Oh, To be Rich!

The world we live in can be a maze of confusion, especially when we start to negotiate the traps of consumerism that proclaim, in order to be happy or successful we need to have lots and lots of stuff. There is both a desire and a trend to move away from buying into this philosophy and to replace it with a philosophy of simplicity. Material possessions, instead of simplifying our lives, often clutter it. This concept of simplicity and how to practically embrace a life that is imbued with it is not an entirely new concept.

It has been explored in detail by Henry David Thoreau in his classic book Walden that documents his experiments with a two year (1845-47) sojourn into anti-materialist living at Walden Pond. As with all classics, it is not an easy read, as the language appear stilted and cumbersome to the modern eye, yet, the wisdom it contains remain as pertinent today as it did then. Thoreau comes to the conclusion that wealth is found, not in what one owns, but in how one spends ones time, and that ‘man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone’.

In his book The Wisdom of Tuscany: Simplicity, Security & the Good Life, Ferenc Máté broaches similar ideas. Each acquisition we make, according to him, is not just about how much we pay for it, but what it takes to earn it. In other words: how big is the portion of our life we give up in order to have whatever it is we acquire? Nothing is free. We always trade something for something else. Sometimes it is worth it; sometimes it is not. How often do we not complain that when we have the time to do the things we always wanted to do, we do not have the money, and when we have the money, we simply do not have the time?

At Walden Pond, Thoreau lived in such a way that he only had to work six weeks a year. He says: ‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.’

I guess, in the end, that is what we need to do: live deliberately. For in doing so, we will discover how we want to spend our time, money and energy.


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