Why Is It Difficult to Enjoy the Simple Joys of Life?

Simplicity and ComplexityThe Big Question

Nowadays we think of life as an ongoing checklist, a never-ending reminders app.

We stomp through this “Age of Complexity” (a term used by psychologists for the contemporary era) ignoring many of the simple joys of life. With the high intensity of modern times, why do we feel the need to make our already complex world more complex? Why is it so difficult for us to enjoy the simple joys of life? I believe it is because we sabotage our own happiness by overlooking natural simplicity and beauty.

Simplicity can be imagined in two separate categories: simplicity of nature and simplicity of the soul and mind. Simplicity of the soul is a mental balance, an inner peace that we often lack because of the structure we impose on our lives. Those who lead their lives simply and holistically, whose primary goal is obtaining peacefulness or spiritual awakening, may avoid the emotional maelstrom the rest of us are trapped inside.

Modern life is very intricate, with different moods, ideas, and feelings crammed into one. We have to organize and compartmentalize everything; we have different ways of interacting at work or school, at home, and over social media, and controlling these different aspects of our lives is difficult and confusing. Often we have access to technology 24/7, distracting us from our real experiences with virtual ones and invading every aspect of our lives.

Ezra Bayda, Zen practitioner and author of the book At Home in the Muddy Water, speaks of spirituality as a solution to this emotional turmoil. He argues that through meditation he can contemplate and attempt to understand this complexity, describing it as a way to gradually embrace the “muddy waters” of life.

Unfortunately, it is hard for many (if not most) people to obtain the peace of mind Bayda speaks of, because of the human tendency to constantly self-sabotage and cloud our lives with complexity and shallow goals. For example, I sabotage my own happiness by setting myself up with superficial objectives that do not actually carry meaning, thinking that once I achieve them I will be happy. I let myself believe in these grass-is-always-greener fantasies, and then when I discover my now-answered goals are not, in fact, fulfilling, I get discouraged. Why would I give myself this unnecessary pain?

The simplicity of nature is another beautiful truth that, now more than ever, the human race is destroying. Some of the most meaningful experiences we can have occur when we are surrounded by nature, yet global warming and urbanization make enjoying the calm, peaceful beauty of nature increasingly difficult.

Photograph by Vanita Sharma

Several of my favorite memories come from time spent at my grandmother’s small cabin in Canada. The cabin is on a small island where there are plain meals, almost no material things, and no technology. We eat by light from a gas lamp and go to the bathroom in an outhouse. I fondly remember collecting wood for fires with my sister, going on late night walks, and swimming in the really really cold lake (or throwing my sister in the lake—it was revenge). I vividly recall the beauty in the stillness of the air filled only with bird calls, the serenity I felt from looking across the glassy, clear water. These experiences are unrivaled in my normal life.

In the mid-1800s, American naturalist and transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau wrote of the destruction of the beauty of nature caused by industrialization. He believed industry and the complications of (what he considered to be) modern life were unnecessary and unproductive. In his book Walden, Thoreau describes the raw beauty of Walden Pond, famously saying, “Our life is frittered away by detail . . . simplify, simplify.”

Occasionally, I recall Canada’s beauty while watching a leaf dance to the ground in fall or while sitting on a park bench in spring, and I am reminded of the simplicity Thoreau advocates. Perhaps we should take his advice. Perhaps simplicity, not ignorance, is bliss, and too many of us make the mistake of overcomplicating our lives. Perhaps we truly are our own worst enemy, and in destroying this simplicity we also detract from our own happiness.

Caroline Hochman is 16 years old and lives in New York City. Her favorite subject is history, and her hobbies include playing violin and playing baseball.

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