There is stuff you need, stuff you want and stuff that makes you comfortable; however, that stuff is not the source of happiness.
When I prepared for hurricane Irma, I learned what was precious to me, and what stuff I could live without. I was lucky because I learned this lesson without consequences; my area of Southwest Florida was not in the direct path of the storm. And, after seeing the stories of what took place in Puerto Rico following two back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes, my concerns about my little house and belongings were minuscule in comparison.
I still have a house!
I came home to a neighborhood with downed trees and wires, and no electricity, but I still had a roof and walls to support it. I looked around my house, and I still had all of my stuff. My windows were boarded up, I had piled everything up off of the floor and tied down what I could, but I was still able to come home—to a house full of stuff.
So I started to ask myself,
“Does having ‘stuff’ really translate to being happy?”
In the larger picture of life, I don’t really think so. Then I did some digging online, and I found this interesting perspective from Berkley Wellness at the University of California (berkeleywellness.com) on what researchers have determined makes people happy:
“Researchers think of happiness as having satisfaction and meaning in your life. It’s the propensity to feel positive emotions, the capacity to recover from negative emotions quickly, and holding a sense of purpose. Happiness is not having a lot of privilege or money. It’s not constant pleasure. It’s a broader thing: Our ability to connect with others, to have meaningful relationships, to have a community. Time and again—across decades of research and across all studies—people who say they’re happy have strong connections with community and with other people. That’s sort of the recipe for happiness.”
I’ve always believed that increasing degrees of happiness can be experienced as we grow in consciousness along a spiritual path and offer compassionate service to others, and it is comforting to know others agree that stuff doesn’t bring long-term satisfaction and joy. While material goods can certainly make our experience on Earth more comfortable—and I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with owning and appreciating items we enjoy and find helpful—it’s not the foundation on which a healthy, happy and meaningful life is built. When tragedy strikes this perspective often becomes clear. And when the dust settles, it’s community that becomes the keystone in restoring our hope, faith, and ultimately, our happiness.
Right now our nation is reeling from disasters. Loss of lives from Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria. Deaths in Las Vegas resulting from the most devastating mass murder in modern United States history. And, most recently, the loss of lives in the wildfires raging throughout Northern California and its wine country.
I feel quite certain that the family members who have lost loved ones in these tragedies would give up their material goods to have their loved ones back. Stuff can be replaced. Yes, it takes money and time, and there is nothing convenient about needing to replace items—but they are replaceable. And yes, there are things that cannot be replaced, like old family photos and heirlooms, but how often do you really go into that dusty box and take out your mom’s old photo album and flip through the pictures from her childhood?
No amount of stuff is going to bring back someone’s husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother, child or friend. Real happiness lies in the heartfelt connections we have with people, not in how much they can give us or buy us, or how much we can accumulate in our lifetime. I hope as a society we can recover from these events with ever-increasing gratitude for our communities. It will help us identify what’s really important and embrace an attitude of minimalism—and this is the recipe for true happiness in our world.
Becoming a minimalist is simple—because it is simplicity in itself.
The philosophy of minimalism can be applied to almost anything in life: over buying, over packing, overeating, overdrinking, overindulging of any kind—we all know our own weaknesses. And we don’t have to release everything. We can use our sensibilities to realize when we have too much. What is indulgence? It’s a moment of self-gratification—when we grasp for short-term pleasure while robbing ourselves of lasting long-term happiness.
Imagine that you have gone to the beach. It’s a beautiful day, you get out of your car, the weather is gorgeous, fluffy clouds are in the sky, the sun is warm, a breeze carries the fresh scent of the sea, kids play and run in the sand carefree and laughing, birds swoop overhead, a pod of dolphins swims in the waves nearby. Now imagine that YOU cannot feel it, hear it, smell it or see it because of all the stuff you are carrying. A big floppy sunhat blocks your vision, your radio is blaring, you sweat uncomfortably while lugging a huge wagon with beach chairs, umbrellas, coolers and rafts. You get the picture. This pile weighs you down and prevents you from feeling the joyful freedom of a fresh, clean, sun-filled day at the beach.
Now, imagine yourself dropping everything. Breathe deeply and feel that cool breeze against your skin and the warm sun on your face, the velvety sand between your toes. That’s true bliss and happiness.
I’m not suggesting that we renounce all of our belongings. Start with one box, or one shelf, or by donating one major item to a charity. And while doing it, contemplate that it’s going to mean that someone else gets to wear clean clothes, or eat a healthy meal, or sleep in a dry, clean bed, or cuddle with a toy.
You see, less really is more because it lightens up your heart.
Then your own light will shine brighter as you help others and learn first-hand that community and connections truly are the threads that weave our happiness. And the sun and the sand really do feel so much better.
Christy Perry has devoted most of her life to working in the creative arts and entertainment, most recently for a successful vacation destination retailer, which has provided the marketing and merchandising foundation for The BhakTee Life, an online brand of spiritually inspired tee shirts and clothing. She is a world traveler with a special connection to Ladakh, North India, in the Himalayas, and an animal rescue advocate who frequently meditates with her cat Tati. With years of spiritual study and practice behind her, Christy is an accomplished sound practitioner working with Tibetan and crystal singing bowls and the gong. For more information visit BhakTee.com or email TheBhakTeeLife@gmail.com.