How Will You Celebrate National Simplicity Day?
Are you feeling overwhelmed by the hectic pace of life? Is your to-do list never-ending? Are you working long hours? Constantly rushing around, trying to do too much? The stresses and strains of daily life can take a hefty toll on us – our health, happiness and relationships. Therefore, it’s important to take some time to slow down when we can. A perfect time to do this is today. Why? Because it's National Simplicity Day.
National Simplicity Day is celebrated on July 12th because this is the birthday of Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau is probably best known for writing Walden, a book that chronicled the two years and two months that he spent living at Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau moved to Walden Pond to try to live more simply and deliberately. He spent his time focusing on simple activities because he believed that an uncluttered life would help him develop an organized mind.
Here are some Thoreau-approved ways for you to simplify and de-stress a little on National Simplicity Day.
Keep a journal
“In a journal it is important in a few words to describe the weather, or character of the day, as it affects our feelings. That which is so important at the time cannot be unimportant to remember.” Henry David Thoreau
Taking some time each day to write can be a very powerful way to improve your life:
- It can improve your health and well-being. Expressive writing has been shown to provide emotional and physical health benefits such as improved immune system function, reduction in blood pressure, greater psychological well-being, and fewer stress-related visits to the doctor. Journaling has also been shown to help sufferers of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis cancer, and AIDS.
- If you write about painful emotions, it can help to decrease the intensity of these feelings, so you feel calmer.
- It can help you to clarify your thoughts and feelings, as well as solve problems more effectively. This is because journaling uses both your analytical left-brain and your creative right-brain.
- You will learn more about yourself, as regular journaling will help you to see what makes you happy, what you struggle with, as well as your progress and growth
There are many different ways to journal, including:
- The classic diary format where you write about what happened each day. Some personal diaries have been published and provide a fascinating view of their lives and the history they lived through.
- Bullet journal. A very flexible format
- A one-sentence per day journal - perfect for those of us who already feel too busy!
- Morning pages where you write 3 pages (about 750 words) in a stream of consciousness.
- A work diary to track your successes and what you need to improve.
Whichever one you choose, it may be tempting to use an app or type your journal, but research has shown that writing by hand has more cognitive benefits – it helps us to better process / understand ideas and emotions. Writing by hand also has a great calming effect on us compared to other mediums.
If you’re not sure what to begin writing about, here are some questions to get you started.
Remember that a journal is not meant to be read by anyone but you. So don’t worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, or even making sense! Just appreciate the freedom of writing whatever you want.
“I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house…” Henry David Thoreau
Sitting still and doing nothing may be the hardest thing for any of us to do. We are so used to constantly being on the go. When we do have a moment to slow down, we get out our cell phones and check Facebook, email, Twitter. But research has shown that stopping to do nothing can be very beneficial for all of us. It can help us to solve problems and be more creative. As well as being more productive when we do focus on work. We all know that we need to rest our physical bodies, so why not give our brains a break?
Why not try it right now? Take a few moments to sit back and let your body relax. Maybe stare out of the window. Now take a few long, deep breaths. Close your eyes and feel the weight of your body in the chair, and then begin to listen to all of the sounds around you. Just sit there like that for a few minutes and then open your eyes. Hopefully you feel more relaxed. Now, try and take some time each day just to stop, even for a few minutes. It’s worth it!
Take time to savor
“We live too fast and coarsely just as we eat too fast and do not know the true savor of our food” Henry David Thoreau
Slowing down to savor something; whether is it an experience, food, or a beautiful view, has been shown to increase our happiness. And who doesn’t want to be happier?
Here’s some tips on how to make the most of your next vacation, meal, or special event:
- Before the event: anticipate it. Think about it, talk about it, plan it – these all go towards helping you savor and enjoy it more.
- During the event: stay in the moment. It’s easy to rush around and not fully appreciate the experience. Put down the camera or cell phone, stop the social media updates, let go of any worries about what happens next and just enjoy it. Taking some photos or video to memorialize it is OK, just don’t get too caught up. Take a moment, look around, soak it in and relish it.
- After the event: remember the event, share your favorite experiences with friends and family, look at any souvenirs or photos, and savor!
“He who eats the fruit, should at least plant the seed” Henry David Thoreau
Another way to relieve stress is by gardening. Whether you have a garden, a balcony, a window box or just a windowsill, you can plant something. Herbs or vegetables are a great option as you’ll also get the benefit of eating them and saving money. If you are new to gardening then start with simpler vegetables like radishes, lettuce, beans or peas. Alternatively, try some easy-to-grow flowers like sunflowers, marigolds or geraniums. Or improve the quality of the air in your house with a peace lily, English Ivy or aloe.
Gardening can also be a community activity. Check out this Ted talk from our local TedX event, then go out and find your "farm-ily"!
Go for a walk
“Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see.” Henry David Thoreau
Have you heard that “sitting is the new smoking”? I’ve lost count of how many articles I have read about the dangers of sitting too long. According to the Mayo Clinic too much sitting is linked to obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar and an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Scary stuff!
However, getting outside for a walk can help reduce these health risks, and maybe even add years to your life. Walking outside can also reduce stress and improve mental health more effectively than going to the gym.
Plus, it is a simple form of exercise. All you need is some good footwear and to step outside. No pricy gym membership or fancy equipment or training needed. And some experts say that a brisk walk is as good for you as running.
So what’s stopping you? Take a stroll at lunch, make one of your meetings a ‘walking meeting’, take the dog for a walk or meet a friend for a hike. As Nike says: “Just do it”!
“Our life is frittered away by detail...Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” Henry David Thoreau
Simplicity can often be found by decreasing what we do or what we have. What can you reduce in your life? Reducing how much you use social media or watch TV will free up more time for you. Decluttering your house (see #7 below) will reduce how much time and money you spend too.
Another way to simplify is to reduce the number of decisions you make a day. It is said that we make an average of 35,000 decisions per day. Too many decisions can be mentally tiring and reduces your willpower which can result in anger, poor decision making or risky behavior.
To combat this you could try reducing the number of non-critical decisions that you have to make each day, for example:
- Wear similar clothes each day. Mark Zuckerberg usually wears a grey T shirt, Dr Dre wears Nike's Air Force 1 sneakers and Steve Jobs had his iconic black turtleneck.
- Eat the same thing.
- Create routines.
Think about your own life, what could you reduce to simplify it?
“Sweep away the clutter of things that complicate our lives” Henry David Thoreau
Clutter seems to be a constant battle and I think that the Thoreau quote above nails the problem. It does complicate our lives. We spend time and money on acquiring stuff, storing it, maintaining it, insuring it and then disposing of it. Decluttering can definitely help us simplify our life.
There are tons of resources on the Internet with suggestions on how to declutter – I like these creative ideas from the Becoming Minimalist blog.
And plenty of books too. Here are some of the more famous ones which might help get you started.
But if you simply (ha, ha!) want to get started and declutter right away then just pick an area or room, set a timer for 15 or 30 minutes and sort the clutter in that space into 3 main categories:
- Give away
When the timer is done, stop. Then don’t forget to put away the stuff you have decided to keep.
“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” Henry David Thoreau
How much time do we spend chasing after what we don’t have? We work long hours to earn money to buy things. Then we work harder and longer to get that promotion or bonus so we have more money to spend on more stuff. We’re bombarded with adverts urging us to buy the latest, greatest thing that will make us happier or skinnier or fitter or younger. I know this might be hard for some people to believe, but having more money does not bring more happiness!
Instead being grateful for what you already have will benefit you in so many ways. It can:
- Improve your physical and mental health.
- Help you to sleep better at night.
- Increase your empathy and decrease any feelings of aggression.
- Improve your relationships.
- Increase your happiness.
Want to try it out? Just take a few minutes to write down 3 things that you are grateful for, that's it!
According to research, if you do this exercise for a week you’ll increase your happiness by about 2%, by 5% if you stick with it for a month and by 9% if you do it for six months. A truly simple way to increase your overall happiness.
Find your own way
“I would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account. I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way…” Henry David Thoreau
If you ask people about how they would simplify their life, many might assume that they would need to go live alone in a small house in the wilds like Thoreau did. However, even though this is what he did, Thoreau did not think that it was the solution for others. Instead he believed that each of us needed to find our own way of living simply.
So today take a few moments to think about your own life and how you could simplify.
As for me, I’ll be sitting on my front porch enjoying the fresh air before taking Honey for a long walk in the woods!