Imagine a day where nothing is going your way. You wake up late because your alarm didn’t go off. You pick up your cell phone to call your office, but find the battery is dead. The TV remote won’t work and you can’t figure out how to get your favorite news channel without it. You go to heat up some breakfast and discover that the microwave is broken. Your computer crashes every time you try to connect to your home network. And it just goes on like this — complex technologies fail you at every turn, you’re falling further behind on your schedule, and your fuse is growing shorter by the moment.
Now imagine an alternate reality.
You wake up on a remote farm in a little cabin where there’s no electricity. None of this technology even exists. There’s virtually nothing in the way of time-and-energy-saving devices, but there’s also not much that can go wrong. Aside from making a little fire in the wood stove and heating water, there’s not a lot you’re expected to accomplish in the first 15 minutes of the day. By comparison with the former scenario, this cabin scene probably seems downright comforting.
What the contrast points out is just how incredibly complicated our lives have become, just how much we’ve come to depend on conveniences that have the power to mightily inconvenience us, and just how much unhappiness and stress can arise when our so-called comforts begin to discomfit us instead.
I sometimes think that the technologies and complexities we’ve embraced for productivity’s sake have addled us to the point we hardly know how to live.
You have to remember that as recently as the early ’80s, the vast majority of us had nothing resembling a cell phone, email or Web access. And we thought we were busy then! Today, we have so many options, outlets and channels for our energy and attention that we’re regularly overwhelmed by their demands without even realizing it. We’ve just kept getting busier and more frantic.
And yet the essentials of a satisfying and meaningful life have not changed. Abraham Maslow pointed out that the hierarchy of human needs included things like basic food and shelter, security and stability, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization. You can argue that some of our technologies may help us to achieve and enjoy those things, but just as often, they seem to get in the way.
When life seems too complicated, these are simple truths I like to remember:
First, the vast majority of what we think we need to be happy, we probably don’t need. If it seems like a great many things are going wrong or are in short supply in your life, stop and ask how really important most of them are to your core needs or well-being. If something is exceptionally important, consider how much time, energy and space you are giving it in your life right now.
Second, a lot of the things that go right on a given day we take entirely for granted. If we paused more often to consider all the ways we are supported (by people, circumstances and technologies of all kinds), we’d be swimming in gratitude most of the time. Take stock of what’s good in your life, and it will tend to grow.
Third, we play a large role in overcomplicating our own lives and the lives of others. It’s worth challenging ourselves to make things simpler when we can. I often suggest that people explain things so that a third-grader would understand them. Be willing to express — briefly and precisely — what you think, want or need, and what you hope to give or create. Leaving out the fuss, games and fanciness leaves less room for misunderstandings, and more opportunity for your desired outcome to take form.
If, at the beginning of each day, we each sat down and wrote, in third-grader language, the three most important things we wished to accomplish or experience that day without the benefit of technology, I think we’d find our lives both greatly simplified and vastly improved.
Take these lessons to heart, and you’ll probably find you can enjoy much of the peace inherent in that quiet cabin in the country without leaving the rest of your modern-day life behind.