Alexander the Great sought out Diogenes, the famous cynic of ancient Greece. When he approached Diogenes, sitting beside the barrel that he lived in, basking in the sunlight, he asked, “Diogenes, ask for one thing in the world and it will be yours,” and Diogenes replied, “Could you please move aside, you’re blocking my sunlight.”
“Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.”
The idea of unlimited economic growth with limited natural resources is a bit far-fetched. We already know that unbridled greed and consumption does not lead to happiness, so instead of trying to maximize the amount of stuff you have, why not try to maximize your happiness with the least amount of stuff?
This is not a new theory – Buddhists are among the happiest people in the world, yet many have no belongings other than a begging bowl and a hut. A recent scientific study confirmed their relative happiness. Another study states that more life satisfaction is obtained by using your money for experiences rather than buying things. Once the thrill of something new wears off, you have to buy something else to take its place, and the more stuff you have, the more you have to take care of and worry about.
I’ve created a small list of some of the things that can provide fun at low or no cost. And all (including the dog – and you know this if you have one) entail an experience. Some of the items are already being paid for by you via taxation. While living in a barrel like Diogenes or in a hut like a Buddhist monk probably won’t fit into your lifestyle, you might just enjoy these endeavors which don’t entail buying new stuff to clutter your life:
Being next to water gets you out into nature, and there is nothing more peaceful than spending a day next to a river, stream, lake or ocean. The sound of a stream and the smell of a recent rain, or the thrill of hooking a monster brown trout. Time spent with good friends barbequing at a state park. Parking your car at a public fishing area and going for a swim, or floating down a river on inner-tubes (try the Mettawee or Battenkill river in NY or Vermont). How about walking down a quiet shoreline at sunrise collecting seashells and watching shorebirds and dolphins, with no other sounds but the birds and the waves? How about watching the sunset over a mountain lake with a loved one?
2) A Library Card
A library card provides access to continuous learning and enjoyment. Not only is reading a joy, it can give you the knowledge equivalent of a college degree! What better way to spend your free time than with some of the great thinkers of the world? Nothing gets your mind off of your worries like a good book. When you are enthralled in a good story, it helps to forget your problems for a while. With the advent of E-books, fewer trees are being killed, and shut-ins don’t have to leave their home to download the latest best seller. You are already paying for a local library, so why not enjoy it?
3) A Park
We got out of our comfort zone and recently spent some time in Washington Park in Albany, and now I know what the band Chicago was singing about when they wrote the song “Saturday in the Park”. What a jewel! The old growth trees, the pond, the pavilion, the fountain. First, a band was playing on the lawn and we got to hear some wonderful old tunes. Next, we went and sat next to the pond and watched two dog owners having the time of their throwing balls into the water (the dogs looked like they were having fun to). We engaged in great conversation with some strangers and got to know some new people. Yes, the proverbial old man on the bench was even there feeding the pigeons. Finally, we got some great exercise and enjoyed the beautiful day. Most parks have basketball and tennis courts, so a little sport can be had as well.
4) A Dog
Dogs live only in the present, no matter what comes their way. When you come home after a hard day, you’re greeted like they haven’t seen you in 10 years. No judgment, just pure love. And, as the author Ekhart Tolle points out, take a dog for a walk and they are enthralled with the experience – not thinking of all of their problems. You can’t help to be a little happier just being around a dog. And talk about minimalist – they go out without a raincoat when it’s raining, and the only possession they own is a bowl. Yet, they enjoy life infinitely more than most humans. Could it be that dogs are closet Buddhists?
I’m sure you can add to the list, but the idea is to maximize fun with the least of amount of resources. You can really have a great time by combining the items on the list for one great day – bring the dog to the park and sit next to the pond reading a library book. You could even get some exercise by playing fetch with your dog and walking around the park in the afternoon. Take advantage of what is already there – you won’t have to mow the lawn at the river, or pay $15.00 every time you download a book from the library. And letting that dog take you for a walk is good for your body and soul!
If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
…Then You Are Probably The Family Dog!
- Psychology Today article – Why are Experiences Often Better Purchases than Things?
- Article on Tibetan monk and molecular geneticist Matthieu Ricard – research indicates that he is the happiest man in the world
- Article on study of Buddhists and Happiness: less stuff = more happiness?