A few weeks back, when I was in the throes of finishing up the spring semester grading, I listened to a TED Radio Hour program called “Maslow’s Human Needs.”
What struck me was the last part of that program, “What Makes a Life Worth Living” — the importance of “flow” in our activities to secure a sense of purpose, and therefore happiness, in our lives.
In my now-important pursuit of simplicity, I discovered that I rarely felt that “flow” when my life was complicated with competing needs. Too many choices = too much freedom = paralysis and anxiety. (There’s a Radiolab program, “How Much Is Too Much,” that explains well this “paradox of choice”.) I had fallen into the trap of seeing “I want, I want, I want” as equal to “I need, I need, I need.”
When one “needs” too much, one never has the time nor the space to just sit with one thing, one activity, to achieve for very long that elusive feeling called “flow.”
Post-marriage, I felt compelled (and — yes, in the beginning, with much pain and reluctance) to let go that illusion of wants = needs. Originally, this letting go was for practical reasons, like living on one income while supporting a young child. And, of course, this financial reason for living simply I’ve discussed in my previous post.
However, I now can see the allure of living within stark, simple needs — living in tiny houses, letting go of stuff, and just overall choosing to limit my choices — that is more than just saving enough money to get out of debt.
As I’ve discovered, as I simplified my choices to satisfy those lower needs as described in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, my opportunity to feel “flow” increased. Not in gigantic proportions, but noticeably so.
I would never have been able to write two books in the fall 2014, without having that time and space emptied of complicated choices. I would never have been able to coordinate two campus-wide programs at my workplace, for the same reason. I would never have been able to roll with the rollercoaster that was and still is acute and chronic family medical crises if my emotional reserves had been depleted by complicated choices.
In other words, when we don’t need much, we have more to give. And, as seen in the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that’s where we can feel most happy.
That idea isn’t new — but, as seen in the documentary Happy, that idea often needs repeating.