Why Simple Living Needs Positive Psychology

July 25, 2015 Carol 4 comments

Simple living is a lifestyle. Positive psychology is a science.

Both share a common goal — living a good life. A good life is a meaningful, happy, and fulfilling life.

The simple living lifestyle “tells us” that we must edit our possessions and our activities in order to make room for what’s important.

But how do we know what’s important? That’s where positive psychology comes in.

Just to be clear — positive psychology cannot tell you precisely what’s important to you. In other words, it cannot give each of us a precise blueprint for each of our individual lives. It’s up to each of us to figure that out for ourselves.

However, positive psychology can give us some general guidelines about what kinds of things make us happy; what kinds of things give life meaning and value. It can also give us some pointers about how to custom fit these things into each of our individual lives.

Simple living discards the unimportant, and positive psychology backfills with the important.

Lifestyle Meets Science

Positive psychology is the perfect science to enhance the simple living lifestyle. Or, conversely, the simple living lifestyle is the perfect choice for anyone who wishes to utilize the teachings of positive psychology. There are two major ways in which the lifestyle and the science complement one another:

A Focus on What’s Important

The simple living lifestyle relies on the practice of minimalism. Quoting The Minimalists, “Minimalism is a tool used to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” In other words, minimalism is a tool used to simplify your life, i.e., achieve a simple living lifestyle.

Science suggests the time, money and energy we save by having less stuff are best used in ways that bring meaning to our lives and the lives of others.
Christy King, The Simple White Rabbit

So, by embracing the simple living lifestyle, we make room for what’s important. This frees us to fill our lives with what’s important.  The science of positive psychology can help us  to:

  • Figure out what’s important — things that bring us authentic happiness and fulfillment.
  • Implement the practices necessary to inculcate them into our lives.

The Realization That Other People Matter

If you want happiness for an hour – take a nap. If you want happiness for a day – go fishing. If you want happiness for a month – get married. If you want happiness for a year – inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime – help others.
― Chinese proverb

Chris Peterson said positive psychology could be summed up in three simple words “other people matter.” Barbara Fredrickson lists the ten most common positive emotions, and notes that love is an amalgamation of all the emotional states coming together throughout our life. “People who engage in kind acts become happier over time,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky. “When you are kind to others, you feel good as a person ― more moral, optimistic, and positive,” she says. Virtually every leading positive psychologist agrees ― when it comes to pursuing activities that can boost our happiness, the proverb gets it right: helping someone else is a surefire strategy.

Many who embrace the simple living lifestyle share this belief that other people matter. Here are three worthy reasons to choose this lifestyle:

  1. Every human being, whether living now or in a future generation, should be afforded the opportunity to live a meaningful, happy, and fulfilling life.
  2. “Enough, for everyone, forever.” Samuel Alexander first coined this phrase in his creative work of fiction, Entropia: Life Beyond Industrial Civilisation, Chapter Five, where we read about the Charter of the Deep Future. It begins thus: “We affirm that providing ‘enough, for everyone, forever’ is the defining objective of our economy, which we seek to achieve by working together in free association.”
  3. Ecological harmony. As Duane Elgin suggests, and as necessitated by ecological overshoot, voluntary simplicity can help us to reduce our environmental impact and steward the earth’s resources more carefully.

In a nutshell, we choose to accept the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Live simply so that others may simply live.”

Why The World Needs Both

Our world is in serious trouble. Climate change is threatening to destroy us. Inequality is way out of control.

How did we get ourselves into this mess? And how can we extricate ourselves from it?

simple living needs positive psychology
‘The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all,’ reads Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment which also says the most developed nations owe a ‘grave social debt’ to the poorest people on the planet who are being disproportionately and negatively impacted by human-caused global warming. (Photo: NASA/Wikimedia Commons)

As Pope Francis says, greed is causing climate change and inequality. To make matters worse, there is a cyclical effect —  climate change is wreaking disproportionate damage on the poor, thereby causing further inequality.

simple living needs positive psychology

Climate Change: Causes and Consequences

To understand climate change, we need to understand ecological overshoot. Ecological overshoot occurs when humanity’s demand on nature exceeds the biosphere’s supply, or regenerative capacity. It leads to a depletion of Earth’s life supporting natural capital and a build up of waste. Overshoot is destroying biodiversity. Planet Earth is entering an era of mass extinction predicted to be the most devastating since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. But this time around, says Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction, it’s humans that are causing it. Overshoot is also the leading cause of climate change, arguably the most important challenge of our time. Since the 1970s, humanity’s annual demand on the natural world has exceeded what the Earth can renew in a year. Humans now use the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use, and absorb our waste. If present trends continue, ecological overshoot is expected to increase, so that by mid-century we’ll need the equivalent of two planets to meet annual demand!

Scientists agree that human activity causes a rise in both average world temperatures and the occurrence of extreme weather events. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, rich countries have emitted the overwhelming share of the greenhouse gases causing the earth’s atmosphere to warm. Yet the world’s poor are first and hardest hit by the consequences of climate change. Many countries have already experienced deadly droughts and floods. And climate-induced natural disasters have displaced hundreds of thousands of people across the world, while global fresh water resources become increasingly scarce.
Global Policy Forum

Root Causes

In his recent encyclical, Pope Francis correctly blames greed as the cause of climate change and inequality:

Pope Francis has called on the world’s rich nations to begin paying their “grave social debt” to the poor and take concrete steps on climate change, saying failure to do so presents an undeniable risk to a “common home” that is beginning to resemble a “pile of filth”.

The pope’s 180-page encyclical on the environment, released on Thursday, is at its core a moral call for action on phasing out the use of fossil fuels.

But it is also a document infused with an activist anger and concern for the poor, casting blame on the indifference of the powerful in the face of certain evidence that humanity is at risk following 200 years of misuse of resources.

— The Guardian

Mindset is the root cause of greed.

The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty.
— Pope Framcis

For too long now, too many of us have been duped into believing that money can buy happiness, and that a person’s wealth is the measure of his success. Thankfully, many of us are now realizing just how wrong we were.

simple living needs positive psychology

So here we are in 2015. It’s time for some new directions for humanity!

4 Comments on “Why Simple Living Needs Positive Psychology

  1. I have to tell you, Carol, ever since you first mentioned Positive Psychology, I have been researching it. And it is definitely the philosophy I follow, which I have heard termed the “wellness model.” Learning skills and tools that benefit EVERYONE, rather than treating “diseases.” And I love your tie-in to simple living. Once we see ourselves as a part of a larger picture, we naturally experience a greater sense of peace.


  2. Thanks for quoting me.

    I think most people have to learn firsthand that money doesn’t buy happiness. It’s easy to see when you voluntarily downsize, but not so easy to see if you’ve never been able to afford a smart phone or a new car.

    However, that may change if people see more and more people living happily on less. if you only know one or two families doing so, you might think it’s a fluke. I probably would have (before I became interested in minimalism).

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