Posts Tagged ‘simplicity’

simple education

August 9, 2010

Noted in the Sunday Times:

Happiness is more likely to flow from simplicity and richness of experience than from the accumulation of material possessions. (A conclusion we nailed down in Happiness 101 last year, btw.)

People are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses. “But Will It Make You Happy?”

So, hold off on that iPad (actually I’m leaning more to the Kindle now) and new shoes (but I’m really enjoying my new Timberland Chocoruas) and new coat of paint. Go somewhere fun on Labor Day weekend instead.

We were going to Chicago and Wrigley Field, ’til some brilliant school planner decided the 10th graders needed to “retreat” that weekend. So, a related piece of  happiness wisdom: don’t let schooling stand in the way of your happy education. (Mr. Twain said it first, I think.)

The piece concludes: “Give away some of your stuff. See how it feels.” It feels pretty smart, in my experience. Like shedding unhealthy pounds.

Also noted: an opining Protestant minister bemoans the commodification of spirit in consumerist America:

The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them.  Congregations Gone Wild

I’m not a churchgoer, but substitute academic for pastoral, students for churchgoers, and professors for pastors and you’ve got a telling vocational parallel. Not all of my teaching colleagues would agree that it’s our job to improve our students and wean them from the depredations of life in consumerist America, and even fewer of my administrative colleagues would.

But that’s how I still see it. The new state chancellor of our governing board was quoted over the weekend as saying something about our mission being to help our students succeed. I agree, though I’m pretty sure he and I have incommensurate ideas about what that entails, precisely. It’s not merely about emerging after four years to join the workforce and start accumulating lots of stuff.

There are important dots to connect here, between happiness, simplicity, and an education worth stretching for. If we don’t at least try, we fail.

more dust

June 24, 2010

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to pitch my “dusty” digital devices out the window in mimicry of the stoical Thoreau, who was perturbed by what he considered his own over-attentiveness to mere things, ornaments, baubles, distractions. They diverted his focus from more rewarding endeavors, they stole his time, they scattered his force. They would not improve him or raise the quality of his life.

Were we really to apply this standard to the material surplus of our lives in an honest and consistent manner, most of us would find that we could easily do without most of the “stuff” we pile up and haul around and surround ourselves with. We would have to consider the Bhutanese experiment, and begin paying as much attention to Gross National Happiness as we do to Gross Domestic Product. We would not be the same kind of Americans our grandparents were.

My little 16-GB iPod now holds at least 200 books and book excerpts (eBooks and audio books),  from Kindle and Stanza and Project Gutenberg and Audible and Overdrive, most of them “free” but for the expenditure of time and attention– the “dusting” that disgusted old Henry. It has Twitter, the BBC,  the New York Times and The New Yorker and Time Magazine, the Columbia Missourian, the Boston Globe, the Huffington Post, Slate, Salon, et al.

It has a dictionary and thesaurus and several philosophy reference sources. It has Dragon dictation software to convert my speech to editable, emailable, printable, publishable text. It has an app that does the same to finger-writing.

It has Google Earth, and GPS, and NPR, and TED…

It has apps that tell me where I can get the best Happy Hour deal in town.

It has stuff I’ve forgotten, stuff too cool to ignore at the app store but too much for my poor finite brain to track, day by day.

Oh yeah: it has the Beatles, the Stones, John Prine, and all my other favorite music too.

In brief, it’s a lot cooler than Thoreau’s three pieces of limestone. He would admit that, I’m sure. But it’s still just a thing, and it still monopolizes too much of my attention. I won’t throw it out, but I need to moderate my regard for it.

Most of all, I need to be prepared to let it go. Things crash, things get lost, things in our consumer paradise especially get surpassed and superceded. Things get dusty.

Stoics don’t have to live lives of voluntary poverty, but they do choose to lodge their sense of life’s worth in something more stable and less exterior than things.

A lesson from Seneca (who, btw, is on my iPod):

The wise man can lose nothing. He has everything invested in himself. The wise man is self-sufficient… if he loses a hand through disease or war, or if some accident puts out one or both of his eyes, he will be satisfied with what is left.

The wise man is self-sufficient in that he can do without friends, not that he desires to do without them.

He can do without iPods and iPads and iPhones and Kindles and beach vacations (oily or not). So can she. But they don’t have to. They can learn to tolerate a little dust.


June 23, 2010

I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and I threw them out the window in disgust… I would rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on the grass, unless where man has broken ground. Thoreau

And that’s one reason why I didn’t buy a price-busted Kindle yesterday. The iPod’s getting a little dusty too.