Saturday, October 10, 2009

Should We "Simplify"?

A few recent posts on Henry David Thoreau and his contemporaries have brought back memories for me--and not all of them good. First of all, I enjoyed Thoreau's Walden. I read it as a college freshman, along with other nature books like Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which I, admittedly, liked much better. (I still reread chapters of Dillard's book decades after the class ended, so it must be pretty good. The chapter on the Luna Moth still affects me deeply.)

Thoreau's quote, "Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!" may very well be his most memorable, if only because it isn't as wordy as his other quotes. However, its admonition is only useful if you are like me--overwhelmed by numerous opportunities to pack your day with activity. If I didn't exercise any control over my life (and I admit sometimes I don't), I would be art docent for both of my kids' classes in school; active in the PTA; volunteering, playing piano, and serving as bookkeeper for the church; teaching eight classes this semester (I've decided six is plenty); writing on six different blogs every day; and getting about two hours of sleep each night, at the most. In other words, I would be so busy that I would be unable to enjoy one single second of my life.

Even at a lower extreme than this, I need to simplify. I need to teach even less. I've backed away from all church obligations. I should still hire a maid. I need to assess every obligation in my life and decide whether it's worth my time, what effect it has on my overall happiness (good or bad), and what I should do about it.

However, others in the world are not in this situation. I know of people who have so little to interest them in life that they spend their evenings attached to the television, not because they are actively interested in any show, but because they have nothing better to do. Time is their enemy, not because they don't have enough of it (my constant complaint), but because they have way too much of it. Saturday and Sunday are extra boring because they have all day to be bored. When they retire, they may flounder for years, unable to develop any interest in anything at all. 

Thoreau managed to do this without television. During the time he spent at Walden Pond, his days consisted of wandering around the shore, planting vegetables when the weather was good, but mostly just thinking from dawn until dusk. Many others of his age criticized him for being lazy, for choosing not to work, etc. Doesn't sound like my idea of happiness. 

So, where should we sit on the spectrum? Perhaps the phrase would be better this way: "Moderation! Moderation! Moderation!" Those of the overworked should pare their obligations down, allowing them to commit themselves fully to a few amazing things. Those who have too much time on their hands should pick up a few interests, involving themselves in something meaningful so that they have a reason to get up in the morning.

What do you think? Have you found your ideal level of moderation? I'm still seeking the perfect balance.


  1. If I ever slow down enough to ask myself the question, I'll give it some serious thought. But I do take time to enjoy some self-gratifying pasttimes. Talk about a brain saver - I can't imagine how I'd keep my sanity if I didn't relax once in a while.

  2. I live the perfect balance...

    I do what makes me happy.. End of story if it does not fill me up and make me be glad to be alive then why do it?

    To me it’s about simplifying your thoughts... do not make life miserable by over complicating it. Do what you love, be with those you love, share your love, and be loved...

    What could be better than that?

    Doing things you love takes very little effort. Doing things you dread takes the life out of you and leave you feeling empty and tired.

    Sounds like you need to fill more activities with things you love to do or be around…

  3. Don't worry, be happy. :) Remember that song? Or was it a tv commercial?

    Thoreau simplified. But was he really happy? I never got that impression.