In Search of the Good Life

Amid all the pain and hardship of the pandemic there has been, for some people, a glimpse of a quieter, more simple way of life. This change has obviously been most marked in towns and cities, but no one can lurch from one extreme to another without trepidation and adjustment. Making the transition is best accomplished slowly but with persistence. You need to have a vision.   

The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes walked the talk by living in a large jar and surviving on onions, but you don’t have to go quite that far to join the ranks of people who are choosing a less complicated life. Diogenes was a Premier League show-off though, a character trait that could result in situations that are not simple at all. Billionaire investor Warren Buffet, known in America as the Sage of Omaha, is famously frugal. Having the choice to live simply makes a lot of difference and is itself a luxury.

The imposed peasant economies of Mao and Pol Pot resulted in the death of millions of Asian people, and the victims of domestic abuse during lockdown would not describe their experience as simple.     

Providing the conditions are right, some people in financially crashed, Brexited, locked down and fed up Britain could perhaps make a virtue of necessity by changing their attitude to a reduction in resource consumption and energy intensive excitement? There have always been a few people who have voluntarily opted to live in a less complicated, less frenetic way, and since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the trend has grown at an accelerating rate. Even the new Pope is a convert (to simple living, that is!).

The idea must still be popular judging by the number of books on the subject. I readily found 600 titles and a multitude of possible leads on the internet, and even a simple living group on Facebook. My access to high-tech wizardry certainly makes contacting people easier, but you might decide that you are far too pure to rely on such electronic props.   

It was easy to track down Pembrokeshire people who have deliberately opted for life outside the competitive mainstream. There are at least four intentional communities, groups of green tendency people, who try to live in permanent balance with available natural resources. That makes perfect sense, and the care and creative thought required can be very satisfying. Although I could, in theory, copy their example, I am unable to do so; but if I was unhappy with my limitations, which I am not, then the response of a local Buddhist leader to my question “What is simple living?” would be helpful. His indirect advice – to go with the flow and not waste time grumbling – would certainly be sound.

A Haverfordwest lady said that her simple life was very happy, and a South Pembrokeshire woman provided the following quote :          

“Living simply for me has taken on a new meaning in recent months. I notice I have begun to place greater value on the ‘simple’ things in life – whether it be taking a walk in the countryside, spending time in the garden, eating simple (unmodified) wholefoods, not shopping for items that perhaps I don’t really need, listening to birdsong, valuing even small interactions, e.g. with loved ones, with neighbours, or with a passing stranger on the street. Simplicity of thought has also been necessary for my sense of wellbeing and I have been working with meditation practices.

“Sometimes, if a negative mood arises, the thought is why bother? Why bother to wash the dishes right now or cook a nice meal – if everything in our world is going to hell in a handcart? Then I turn to my zen practice and remind myself it’s fine and necessary to just ‘do the dishes’ or whatever it is that’s right in front of you Why, just because that is what life is and, even in apparent turmoil, life is going on.”

Unfortunately, there are some people who really need an increase in resources, but for those who are a little better placed, then an improvement in quality of life might be achieved in a variety of ways.

Balance is everything. There is no need to knit your own hair shirt and live on dandelion soup to indulge in a little less clutter, a little more time, and perhaps a little less stress. I found that de-cluttering makes the house look a bit bleak, but I soon got used to it, and a load of junk was out of my life.

Now for the downsides. The more seriously you take the idea, the harder it is to achieve this saintly  state of real simplicity because we have to untangle a web of the complexities of modern life that stick to us like glue. If you are disabled or elderly, then you may need plenty of technology to help make things possible at all. Moving into a cave on your 80th birthday is not recommended. If you really want to make do and mend, recycle and repair, then you could find yourself in a more labour-intensive lifestyle. It is a question of getting the head round the fact that menial tasks can be enjoyed rather than avoided at all cost. The age-old and now trendy practice of mindfulness actually works. It is a question of doing what suits you.

The essential starting point for a successful venture is to recognise the value of the idea in the first place – which includes the satisfaction of increased self reliance, and of escaping the rat race when you need to. Increased productivity and efficiency can also be the end result of simplifying working practices, and then you may have plenty of time left over to sit quietly and watch the sun go down. Simplify, Simplify.

Alan Martin

Alan Martin is a Pembrokeshire native who has worked in several UK locations as an engineering inspector. He now lives on a smallholding in mid-county with his wife and son.

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