Friday, December 4

In life, there are things that you need and things that you want. The secret to being happy is knowing the difference, ignoring the things that you want, and falling in love daily with the things that you need.

No quotations marks, no citation – this one’s mine, so it doesn’t qualify as a quotation per se; it’s just me babbling. I penned this one nine or ten months or so ago when I was making the latest round of changes to my lifestyle, worldview, career and goals. It may be the first and last semi-profound thing I ever say. At least to me…

At that time I was profoundly unhappy in a career that I had come to hate, in an industry that I had come to despise, but that I’d stumbled into nine years previously and then shackled myself to by falling for the standard Western civilization zeitgeist of ‘bigger, better, faster, more’. In spite of having made some worthwhile realizations in my late 20’s, I’d still managed to let myself get sucked back into a deeply consumerist mindset and lifestyle. And I wanted out.

This particular little mantra was a starting point for me; a personal crystallization of what I needed to do to get back in touch with a ‘me’ I could respect, and one that could be happy and healthy again. It was the start of going home.

I don’t have any illusions regarding the originality of the sentiment, and if I’d looked, I probably could have found a quote by someone smarter, more famous and substantially less breathing than me, but this one meant more than any of those could ever mean because it came out of my process, my angst, and my desire to find something more meaningful to me. The grammar is even flawed, but I like that too.

The idea of simplification, focusing on what’s important and trying to reduce what isn’t, is a universal concept. We think that we efficiently live our busy lives multi-tasking away, but the truth is that our brains work far better handling only one cognitive task at a time. We can multi-task, but whether we like it or not, whatever we’re doing suffers for it. The neurological evidence is overwhelming that it applies to the way people process information, but I think it also applies to other aspects of our lives, and to our overall motives, goals and worldview - I know that it applies to me in a very profound way in every part of my life.

I liken it to juggling, a common metaphor for trying to balance our busy, modern existence. Some people are better at juggling than others and can get quite a few balls going at the same time. Others have a hard time tossing one ball up in the air and catching it. Most of us are in between somewhere. But no matter how many we can juggle, I can guarantee you that pretty much everyone, even a master, is at their best with fewer rather than more.

So I’ve let go of several balls, ones I decided I didn’t need. The absence of those unnecessary balls has even allowed me to pick up one or two that I’d put aside while I was busy earning and consuming up a storm, and the revisited balls (writing and family are two) bring me substantially more joy than the ones I’ve left behind at the side of the juggler’s highway. There have been a few sacrifices too, but even those losses are well worth a simplicity that allows me to juggle the balls that are most important to me as well as I am able to juggle them.

So here I am, trying to fall in love with what I need more and more every day. And I gotta say, it’s kinda fun.

So here’s the question: Do you think that you have the right number of balls going? If too many, how do you prioritize the difference between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’, and then how do you jettison the ‘wants’ you decide aren’t important enough to hold onto?