Practicing graceful simplicity
By Chris Armstrong
You may be reading this at home and wondering, rather longingly (as I am), “When is TJ Maxx going to reopen?” That’s ok…we’ve been groomed since birth to be mass consumers. According to the marketing firm Yankelovich Inc., the average modern person is exposed to 5,000 ads per day. That’s almost 2 million per year. The science of implicit bias points out that it doesn’t matter if we remember those ads or not — our subconscious mind does, and it does most of the decision making for us.
So what’s a trained mass consumer to do in the midst of a pandemic? Sure, we can shop online, but are we really finding that satisfying? How many times have we put something in our Amazon cart and were over it by the time the box arrived? Are we regretting all of those (fill in the blank) which we thoughtlessly bought that, upon reflection, cost the same as two weeks’ worth of groceries? How can we live in a way that reflects what’s important now?
Living a healthy, secure life
One way is with graceful simplicity. We can “reject open-ended acquisition and intense careerism in favor of unharried, harmonious existence centered on the unchanging essentials of human life,” per Jerome M. Segal. Graceful simplicity is not about doing without – it’s about bringing in enough to satisfy our basic needs so that we can enjoy a healthy, secure life. Who lives like this? The nuns at Assisi Heights, probably our grandparents, maybe our parents. We may have had flashes of it during our college years, or as a single parent, before all of those messages caught up to us.
There is also, per Mr. Segal, choosing to engage in creative work, e.g., work that is rewarding in itself, rather than a means to “success.” Mark Twain said it best: “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Who lives like this? Entrepreneurs and independent contractors of all kinds, including musicians and artists. People living a creative life often curate their inputs, so there is less implicit bias to overcome. We may have had flashes of this, too, when we were in the flow and felt like we could do whatever we were doing forever.
Getting an involuntary doctorate in simplicity
Pre-pandemic, we knew lots of people — maybe we were those people — who had adopted some form of graceful simplicity so that we could pursue creative work. Whether we like it or not, most of us are getting our involuntary doctorate in simplicity right now. What if we exercised our creativity by adding the “graceful” to it, re-framed it as a choice, and came to appreciate the options it affords us? We may realize, pandemic or not, that we are enjoying the “unchanging essentials of human life,” including friends and family who will always make sure we have enough. And if it has become clear to us that we have more than enough already, we can share.
I’m there for you, loves.
Chris learned how to live simply and gracefully as a single mother putting herself through college and law school. As a lawyer and a yoga therapist, she enjoys helping people find solutions within the limits of the situation.