Lessons From Embracing the Simple Life

the simple life

“Simplicity is the essence of happiness.” – Cedric Bledsoe

A few months ago, a former co-worker sent me a message via Linkedin. When I read her message, my initial reaction was confusion. Here’s what she wrote:

 “I envy your courage. You are living as we all should. I enjoyed reading your biography and feel blessed that I had the opportunity to work with you many years ago in DC.”

At first, I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. In what way was I living life as we all should?

Then it hit me! She had read the bio on my website where I talk about how I traveled through Central America, South America, and Eastern Europe. And how I lived at a yoga center in Pennsylvania and a retreat center in Wisconsin. And how I volunteered with street children in Mexico and cancer patients in the Philippines.

Everyone single one of those experiences is true and represents just a small sample of what I’ve done in my 40+ years.

Except what my former co-worker didn’t realize is that my life is now radically different from what it was just a few years ago. At the end of 2012, I moved to Bogota, Colombia, settled down and got married.

Since moving to Bogota, there have been very few adventures in my life. Instead, my life is now filled with mundane day-to-day experiences like walking the dogs, going to the grocery store, cooking supper, snuggling with my wife on the couch, and doing laundry.

Our big “adventures” consist of taking the dogs to a park, eating out once every week or two, and going on walks through Bogota. Not exactly material for a future best-selling memoir!

Yet despite the radical change in how I live my life, I believe that my life is just as rich now as it was when I was traveling the world.

Here’s what I’ve learned from settling down and embracing the simple life:

There Are Meaningful Life Moments Everywhere

I used to think that I needed to go on grand adventures in order to feel fulfilled, in order to create meaning in my life. But what I’ve found is that even in the midst of my simple life, there are lots of meaningful moments.

And every single one of these moments add richness and texture to my life. They’re moments that I treasure deep in my heart. And they happen every single day!

Moments like falling asleep with my wife snuggled next to me. Moments like being inundated with slobbery kisses from our boxer Brandy. Moments like eating my wife’s delicious cooking which is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before.

Happiness Comes From Being Present

I expected that happiness would come from quitting my job and going off and having adventures around the world. It didn’t.

The truth is that traveling involves a lot of running around, a lot of planning, a lot of figuring out “what’s next”. And tt’s almost impossible to be present to your life under those circumstances.

Happiness ultimately from being living in the moment, from being aware of the daily miracle that is your life. And I’ve found that it’s much easier for me to be in tune with that feeling when I’m settled down and have time to relax and sink into that feeling.

All Positive Experiences Are Amazing

Climbing over 1,000 stairs to reach Machu Picchu was an amazing experience. And I’m absolutely glad that I did it.

By comparison, holding my wife in my arms seems like an ordinary, mundane experience, hardly worthy of the label amazing in comparison to Machu Picchu.

And yet, labeling one amazing and the other ordinary is a judgment, a matter of perspective.  There’s absolutely no reason why I can’t decide that both of those are amazing. And so I do!

You Can’t Run From Your Problems

No matter where you go, no matter what you do, you bring your mind with you. And your mind is continually finding problems.

The truth is that much of my traveling was an attempt to run away from my problems, instead of facing them head on. I was unhappy before I started traveling and I was often unhappy during my travels.

Only by being still, looking deeply at myself and my life, and accepting that life is often mundane and ordinary have I begun to draw forth the happiness that I was searching for.

The Simple Life Is Good for the Heart and Soul

Being settled, living in one place for several years, has been good for my heart and soul.

I’ve developed deeper relationships. I’ve developed healthy routines and rituals that have fostered my personal and spiritual growth. And my wife and I have adopted a couple of dogs that I love dearly.

Most of those are nearly impossible when you’re constantly on the move, sleeping in a new city every few days.

The truth is that external circumstances will never lead to lasting happiness. To be truly happy, you need to embrace and be happy where you are. You might be able to do that while living a life of adventure. But for myself, I found that it was much easier when I was finally willing to embrace the simple life.

Photo by Ben Cremin

32 thoughts on “Lessons From Embracing the Simple Life”

  1. Good article, Ed. I think the lessons here are so important – sometimes we’re able to change the external circumstances and sometimes we’re not. If our happiness is dependant on that change, happiness may never come.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. What a beautiful piece – this sentence particularly spoke to me: “The truth is that external circumstances will never lead to lasting happiness.” Yes, very much the truth – we have to find it within. Inspiring and motivating – thank you!

    1. Thanks Alex, I appreciate your comment! Of course, we all fall into the trap of looking for happiness outside of ourselves (I’ll be happy when…) but the happiness that lasts is that which is inside of us.

  3. “Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.” ~Mary Jean Iron.

  4. Very beautifully written…. It’s just that sometimes we are so stuck with our pasts that we don’t enjoy our present. We become day dreamers and forget the millions of beautiful moments that come our way.. When our children come home from school sharing the entire day’s routine and we are so hooked to our ipads that we barely listen… Life is mundane but it is packed with zillions of amazing perishable moments which if not enjoyed or lived are gone with the wind…

  5. Hi Ed. Thanks for this great read. It came at the perfect time for me. i too have given up the fast pace life of living in the fast lane but was having second thoughts as to whether I made the right decision. After reading your article I realize indeed I have.
    My favorite line is that “external circumstances will never lead to lasting happiness”
    Thanks again.

    1. Hi Rose – Thanks for your comment! Yes, we all fall into the trap of looking outside of ourselves for happiness. That’s not to say there’s no value in the external, just that we have more control over the internal. Which is why it lasts longer!

  6. Great article Ed!

    It’s true that many people lead very complicated lives. What a freeing thing it is to scale back and just simplify.

    I’m a bit different to you in that I am currently travelling through Asia. But I still live simply – I stay in one country in one apartment for 6-12 months then go to another. Doing it this way I still have my routines that i diligently stick to.

    No doubt a time will come when I will want to revert back to my quiet former life in suburbia back in Australia. But not just yet!

    Thanks Ed

    1. Love your comment Kim! Obviously there’s nothing wrong with traveling. What I’ve seen though (and I’m sure you’ve seen it as well) are the travelers who try to pack 100 experiences into a single day, never actually enjoying the moment because they’re headed off to the next experience.

  7. Great article! Happiness can only come from within. It really is just a state of mind. A poor person with few posessions can be just as happy as a multi millionaire. You are right in that just the simple things like taking the dogs for a walk can make you feel happy.

    1. Definitely Kim! Obviously having money is better than not having it. But money can’t buy happiness. We’ve all seen the miserable, rich person. And the person who’s happy and content with their simple life.

  8. Brilliant read, Ed! I am a huge fan of simple living and have designed my life around that theme. In your article, I really resonated with the “you can’t run away from your problems” section, because that had been my m.o. for much of my life. What forced me to learn to stay and deal? My animals! It’s difficult to be a vagabond for extended periods, or relocate, with a menagerie in tow. Funny how things work out… because of my furry friends, I have learned to face my problems head on and I’m more and more comfortable with it, because 99% of the time, the problems aren’t nearly as monumental as I thought they’d be!

    1. I love it Jarmila! I resisted having pets for a long time because I didn’t want to be tied down (who knows when I’d need to run from a problem!). Now my wife and I have two dogs so there’s no escaping. :)

  9. Great post Ed!

    I think it is important to remember the magic in the seemingly monotonous everyday life. It is very easy to forget that there is beauty in simplicity when we are constantly running towards the next big thing.
    Your post is a lovely reminder.

    Thank you for sharing!

  10. What you expressed is really worth reading…. specially the comparison part, there is always something interesting and often we fail to feel it. Every period has its awesome and trilling moments. And best moments come in small packages…

  11. Beautifully written! This inspires me so much on how people continuously grows in life. That what we think the best right now could evolve in split years, or even months. Totally relatable of what I am feeling right now and on how I see my unhappiness. Thank you for sharing!

  12. Hi Ed,

    You have summed it up beautifully. Thank you for such an insightful post.

    I have been searching for my happiness outside of myself for most of my 47 years and only recently have I begun to understand what people have been saying for centuries, that ‘happiness comes form within’.

    We are so often influenced by the tricks of the marketing world that lead us to believe that we will only be happy if we obtain more new stuff.

    The reality is that we are often more happy when we are reduced to having the necessary basics in life. Shelter, food and love. The rest is just fluff.

    keep up the great work

    Robyn Williams

    1. Hi Robyn,

      Sorry, just seeing your comment now! I definitely agree. I was thinking of this the other day…if we learn to want to expect nothing, then everything becomes a miracle. The problem, as you’ve stated, is that we’ve been trained to want and want and want. Of course, we do need the basics, but the rest? Not so much…

  13. Wow – great insights! I always think I want to travel, travel, travel… and I really do want to see more of this beautiful world. But you’ve reminded me that no matter where I am, life is a gem to be appreciated.

    I also love those slobbery doggie kisses and a hug from my husband or kids is really all I need to be fulfilled. Thanks so much for the reminder! :)

    1. Hi Jan – Just seeing your comment now! My wife also wants to travel, travel, travel! Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to see the world. But no matter where we are, we need to live in the moment.

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