“To live means to experience — through doing, feeling, thinking. Experience takes place in time, so time is the ultimate scarce resource we have. Over the years, the content of experience will determine the quality of life. Therefore one of the most essential decisions any of us can make is about how one’s time is allocated or invested.”
from Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life,
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
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.