Simplicity often embodies complexity.
Being simple ain’t easy. Simplicity involves hard work — making deliberate, specific choices — to reduce things to their most essential elements. True simplicity isn’t merely a façade of plainness; rather, it reflects a well-integrated and purposeful design that advances only what’s indispensable.
Apple and Google products are often praised for their simplicity in form and function. But behind the minimalist looks, myriad decisions regarding inclusion and exclusion have been made to make these products functional and aesthetically beautiful. Complexity underlies the simplicity, and what’s NOT included in the design is as important as what is. Non-essential elements that detract from the core purpose are eliminated so that a focused, unified experience results.
Aesthetic beauty, the hallmark of simplicity, is the elegant orchestration of necessary elements and the omission of anything distracting or superfluous. So paradoxically, simplicity isn’t as simple as it looks. Purity of form reflects purposeful purging of excess.
So why strive for simplicity if it’s not that simple? Because the end product is worth it, and the process of simplifying brings focus and clarity. Whittling away clutter and striving to optimize the essential are key to good design… and this ‘focus on being focused’ is also a great approach to life.
“To be is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone.
You have to inter-be with every other thing.
This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk
Happiness involves a kind of “meta-awareness” — a consciousness of consciousness. That is, being aware of what we’re thinking enables us to let go of negative thoughts that produce feelings of unhappiness within us. Through awareness of our thoughts, we can choose not to be governed by negative thinking.
By bringing our awareness back to the present moment, we don’t waste energies focusing on the unchangeable past or indeterminate future. Instead, we’re intimately connected to what’s happening right here, right now — the only place and time we actually have to think, feel and take action. The present moment is where we have the freedom to choose; it’s where we can experience peace and contentment.
Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” heightens our awareness of the present moment and all the opportunity it contains. When we’re aware of the possibilities that exist in the now, we can make choices that move us in a positive direction. Awareness of these opportunities (and our ability to act on them in this moment) leads to happiness.
So the next time you’re unhappy, simply bring your mind back to the present moment, where the gift of opportunity always presents itself, and where gratitude — the catalyst of happiness — fills your heart.
You Can Feel Good Again is one of the most perspective-changing books I’ve ever read about the relationship between our thinking and our experience of happiness. It’s an insightful and profoundly helpful read, and I hope you can benefit from its wisdom, too.
Happiness is what’s left after we strip away cluttery thoughts of ego and attachment. Ironically, our own thinking is the stumbling block we must overcome to be content and happy.
Like anything that’s real and true, happiness is with us all along, “hidden in plain sight” — it’s always available to us, if only we can remove the obstructions that keep us from experiencing it.
Admittedly, I never really thought about the lyrical wisdom expressed in Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 hit song. Sure, the catchy, upbeat tune makes you want to smile and whistle along — which, funnily enough, takes your mind off worries and engenders happiness.
But is it really that easy? Is achieving happiness as simple as not worrying and choosing to be happy?
Turns out McFerrin’s four-word maxim nails it.
Worry (aka “anxiety”) is based on fear — fear of the unknown, fear of the future. But there’s little we can do to prepare for unforeseen or uncertain situations except live fully in the present moment. Through awareness of what’s going on here and now, we can direct our thoughts and actions toward the best possible outcome.
If it’s within our power to change what’s to come, there’s no need to worry. And if we can’t do anything about the situation, worrying is pointless. Either way, worry is a waste of time and energy.
Here’s a nifty diagram to illustrate:
Bottom line: there’s never a reason to worry.
Worrying doesn’t solve problems or prevent mishaps. So don’t worry.
As for the other part of McFerrin’s mantra — “be happy” — fortunately we’re able to choose our thoughts, and therefore choose our feelings. Happiness is a choice because we have the power to let go of negativity and focus our minds on positive, life-affirming thinking.
We can let go of worry and fear; we’re free to choose happiness.
Don’t worry. Be happy.
Simple as that.
This post is dedicated to Krista Murphy, a longtime friend, compatriot and genuine seeker of wisdom and truth. She’s also someone who likes to share a good laugh — undoubtedly one of friendship’s greatest gifts.
Forgiveness — letting things go — is the key to healing and inner peace.
External clutter often mirrors internal disarray — it’s usually a visible sign of inner turmoil or distress in our lives. Effectively purging external “crap” is only possible after removing the emotional blockages that hold us back.
Our thoughts create feelings and emotions, so thoughts of anger, hatred and resentment focus our attention on negativity and create unhappiness within us. But by changing our thinking — by letting go of negative thoughts and past hurt — we can change how we feel. Through forgiveness, we have the power to be happy and content.
Forgiveness leads to internal freedom, and it’s completely within our power to be free. It’s our choice to let go of thoughts (and the feelings/emotions they create) that are harmful and cause suffering to ourselves and others. Through forgiveness, we have the ability to move forward and stop obsessing about the unchangeable past.
Unlike the separation/division caused by negative thoughts and feelings, forgiveness is a free-willed choice toward wholeness and unity. In other words, forgiveness is healing. Forgiveness releases the emotional “baggage” that weighs us down; it’s an act of true liberation for both the “forgiver” and “forgiven.”
Forgiveness is a profound act of love toward self and others. To forgive is to overcome one’s ego when it’s most difficult to do so, and forgiveness shows a strong desire to be united with others. Ultimately, forgiveness is the path to liberation, oneness and peace.
Let me begin with a Zen reflection — a haiku that describes a perplexing and common dilemma:
We own to feel free
But possessed by possessions,
In short, the more we have, the more we need… because we need more stuff to take care of the stuff we already have!
Accessorize, accessorize…. Consumer culture constantly pushes us to acquire more. Our “things” need shelves, containers and replacement supplies. Rooms need furniture and decoration. Kitchens need appliances and cooking utensils. And don’t forget the various products and equipment needed to maintain our stuff and keep it clean!
You’ve heard that “nature abhors a vacuum”? Well, maybe nature doesn’t, but the human psyche does.
It’s funny how we think an empty space needs something to fill it. For example, we’ll put a table in an open area to “fill the void.” But we’re not content leaving the surface bare, so we then acquire a decorative piece, which in turn requires supplies for cleaning/upkeep… and this involves more accessories, gadgets, tools/parts and organizing containers… all of which necessitates additional storage space. So filling one empty space often has the effect of spilling into another, and having one thing can easily lead to acquiring something else.
It takes stuff to care for stuff — ownership can be a “slippery slope” where possessions are amassed at an exponential rate. Having less creates less, while having more creates more. In the vast ecosystem of consumerism, stuff begets stuff.
What we possess has, in its superfluous accumulation, the potential to possess us. So buyer beware — because if we allow it, what we own can become a demanding, insatiable master.
And isn’t our goal to be truly free?