Here is everything I know about how to be happy, and to live the simple life. Let me assure you, I did it wrong for a long, long time. The good news? This isn’t rocket science. But it does require discipline and a choice.
1. Eat simply. Eat real food. Use real ingredients for ingredients. Stop eating processed food and stop with all the damn sugar. You are killing yourself. Literally. And fast every now and then. Our bodies were designed to fast from time to time. Cavemen didn’t eat three squares a day along with Hostess Cupcakes. They ate when they killed something or found berries, so don’t worry, your amazing body is well-designed to skip meals from time to time. I think you’ll be surprised how much better you feel!
2. Don’t complicate exercise. Just move. Just be active. You don’t need complicated routines, fancy equipment, coaches, or fancy outfits. Just move. Walk yes, but you need to get your heart pumping too. Walk/run dogs, take the stairs, park at the back end of the parking lot instead of waiting ten minutes for the closer spot to open.
3. Get rid of junk. We just cleared out and got rid of our storage unit. I’ve spoken before about the liberation you feel from removing useless junk from our lives, but you can’t imagine how powerful this feels. Why we waste time accumulating useless junk is beyond me. And I am not saying you need to get rid of everything. Keep what you use and keep what has deep meaning to you. Don’t want to get rid of family heirlooms? What is so meaningful about them? The actual physical object? Or the memories behind it? My guess is it’s the memories. So, snap a photo to relive your memories, and give the physical object to someone who needs it.
4. Just live in the space you need. We live in an apartment that is only 1,280 square feet. It is all the space we need. And that includes two fifty pound dogs. Why people still try to show off to the world around them by living in a large space? Is your home a showroom? Or is it your home and creative space? This is the smallest space I’ve lived with in over twenty years, and I’ve never felt more at home.
5. Say no. Old life: said yes to everything. New life: say no to most things. Result? Time is mine again. I do what I want, when I want, and have all the time I need to focus on the things important to me. In No. 3, I said to get rid of physical clutter. Here, I am telling you to get rid of mental clutter. Freeing your mind from having to do things you don’t want to do is liberating too…
6. Create instead of consume. Don’t spend your life consuming the art of someone else. The world needs you to create too. Whatever that looks like. Life will be more enriching this way. Promise.
7. But LOVE what you consume. Listen to music, watch films, watch Netflix, read books. But love what you consume. Life is too short to watch something just to watch something, or because everyone else is watching it. Spend time only with that which inspires your soul. And more importantly, consume art that inspires you to create your own art (See No. 6).
8. Slow down. If you are in a hurry, you are doing it wrong. Take your time. Adopt the tortoise’s strategy. Life will let you be in a hurry, but why spend a lifetime running behind? Plan better, or better yet, remove some activities (See No. 5). Build more space. You should never be in a situation where you have to say “Sorry that I’m running late.” That’s a warning sign. You’re doing too much if that happens. You need to recalibrate. And for goodness sakes, no multi-tasking. I will pity you if your obituary says “She was a good multi-tasker…”
9. Be in the moment. If seeing me write that made you roll your eyes, that confirms I am happier with my life than you. Focus on what you are doing. Now. Stop thinking about yesterday. Stop worrying about tomorrow. Just focus on the thing you are doing right now. Doing so, you’ll even enjoy mundane tasks like shaving or putting away the dishes. Do everything you do with focus and concentration. And you’ll do it better! The beauty of this focus is that it helps you identify the things you can and should remove from your life. And that’s critically important.
10. Mediate. The single best thing I do to live simply is meditate daily. No, this isn’t some Yanni-inspired, incense-burning, sitting cross-legged with your ass on a mat ritual. This is a few minutes a day to disconnect from the world. It is amazing what can happen when you actually hear what your mind is saying. Oh, this lowers blood pressure too. “But my mind wanders,” you’ll say. I say, that’s the point. “But I’ll never achieve enlightenment,” you’ll proclaim. I say, realizing that is it’s own form of enlightenment, and finally gives you permission to focus on your life, instead of worrying about what everyone else is thinking about your life (See Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).
He is a former marketing strategist, national political operative, and lobbyist.
Todd has published five books, writes a business + lifestyle column, is a distance runner, and lives in Chicago with his wife Stephanie + family.