Here is a quote – The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.
The story of the happiest man in the world
Once upon a time, there was a king who had everything he could desire. He had a beautiful wife, healthy children, money, and land. If there was anything he wanted, he just had to lift a finger and his servants would bring it for him. One night, however, after the king woke up from a nightmare, everything changed. After waking up, the king realized one bitter truth about his life. He was not happy. Something was missing in his collection.
Once he realized this, the king did everything he could to find what was missing. He kept only the latest luxury items in his palace. He went to art exhibitions and bought famous works by bidding higher than others. In his palace, he employed the best cooks and musicians, who could entertain him all throughout the day.
Despite all this, he was still unhappy. He still hadn’t found what was missing in his collection.
The situation seemed hopeless until one day when this king was visited by a famous saint. The king kneeled before the saint and asked him, ‘Do you know what is missing in my collection? I can’t find it. I just don’t feel satisfied with what I have.’ The saint pondered for a while and said, ‘It isn’t that difficult. You have pretty much everything. All you need is the shirt of the happiest man in the world. Your collection will then be complete and you will be satisfied.’
Upon hearing this, the king rejoiced. He began searching for the happiest man in the world. He sent his soldiers all around the world, asking people if they were happy or not. Those who said that they were happy were brought to the king. Then the king asked them whether they would be even happier if he gave all his property to them. Everyone said yes, and the king sent them away. In this fashion, many months passed, but the king couldn’t find the happiest man in the world. Just as he was about to give up hope, one day, the king’s guards brought a woodcutter to him.
The king asked the woodcutter, ‘Are you happy?’ The woodcutter, whose face was clearly shining with joy, replied, ‘I am very happy.’ Then the king asked him, ‘Would you be even happier if I gave all my property to you?’ The woodcutter broke into laughter and said, ‘The forest gives me everything I need. What would I do with your wealth? I don’t want it.’
The king gave a cry of joy and said, ‘Finally, I have found the happiest person in the world! All I need is his shirt, and that will complete my collection.’ The king ordered his guards to strip off the woodcutter’s shirt. But when the guards removed the woodcutter’s shawl, they discovered that he was wearing nothing underneath it. The happiest man in the world had no shirt at all. Once the king saw this, he realized what the saint wanted to convey to him. He realized that one doesn’t need material to be happy, as true happiness doesn’t lie in accumulating things. It lies in doing things.
You don’t know how much you need
To say that the rich are sad and the poor are happy would be very narrow-minded and stupid. Both scarcity and abundance tend to produce unhappiness in an individual. So what should we do? Where is that fine line when we know that we have enough and don’t need more?
This isn’t something you can find out instantly. This question is not just about something physical, but about who you are. The traditional approach would be to first discover who you are and then frame your necessities around your true self. That is usually the attitude of saints and monks and quite difficult for most of us to adopt, since we don’t know where to start.
But why don’t we go the other way around? Before discovering our true self, why don’t we first find out what we don’t need in life? After eliminating that, what we are left with would be pure value, and it would be closer to our real self. This could be our first and most important step towards self-discovery.
The role of advertisements in creating unnecessary needs
If you watch television, go online or even look around the streets, you will see hoards of advertisements. Everyone wants us to buy something. People want to sell what they produce by any means – their ideas, their policies, food, gadgets, or some other consumer item. Everything is for sale. Because of this, many of us have started becoming averse to advertisements. We just don’t want to look at them. We regard with suspicion every person offering us something and think that he or she must have some hidden agenda.
Despite all that, advertisements work. One cannot deny it. However, they usually work in the wrong way. You cannot tell the taste of something from just looking at its picture. But we usually buy food that we see in the advertisements. Moreover, those who advertise their stuff to us might not really care about our needs, satisfaction, or even our health. They might want to make more by spending less; the rest is none of their concern. The worst part is, in our present materialistic society, rather than scrutinizing such people, we end up admiring them. We call them successful and start following their example. Our greatest ambitions are usually about giving to the world what it already has in abundance. What is the result of this?
Around one-third of the world’s food, about 1.3 billion tonnes, is wasted every year6. Water stress is likely to affect half of the world’s population by 20507. On top of all this, the percentage of people suffering from mental health disorders is rising every year. So are we going in the right direction?
What is minimalism?
Minimalism started as an art movement in the 1950s and has been steadily gaining popularity ever since. It is most popular in Japan, where people see it as something synonymous with simplicity and mindfulness. According to the Japanese, basing your life on the principles of nature and essentiality will lead you to higher truths.
The great Irish author Oscar Wilde once said,‘Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.’ One should ask oneself, where do all these ‘out of fashion’ things go? Well, they end up in landfills. While throwing these things out, we forget how many resources were utilized in manufacturing them, and how much damage they will do to the environment when they sit in landfills for decades.
The qualities of an ideal minimalist object
An ideal minimalist object is true to its essence, which means the object is so simple that it is free from the changes brought on by fashion. For example, a minimalist table would have just four straight and simple legs, and a plain rectangular top bereft of any design. It would be very straight and sleek. We would barely even notice it.
In an extravagant world, where we are troubled by millions of impressions every day, this type of table could prove refreshing. It would serve the purpose of a table without distracting our senses in any way. It would be just a table, and not a painting or a work of art.
Why minimalism is the way to go
Imagine how simple your life would be if you selected everything just for the purpose it serves. You would be able to measure your life in terms of value, and would always know what you need and what you don’t. Making the correct decision would become much easier. Since the objects are not fashionable, selling them will not be that difficult either.
On the other hand, minimalism can also help tackle many environmental and economic problems. When a company doesn’t have to spend too much effort on designing an object, it can focus on making the object cheaper, more durable and more eco-friendly. A great principle of minimalism is using the minimum amount of resources, which accords perfectly with our present-day need for sustainability. With the rise in environmental problems and a growing dearth of natural resources, consumerism can only survive if it recourses to minimalism.
However, to get the most benefit out of minimalism, it is necessary that we don’t pass it off as yet another trend. Just like the Japanese, we should adopt it as a philosophy of life. Various other ideas, like mindfulness and decluttering, are in perfect harmony with minimalism, and adopting them along the way can work wonders for anyone. In a life choked by extravagance, any striving towards value and simplicity is sure to give one more room to breathe. Minimalism, when practised with complete earnestness, might just be the way to go.