What We Really Long For
A new study reveals that all around the world (116 countries and territories were surveyed), 72% of adults said that they would rather have a calm life of inner peace and contentment than a life of excitement. Only 16% chose the opposite.
Even in the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe, where one might assume that individualism and competitiveness might cause more people to desire excitement and variety, the vast majority of adults showed a preference for calmness and balance (75% in North America and 68% in Western Europe).
The authors of the study admit that the results might be somewhat influenced by the stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, but modern life, even without a pandemic, is stressful. We're constantly connected – overwhelmed by news, bombarded by ads, and obsessively comparing ourselves to what others have and do. Most of us are busy and overburdened by responsibilities. And we have environmental stressors – crowds, noise, pollution – that can also be harmful.
No wonder we're searching for serenity.
It makes perfect sense to me. Comfort, security, and coziness are about familiarity and acceptance. I believe one of the reasons most of us love the holiday season has to do with the favorite traditions we repeat year after year. When you think about it, it's the sameness of the holidays that we crave, the sense of ritual and belonging that makes us feel that all is right with the world.
It's when something awful and unexpected happens – sickness, job loss, a natural disaster, divorce, death – that we long even more for the things that haven't changed.
I suppose that's why so many of us might declutter our clothing, our kitchens, our linen closets, and our tool boxes, junk drawers, and office supplies, yet still hang on to family photos, Grandma's Bible, and our parents' wedding rings. The first list of stuff is just stuff, and if it burned up in a house fire we'd just use insurance money to replace what we need. But the second list is irreplaceable, just as the relationships, memories, and love are one-of-a-kind and infinitely precious.
As a minimalist, I love living with just the essentials. It's peaceful. Without the stuff that just sits in a drawer or a closet or the corner of my living room, creating clutter, I can find clarity.
That said, a few of my essentials do go beyond the merely practical: The large framed photo of my children at ages two and four. A beautiful watercolor signed by the artist. About 20 books that I've already loved for many decades and will keep rereading until I die. Two or three other things. It's a small collection, small enough that I can see and enjoy each item every day.
To my mind, if an item is really treasured, I want to access or interact with it easily and often. If it's stuck in a box or in a pile somewhere, or gathering dust among dozens of other trinkets, it probably doesn't mean as much to me as I think it does.
Can you name one or two, or five, or even a dozen things that hold that much meaning for you? These things ground you, focus you, maybe even define you. Like the heirloom star that has adorned the top of your Christmas tree every year since 1982, these precious items provide continuity. And if you get rid of all the extras, you can see them more clearly.
Familiarity. Balance. Peace. Contentment. Simplicity. The data shows that a large majority of us want those things in our lives.
Who knew? What so many of us crave is minimalism.
Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash