff'. Hilarious, yet true.
So as the New Year begins, and we compose our lists of more goals and acquisition, let's spend some time reflecting on things we can let go of. Habits that no longer serve, actions that inhibit our expansion, thoughts that disrupt our peace of mind, emotions that close our hearts. Pointless activities that take up our most valuable commodity – time.
Then there are things. How many less things could we have? How much stuff could we give away, to so very many who need it, without even noticing they're gone? How many plates do we really need? How many glasses, socks, dresses, t-shirts, notebooks, pens, vases, books, towels, sarongs, scarves, ties, cufflinks, perfumes, rings, chains, earrings, ornaments, paintings, teas? Oh I could go on. I'm sure your house is similar.
My father believed 'too many things give you a headache'. So very, very true! Yia sou babba mou! (A Greek greeting to my father's memory).
We live in the world of more. Funny discussion this, for someone in the field of wealth expansion, yet as the TS Elliot poem says, 'the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.' It's definitely the case with possessions.
When people retire, they wind up all their stuff, sell most of it, reduce their living arrangements, simplify everything. So they can relax and have time to play. I often wonder if the accumulation journey in between, and all the time and energy it took was necessary.
So start the year off with a bang! See how much you can get rid of, give away, let go of, do without. Discover how little you really need when it comes down to it. I've got rid of not just the dstv subscription, but the tv too. That's the start. I plan to take this blog to heart. Fundamentally I probably write these for myself.
When it comes down to it, contentment is about correct focus. Finding out what you need. Being happy that you have it. That's key. The focus on what you have, as opposed to what you don't have. That is the secret to contentment.
Get really wealthy this year in the things that actually matter. Space. Time. Clarity. Leisure. Joy. Contentment!
Happy 2019! May it be spacious, simple, spectacular, serene, smashing, stupendous, singular, surreal, sonorous, stable, and simply scrumptious!
“Just tell yourself, Duckie, you're really quite lucky.”
“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”