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You want a good life? Keep it simple.

Things that are often taken for granted can be a source of peace and pleasure.

Key points

  • Children, pets and nature often keep it simple
  • Human beings have over-complicated living and the point of life
  • Gratitude for the simple things in life can help improve wellbeing and mental health

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.” (Alan Watts)

As I approach the last year of my studies and my research and I find myself in the depths of balancing thesis writing with everything else in my life, I have come to crave simplicity. I have been reflecting on simplicity and I have been holding the simple things in life with a higher regard with each passing day. Simple things can often be taken for granted, these are life's pleasures and gifts that are often around us which are priceless and can be magical.

Earlier today when I was sitting with my youngest child, she remarked on the whiteboard beside my desk with a description of all my thesis chapters on it. She asked me about the chapters and before I could stop myself I began explaining in detail how my work was reflecting on work processes and concluded my pedantic, academic spiel with “my thesis is basically looking at capitalism.” She listened intently with a slightly puzzled expression, then her face lit up indicating that a new, exciting thought had just occurred to her “What if” she said with her eyes filled with enthusiasm “someone called their cat- CAT-i-tal-ism?”

And that was that. I was completely stumped and after nearly three years of study, I was unable to answer my own child’s question (vaguely) relating to my research area.

Louise Taylor
The is our cat who is not called catipalism.
Source: Louise Taylor

Spending the last few years working on a research PhD has been a privilege and I am very grateful for the opportunity. While it is a tough task, it does feel like a lot of my time has been spent being trained to think in a particular way - a way that is sophisticated, high-brow, which is inaccessible to many people and it seems to be purposefully and intentionally elitist. Which shouldn't really be surprising, because if you spend decades with your head buried in books, you should be more intelligent than those who don't.

I have great respect for many of the brilliant minds and people I have met on my research journey, but I have noticed that I am becoming increasingly impressed by those who keep it simple. I have such affection and admiration for those who can relate to anyone on any level and who can make difficult topics easy to understand. I am enjoying the challenge of studying and researching at a high level but I have come to believe that the simple things in life are underrated, undervalued and priceless.

I also believe that wisdom is more simple than we care to admit and that intelligence is more subjective than most people realise. Then again, I could be wrong and most probably am, academia has taught me that. There is so much that I will never know and I believe my acceptance of that was a small step in the right direction for me, with wisdom can often come relief, peace and humility.

My research is looking at how time spent in natural settings relates to mental health and not surprisingly many people believe it does. Being outside, in fresh air helps people to feel good and helps them to de-stress, this is nothing new and in my experience a concept that is far from radical and revolutionary. Theories popped up in the 1980s and 1990s to support what people have known for centuries, millennia even, but it seems unless these terms and concepts are intellectualised they can lack credibility and credence with professionals and services. I believe this is one of the disadvantages to how technologically and scientifically obsessed many of our countries have become, our health has always been dependent on our environment (air, water, food) and yet many people have now become educated to believe our health is completely determined by the health service. This believe is prevailing and powerful at the expense of both the health of the population and the environment sadly, but that is for another post doctorate blog. I am keeping it simple here.

I have been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to do a PhD on a topic I love and while I have really enjoyed the last three years, I’ve decided that people over complicate things (mea culpa). I have come to believe that I am more of a simple person than I have cared to admit. I have simple needs, I often see the world in a very simplistic and straightforward manner, good/ bad, right/ wrong, great/ terrible.

This dualistic thinking is often referred to as black and white thinking, but to be honest, some things are very clear to me and very little can change those beliefs. That may be autism, that may be my perceptions, that may be distorted thinking or it may be my deeply embedded morals and values affecting my cognitions and my actions. Whatever it is, I strongly suspect that this simplistic thinking may be here to stay and I don't really mind if it does stay. I think it is my moral compass and I actually quite like it, even if it isn't always easy for others to understand.

Nature helps remind me to keep it simple too. It also helps me to take it easy and to slow things down. Animals keep it simple, plants keep it simple, trees keep it simple, it is us, humans, apparently the most intelligent species on the planet, who have complicated living to such an extent that many of us are stressed to health's limits. It seems that our expectations of life and living have become too high to be conducive with the beauty and brilliance of simplicity and good living. As someone who has spent the last few years swimming in intellectual waters I feel a strong calling for simple ways, simple things and simple days. It feels like nature knows best, nature has got this living well sorted, the simple ways are what are beginning to make the most sense to this tired, weary and overstimulated mind. It may be a phase, it may pass, but until then I'm going to embrace the simple things more.

“Simple things relieve eyes; simple things ease mind, simple things create meditation, simple things are simply miraculous!”

Memet Murat Ildan

Louise Taylor
Walking amongst the trees, a timeless simple pleasure.
Source: Louise Taylor

Simple pleasures I adore:

Deep breathes

Watching cats (highly recommend)

Soft blankets

Smelling flowers, herbs and other appealing plant life

Good cups of tea

A long hug with a loved one

A morning of painting, drawing and messing about with art supplies

Dancing

An afternoon nap on a day off

Time spent by an ancient tree

Cloud watching

Long baths

Conversations with children - the more ridiculous the better

A good book

Dog walks

Smiling at strangers

Many of these simple things are good for us because they are about connection, gratitude and being alive in the moment. That is living and to me that is living well. Life can be more simple if we choose to make it that way, I plan to honour the beauty of simplicity and be more grateful for the things I have all around me that I often take for granted.

Louise Taylor
Dogs seem, to know how to keep it simple.
Source: Louise Taylor

“A single breath is all that separates life from death.”

Marty Rubin

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