“My World is Getting Smaller, and That’s Okay”

Making the most of a simpler life.

Posted Jan 10, 2020

Wikimedia, CC 4.0
Source: Wikimedia, CC 4.0

I’ve had clients who say that, as they’ve aged, their world has gotten smaller. In earlier years, I used to mention the research that touts benefits of getting out there but more recently, my clients have convinced me that they’re fine with their world getting smaller. Their argument generally goes something like, “I’ve grown self-conscious about my physical and mental aging. So, both to avoid embarrassment and so I can focus my life on the things I still can do well, I restrict my amount of social and other outside activities.”

Instead of pushing such clients outward, most such clients have benefited more from my asking them questions and, if needed, making suggestions that lead them not to expand their world but to make more of their smaller one. Here are some of those suggestions, framed as reasons to celebrate.

Upsides of a smaller world

Celebrate the freedom. Many people can only wish for the level of control of life that you can get when you’ve made your world smaller: what to eat and when, when to sleep and at what temperature, seeing who you want or no one without internal or external pressure.

Celebrate the curation. Most people feel the need to fill their time with activities. It’s hard to fill a day, let alone a year, with excellent ones, but when your world is smaller, you can curate. That way, more of your time is spent doing and watching what you really like, whether movies, reading, chatting, singing in a choir, video games, whatever. The freedom to be discerning yields much pleasure.

Celebrate the calm. When your world is smaller, it’s less frenetic. Many people spend their life trying to calm themselves with exercise, meditation, drinking, or drugs. If your world is smaller, calm will likely come more easily.

Celebrate the energy conservation. When your world is smaller, you’re not burning energy on the unimportant, for example, forcing yourself to get out, sitting in traffic, having to address new problems, or mollifying people.

Celebrate the flexibility. As people get older, they have periods of greater and lesser well-being. If your world is smaller, you can do more when you feel like it, less when you don’t.

Celebrate the support. Often, when other people see you choosing a smaller world, they tend to be more supportive and forgiving.

If you want to shrink your world

Say no. Be more discerning about what to say yes to. People often say yes when their wiser self would say no. If you’d like a smaller, simpler life, try to muster the discernment and courage to say no when you feel that’s wise.

Inventory your current activities’ ratio of pleasure to pain. Is there an activity or two that yields insufficient pleasure for the amount of effort. For example, you may have enjoyed dance lessons but increasingly are frustrated in learning the steps, being graceful or balanced, or simply getting to the dance place. Maybe it’s time to prune such activities from your life. Conversely, should you do more of activities that have a good pleasure-to-pain ratio, for example, talking more with a friend who brings out the best in you and makes you feel good?

Replace. Even if you want to simplify your life, maybe there’s some Big Thing that you haven’t yet made time for. If so, perhaps pruning other activities will make sufficient space for that Big Thing while still, net, simplifying your life.

The takeaway

As usual, I offer no one-size-fits-all solutions. But is there at least one thing in this article you want to try or to celebrate about your smaller but better-suited life?

I read this aloud on YouTube.