Live Simply, and You’ll Live Richly

by Martin Khor

LIVE simply, and live more richly. What’s more, you’ll be doing everyone else a favour, and contributing to the survival of our world.

This may sound like a simple message; some may even say “simplistic”. But as you may know, the most profound things may also be the most simple.

To lead a simple life may also be to live a pro¬found and happy one.

People today spend so much energy and time trying to get more money. They accumulate “wealth” or “richness”. But these are only material things: a big house, a big car, lush carpets, heavy furniture, expensive crockery, fashionable clothes.

So much money and time go into buying these things, and taking care of them. And even more time in working overtime or holding two jobs to be able to afford them.

Do they really make us happier? Perhaps having these things increase our status, and friends or business colleagues will admire us for owning them. They respect (actually, it’s envy) us for having these symbols of success.

But happiness is not having other people admire us for our belongings. Happiness comes when people respect and love us for being ourselves.

Throughout history, the wise men and women know that the real meaning of wealth is not the outer material things we own. Wealth is the capacity we have within us, to be able to enjoy deep friendships and love with other people, to be able to appreciate the good things in life like a good walk through beautiful natural scenery, or a good book which enriches our knowledge of life and people.

To enjoy the pleasant gurgling of small streams as well as the thunderous roars of great waterfalls; the bubbly chatter of children and the stirring orations of great speakers.

To discover through books and learning, the secrets of the earth and the origins and mechanisms of life; to uncover through relations the joys (and sometimes sorrows) of human emotions.

Most of all, to be capable of deep feelings for one’s fellow human beings, and in return to be able to inspire genuine respect and love in others for us. And together with friends, to be involved in satisfying work, to serve others and help build a good, healthy society.

If we devote our efforts and our time to such pursuits, we can truly say we are “wealthy”. We may not look as rich as the next person who drives a BMW or follows the latest fashion. But we have something more valuable: inner wealth. The inner wealth of a rich personality.

We may not be so “knowledgeable” as the next person in mastering the arts of making money, or climbing up the social ladder or getting invited to the right parties. But we have a knowledge far deeper and more profound: knowledge of life, of people as they are, of the human experience.

We may not have the “pleasure” of going on foreign tours, to show others photos of ourselves in front of Disneyland or the Eiffel Tower. But we are able to appreciate the earth in a more pleasurable and enduring way: in the way the twitter of birds, the greenery of the forests and the flow of natural water remain in our minds and our souls.

A great writer once said that only when we throw off our material property can we lose the burdens of having to accumulate and maintain things. Then we can do the things that really matter, and have time to care for friends and family and people, and enjoy nature, and have inner peace.

The world today is unfortunately caught in the misconception that success comes from owning fashion¬able things. That’s a suicidal course for humanity, be¬cause the world’s resources are fast disappearing just to cater to the fashionable wants of the elite.

There just aren’t enough forests, oil, minerals, land or other resources to give everyone a car, or 30 pairs of shoes, or an electric toothbrush.

The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed,” so said Gandhi. Now, many years later, when even more resources have perished to satisfy the wants of a few, this saying is even more true.

The world is facing a potentially horrendous ecological crisis, caused by the chase for material goods, to support a wasteful lifestyle. The irony is that those who own the rich things and live on the fast lane, are not necessarily happy.

And those who are really happy, do not need material things to latch their self-respect to.

“Well then,” you may say, “let those who want to own expensive things do so, and those who want the simple pleasures also do so. Leave the choice to each one.”

That may be good, if only firstly everyone had the chance to be rich; secondly, there are limitless resources to satisfy everyone’s desires for luxuries.

But we know this is not so. Material wealth is unequally distributed. And the world is running out of natural resources. So the high lifestyle cannot be sustained.

But the point is this. We don’t need too many material things to be happy; in fact having too much of them decreases our capacity for joy.

We should therefore change our concept of wealth: away from outside material wealth, to inner wealth. The wealth of human friendships, spiritual fulfillment, good work, and harmony with nature.

And that wealth can be best developed when we live simply, without the clutter of fashionable luxuries, without the distracting desires for social status.

Simple living and high thinking. Above all, deep feeling. That’s the basic recipe for inner wealth and a happy life. And possibly also for the survival of humanity.

From “The Secret to Happiness” by Martin Khor, published by CAP

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