When I was growing up it was a commonly held belief that if you did well at school, worked hard and made a lot of money, you would live a life of ease, confident in the knowledge that you could buy whatever you wanted and happiness would follow close behind. Most of us swallowed that hook, line and sinker but when it came down to it, having it all didn't make us happy.
I've often written about not spending, decluttering and giving away things you've paid good money for. Hanno and I live on a very small amount of money, we have no pay TV, we rarely buy books, eat out or buy clothes and shoes. We are making do with what we have. We've stopped eating meat (except for Hanno's pork and kale fest during winter) and work to produce food for ourselves in our own back yard. We respect the work we do and we're grateful we have the energy and ability to do it.
We often work hard at home doing for ourselves things that in former times we would have paid others to do for us. We stopped buying convenience food and instead cook from scratch so we eat pure food with no preservatives or artificial flavourings. I mend clothes and we look after what we own. We repair rather than replace. We try to conserve instead of consuming.
Some might read all of that and think we are "poor" and miserable and that if we had more money, we'd buy our way to happiness. There have been studies done in recent years that tell us that as long as the human needs of shelter, food, etc are met, having more doesn't increase happiness. Rich people aren't happier than ordinary folk. In fact, the more valuable a person's time is in the workplace, the more they are likely to spend their time making money and being away from their families.
I believe that if money and possessions do make us happy, that happiness is only fleeting. It is replaced, over time, with discontent. If I wanted to, I could still be working for corporate Australia but I know, from experience, that the money I would earn and the things I would buy would not bring me the kind of life-enriching happiness I get from my voluntary work.
I also believe that people and self awareness make us happy. I am happy with my family around me and knowing that I am what I am and that I am true to my values. I have thought about what I want my life to be and I make steps towards that every day. That gives me self respect and satisfaction and eventually that builds into the kind of happiness that is instilled deep within.
Our life paths will lead us all to different places, but no matter where yours leads, you will be able to live simply. Start by simplifying your daily tasks and then try to incorporate generosity, kindness and grace into your everyday life. Don't think of this way of living as a restriction or "poor" but instead see it as a richness that is built in small and simple ways. The rewards are there for the taking. They may not be as flashy or obvious as those store bought rewards but they are enduring and significant and they don't go out of fashion.