On Expectations

A lot of suffering in life comes from things failing to meet our expectations.

These days, most people expect to have things like six figure salaries, big weddings, and expensive homes. If they don’t get what they want, they think they’re not good enough, or they’re a failure compared to everyone else’s Instagram-worthy lives.

So what if you drive a nice car, the real question is are you a good person? Who cares what you wear, do you feel like a whole person without all of your possessions? Even though you can’t control people’s feelings and actions, are you happy with yourself?

Here’s the hard truth. In our modern world, our expectations are too high, too materialistic, and are almost always things we cannot control. It’s a recipe for constant disappointment.

But what if I told you there’s a switch you can flip to change it all. What if instead of expecting so much from life, we learn to appreciate it more? 

Have you ever lived a day without electricity or running water? If you had to, when it came back would you be bemoaning that it went off, or would you be happy that it was back?

What about things like good health, democratic rights, the internet, a loving family, a roof over your head, and enough food to eat so you never go hungry?

A lot of the time it takes losing something to appreciate it. Ironically, by the time it’s gone, you can’t really be grateful for having it.

Minimalism isn’t just about decluttering, it’s about learning to lower your materialistic expectations in life and being more grateful for the things you do have. That’s a recipe for happiness.

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On Equanimity

One of the things I miss the most about living in Japan (apart from the food) are the mountains. I’ve always found their constant presence reassuring—they were a continual reminder of calmness and stability.

Whether cold or hot, wet or dry, throughout the changing seasons mountains exude a sense of equanimity from within.

Indeed, if you look up equanimity in the dictionary, you’ll find:

equanimity
ˌɛkwəˈnɪmɪti,ˌiːkwəˈnɪmɪti
noun
calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation.
“she accepted both the good and the bad with equanimity”
synonyms: composure, calmness, calm, level-headedness, self-possession, self-control, even-temperedness, coolness, cool-headedness, presence of mind

These are qualities which are invaluable to practice in daily life.

If only we could find strength and stability within ourselves, instead of relying on our belongings, other people, or things we can’t control, perhaps we’d be much happier people.

You don’t have to be on or near a mountain to find stillness. It can be cultivated within you. Think of a mountain in situations where mindfulness is key. Can you absorb a little of its qualities?

Instead of trying to find peace on a mountain, be like one – enduring yet changing, flexible yet strong.

Imagine, having a sense of rootedness and resolve to persevere in the weather of our own lives, and to be able to face any situation or turmoil with composure and presence of mind.

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On Greed

The other day, I was having a conversation with my friend about which of the seven sins we felt we would be if we had to choose one.

I knew my answer straight away—I would be greed.

It may seem surprising, a self-proclaimed minimalist being guilty of greed out of all the sins, but that is exactly why I was attracted to a minimalist lifestyle in the first place—to keep my greed in check.

I don’t mean just material things. After a few years, it’s relatively easy for me to not desire new gadgets or designer clothing, but it’s less easy for me to not want to keep doing more.

It has happened to me many times in the past. Once I reach a goal, I don’t really stop to appreciate what I’ve done.  Instead, I’m already looking for the next challenge, and I push and push until I get there. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed. Either way, it’s not long before I want to push something else to the next level, or take on a new project. I’m usually not content to just sit there and do nothing. It’s endless.

This mindset of wanting to do more and more isn’t greedy in the traditional sense, but it is a kind of greed. I’m glad that I’m mindful of the fact that I should be more grateful for what I’ve done, but it’s not always a bad thing to want to accomplish more in life.

Where do you draw the line? Maybe this is why I write so much about success because I’m trying to define it in a way that I can be both satisfied with what I’ve done, but still strive to do better.

There is no clear answer, and even if there were, it would be different for everyone. We all need to find our own definitions for success, discover our own self worth, and learn how to balance all the forces that pull us in different directions. This is what it means to know thyself.

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On Tragedy

I was 300 metres away when it happened.

On 22nd May 2017, about 10:30pm as I was lying in bed, I heard a sudden, thunderous crashing sound.

For a moment, I thought it was actually thunder, but when I looked out of my window, it wasn’t raining.

I went out onto my balcony. Neighbours had come out too. “Did you hear that?” I shouted over, “Yeah, what was it?” they replied. “I don’t know” I said, as we all looked toward the train station at the end of our road.

We would soon find out. The station alarm came on. It told people to evacuate the area. Sirens started sounding in the distance. A stream of police and ambulances arrived. Thousands of people started filing out from the concert hall, Manchester Arena. Traffic was blocked up. Confused, curious, and concerned, my partner and I checked social media all night as details began to emerge.

At first we thought something might have collapsed, maybe a part of a building or a crane, it had happened before. But we couldn’t see any smoke. Maybe it was a train? We tried to stay rational, and not jump to any conclusions. But news started trickling through. Bad news. Something had happened at the Arena. A concert had just finished. Could it be something to do with a speaker, or some sort of stage effect? Looking back, it was way too loud to be something like that. We just didn’t want to think it was the one thing we were most afraid of…

A suicide bomber. A young male, who had lived and grown up in Manchester. It had happened, the terrible things you see on TV, it had happened to our home.

It was surreal. Unbelievable, except the blue lights kept flashing and sirens sounded all night. The police closed the roads and cordoned off the area. Injuries and fatalities were reported. Within a few days, all of the 22 people who had died had been named.

When it hit the news, it wouldn’t have been as real if we hadn’t heard the blast with our own ears, and saw the police and ambulances with our own eyes. They’re still there, right now, as I look out of my window. Police tape closes off the roads I have walked past a hundred times.

Now I have had nearly a week to reflect on it. I’m thankful that I’m fine, and so are my friends and loved ones, but that’s little consolation for the victims and families. The more I read about them (and I can’t help myself), the more sad I am for them. I feel a mixture of fear, guilt, and helplessness.

The tribute that was held for them was attended by thousands of people. Hundreds of flowers, cards, and candles have been laid out in the city centre. I went to pay my respects. It was good to see so many people there. Manchester has pulled together.

I love this city. It’s my home. I’m proud with how people have reacted, giving condolences, donating money, and helping where they can. I’ve noticed people being more kind to one another. Most people here aren’t ignorant enough to lay the blame on an entire religion. We’ve been saying, “We stand together”. That’s the kind of place this is.

Too often it takes a tragedy to remind us about what’s important in life. Those concert goers had no idea what was going to happen, but at least they were enjoying life to the full. We never know what life will bring, but the best we can do is to be thankful for each day and make the most of it.

Stay safe, and stay strong.

On Opportunity

Minimalism isn’t just about having less stuff. That’s only the beginning.

The reason why we get rid of things is to make room for opportunities that come our way.

Just think, if you were less burdened by stuff, you would realise that every day is an opportunity, a gift, and you would be able to make the most of it.

If you spent less you would work less. You would have more time, energy, and space to think clearly, to be creative, to be your best, to flourish, and to be happier.

You would grow into the mindset that every place is an opportunity to discover something new, to open your mind, and expand your horizons.

You would learn that every person you meet is an opportunity for friendship, intimacy, and love.

You would be grateful for every moment as an opportunity to live.

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On Wealth

Money and possessions aren’t the only measure of wealth.

Having or not having the latest smartphone, a wardrobe of designer clothes, or a shiny sports car doesn’t say much about your happiness, health, relationships, wisdom, or freedom.

How much you earn doesn’t reflect how much you enjoy life, or how much people genuinely care about you, or how much you’ve done for others.

The pursuit of wealth itself isn’t necessarily bad. It can be a noble path if it is earned by creating value, enriching others, or if wealth is used to benefit the greater good.

But look at any millionaire or billionaire and you’ll see that having a lot of money doesn’t automatically mean your life will be more fulfilled. If money comes at the cost of living the life you want (instead of the life others want you to want), then it is a high price to pay.

Your net worth is not your self worth. Your bank balance has little do with what your true value is, or how rich you really are.

There is so much abundance in the world, the ones who are really wealthy are the ones who make the most of it.

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On Money

There are two ways to be rich—to get everything you want, or to want everything you have.

It doesn’t matter how much money or how many possessions you’re talking about, the same rule applies to everyone.

Believe it or not, there are people who earn $100k salaries but live pay check to pay check (I have met them). These are people who are deeply unhappy even though they can afford to buy anything they want. What they don’t realise is that it’s not about how much you have, it’s about how much you appreciate what you already have.

The key here is gratitude. This part of minimalism is often forgotten about. You’re not getting rid of stuff because it looks neater, or because it’s fashionable. You do it because:

  1. With fewer things, you appreciate each thing more.
  2. You don’t spend as much time and energy working to buy more things, instead you use your resources on things that matter.

There is nothing wrong with working or having money. Money is a tool for freedom, and for people to do great things. It is not the root of all evil, rather it’s a magnifier that makes you more of who you are. If you’re already unhappy and selfish, you’ll be more unhappy and selfish with lots of money. If you’re content and kind, you’ll be more content and kind with lots of money.

So, you want to be rich? Good news, there is such thing as a ‘get rich quick scheme’. The secret is to be grateful for everything you already have. You’ll be richer than any millionaire.

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On Quality

When people talk about minimalism, much of the focus is on quantity—how much you have, how much you don’t have, or how much other people have or don’t have…

Yes, the amount of stuff you own is part of it. But that’s not all minimalism is about.

The focus should be on quality—of your possessions, as well as your relationships, mental health, physical health, spirituality, finances, choices… basically all aspects of your life that could be improved.

It’s easy to only consider quantity because it’s readily measured. You can instantly see the results when you’ve finished decluttering a room or wardrobe. But to think that this is the goal of minimalism is misguided.

The point of minimalism is to lead a better and more meaningful life.  Minimalism then, is more accurately described as a study and practice of quality—quality in the sense of depth, longevity, meaningfulness, value, and how much something contributes to your lifelong comfort and happiness.

Does this person/object/thing mean a lot to me? Does it help me become a better person? Does it help me grow? Does it add to my well-being? Will it last a long time? Is it worth acquiring? Is it worth keeping? Do I really want it, or do I want it because everyone else has it, or has told me I should have it? Does it make me happy?

These things are harder to measure, but are more important than owning an arbitrary amount of 100 things or less. You can own 1,000 or 10,000 things, so long as everything contributes to your life in a meaningful way. Minimalism is saying yes to quality over quantity.

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On Why

Speaking of discipline as a sustained practice, how do you keep going when things get difficult?

Minimalism isn’t an easy lifestyle. Everyone is telling you that you need the latest gadget, that you should upgrade your car, that you can’t live without x. Temptations are everywhere, and it’s a constant battle against ‘stuff creep’ (when things start to pile up around the house imperceptibly).

As with anything, to keep the motivation to carry on, you need a why—ask yourself, why are you doing this? If you don’t have a good answer, you won’t last long.

Why minimalism?

—For yourself: You’ve decided that you don’t want to be a slave to your stuff. You’re not going to work sixty hours a week just to afford credit card bills. You don’t want to trade your life for things that won’t make you happy. You want time and freedom to do the things you enjoy, and spend it with the people you love. You learn to make the most of life through minimalism. That’s your why.

—Beyond yourself: There are people you care about who you want to be happy too, and you don’t want to see them wasting their effort and potential. Maybe if you cared less about material stuff, other people would care less too, and they wouldn’t work so hard, or for so long. On top of that, the money, time, and other resources you’ve been able to save from not buying stuff is being put to good use, helping those who need it most. In that way, the world is your why.

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On Discipline

The word discipline gets a bad rap. Most people think it means obeying rules, doing things you don’t want to, and being punished if you do something wrong.

In reality, discipline is another word for sustained practice. It means having the willpower to take effective action over a period of time.

For things that are good for you, for example exercising regularly, having discipline means:

  1. getting started
  2. doing it on a regular basis
  3. practising how to get better
  4. pushing through when things get difficult

Cultivating discipline makes you the kind of person who keeps on going, despite the challenges, whether they are internal or external.

In this way, minimalism is a discipline. It doesn’t come naturally to most people. Nobody said it would be easy to relearn a lifetime’s worth of conditioning about money and material possessions, and to learn to care less what other people think of you. You will face these kinds of internal and external challenges, but discipline—sustained practice—will get you to where you want to be.

To practice means committing to do small actions, with intent. Maybe you give away an old cardigan, maybe you hold off  getting a new phone for another year, maybe you decide you don’t need that kitchen gadget after all…

Small decisions add up to big consequences. Especially when there are hundreds, or thousands of them to make every day. It takes discipline to not get distracted.

Like regular exercise, minimalism takes practice to get past temptations and incorporate it into every day life. Sometimes you’ve had a hard day and you just want some cake and a bit of retail therapy. That’s fine, you deserve to treat yourself occasionally, just not at the long-term expense of your overall happiness. Make things easier by surrounding yourself with like minded people, or blogs and books that remind you of why you’re doing it—of why you do anything really—for a better life.

A better life won’t just fall on your lap. If it was easy, everyone would be happy, but happiness takes a lot of work.

And a lot of work takes a lot of discipline.

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