Power of Simplicity

power of simplicity

“What ten ideas, if clearly understood and integrated into daily life, can weave together the threads for good living?”

– Marietta McCarty

Simplicity  is the first chapter in How Philosophy Can Save Your Life: 10 Ideas That Matter Most, by philosophy professor Marietta McCarty.

This is no random placement. McCarty says, “Simplicity is the concept that comes first in our lives and in this book.”

“A simple lifestyle is complete in the essentials needed to live well.”

– Marietta McCarty

McCarty opens the chapter by discussing how common the desire to have a simpler, happier life is, going on to say philosophers insist we don’t need much to satisfy our material needs.

Rather, they believe our first priority is mental and spiritual well-being, and focusing too much on material possessions “robs the mind and heart of the time we owe to our inner development.”

“Simplicity serves as a dust cloth for the mind, and as the mind brightens, anything is possible.”

– Marietta McCarty

A guide for philosophy groups, How Philosophy Can Save Your Life  isn’t at all like your typical self-help book. Each chapter includes a brief discussion of the topic and an introduction to 2 philosophers whose work relates to that topic, as well as discussion questions and homework assignments.

The Simplicity chapter’s philosophers are Epicurus and Charlotte Joko Beck.

“Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.”

– Epicurus

Greek philosopher Epicurus was born in 341 BCE. Epicurus, McCarty says, “begs us to discover the freedom that comes from needing little.” He prioritizes prudence and differentiating between needs and wants, as well as between natural desires and those that are vain.

According to McCarty, Epicurus lived his beliefs, celebrating “the wealth of simple pleasures available to those who turns their backs on extravagance.”

Interestingly, Epicurus advocated deriving the greatest amount of pleasure possible during one’s lifetime, but with a focus on mental rather than physical pleasures.

“Most of our difficulties, our hopes, and our worries are empty fantasies.”

– Charlotte Joko Beck

Beck was an American Zen teacher and the author of Everyday Zen. If you’re at all familiar with Buddhism, you probably know one of its major tenets is that desire causes suffering.

To find peace and happiness, we, therefore, must work to become less attached to our desires. This requires learning to control our minds.

We must practicing avoiding mental drama and stopping our “if onlys.” According to Beck, the solution is often to “just sit.”

“Why has it become so difficult to fuel restorative juices by doing nothing?”

– Marietta McCarty

Homework options for this chapter include listening to Thelonious Monk, reciting William Wordsworth’s The Daffodils, reading Ethan Frome and watching The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, as well as just sitting and taking a walk.

I confess I’ve read only the introduction and first chapter of How Philosophy Can Save Your Life, but I plan to read more.

Not so much because of the text itself, which, so far at least, I find merely “okay,” but because it offers a good framework for thinking about the most important things in life, as well as a helpful list of resources.

If you’re lucky enough to have a nerdy philosophy-loving group of friends, you might enjoy setting up a group to work through this book. If you do, please stop by and let us know.

The power of simplicity in your life

One homework assignment is to fill in the blank in this sentence: “Simplifying your life gives you more time to ____________________.”

How will you fill in the blank?


9 thoughts on “Power of Simplicity

  1. Interesting and thought-provoking post. You’ve gotten me interested in the book. I’m curious why reading Ethan Frome is a homework assignment for the chapter you write about. It’s one of my favorite books and part of the reason my son is named Ethan.
    I’d answer the homework question this way — Simplifying my life gives me more time to go birding (which is really about enjoying nature as much as it is about seeing birds). 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing. As to Ethan Frome, it relates to the language. Part of what McCarty says is “It is a simple, gut-wrenching tale told with spare language. . . . Select passages from Ethan Frome that elicit emotion and paint a vivid picture in but a few words.”

  2. Simplifying your life gives you more time … to be yourself! Also gives you more time to make your wardrobe by hand 😉

    • I really like “gives you more time to be yourself.” I never thought of it as taking time, but you’re right, it does.

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.