It seems to be the lightness in a summer breeze, or the warmth of a mug in your hand. Song lyrics have been written about it. Perhaps you have seen the strokes in its color across a canvas. It seems to be fluttering like dandelion fluff always just out of reach. Artists and songwriters are always sketching and writing to paint it from human terms to the ethereal.
Simplicity is an art. Simple living is that art in action.
There are always floods of how-tos and tips to simplify various parts of life, but it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Some can declutter their office space, others can quit their day jobs and move to a farm, still others can simply sit and enjoy a cup of coffee.
Nestled between the individual hacks, is research. Here are specific study-proven actions that each person, in every circumstance, can perform to create a simple life and increase happiness and well-being.
How to Live a Simple Life
Literally. Slow down.
The physical act of moving slower reduces stress.1 By moving slower, you lower your heart rate and your breath rate, and thus influence the sympathetic nervous system to make you more relaxed. You don’t have to move at a snail’s pace in slo mo, but also, don’t move at a frantic speed. Find that sweet spot right in the middle.
Lower the volume
Loud noise has been shown to raise blood pressure, increase risk of cardiovascular disease and negatively impact your decision-making ability.2,3 Traffic, machines, and even welcome and invited noise, such as music and concerts have been shown to have impact.
Recent research has shown that modern popular music can have adverse effects due to its lower register and pitch. The music is awesome, it is the volume that can interfere with a simple life.4
Take a Hike
A recent trend in pop culture is ‘forest bathing.’ Researchers have concluded that the simple act of walking and spending time in green spaces, like Galena Creek, or even a quick stroll on Riverside Drive, makes you both happier and healthier.5,6
Do Good Deeds
Doing acts of kindness makes you happier.8,9,10
Small, simple, kindness activities can make your life, those toward whom you act, and those who observe the acts, happier. Science proves it.8 One act of kindness will lead to at least three happy people. What a great return on investment.
Do something kind every day.
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Plan your days around a set sleep and wake time. The simple routine, not necessarily length of sleep time, but the adherence to routine, has been clinically shown to improve happiness and well-being.11
Mindset for a Simple Life
Remember Epicurus and his garden of pleasure?
Simply experience the feeling of feeling — sensation perception. Take moments throughout the day to pause and experience your senses of sight, sound, touch and smell. Observe and relish.
Mindfulness is a buzzword right now, but it can make you happier.13 Mindfulness refers to taking a balanced and neutral approach to yourself and feelings. This means to check-in with your feelings and name them, but do not judge them, simply name them. Are you feeling angry? Are you feeling anxious? Similar to observation, mindfulness does not say feelings are good or bad, it just notices them and identifies them. And just this simple awareness and acknowledgements can make you happier.12,13,14,15
You don’t have to make a list, but you should make it a habit.
Every time your head hits the pillow, when you are brushing your teeth, or at every red stop light, name something(s) you are grateful for. Connect it to an action, or cue to make it a habit and enjoy the benefits of a more satisfied life.16
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4 Tips for Slowing Down to Reduce Stress | Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/turning-straw-gold/201109/4-tips-slowing-down-reduce-stress.
Dratva, Julia, et al. “Impact of Road Traffic Noise Annoyance on Health-Related Quality of Life: Results from a Population-Based Study.” Quality of Life Research, vol. 19, no. 1, Feb. 2010, pp. 37–46. DOI.org, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11136-009-9571-2.
Insabato, Andrea, et al. “The Influence of Spatiotemporal Structure of Noisy Stimuli in Decision Making.” PLoS Computational Biology, edited by Tim Behrens, vol. 10, no. 4, Apr. 2014, p. e1003492. DOI.org, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003492.
Johnson, Bruce. “Low-Frequency Noise and Urban Space.” Popular Music History, vol. 4, no. 2, Nov. 2010, pp. 177–95. DOI.org, https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.v4i2.177.
Li, Q., et al. “Forest Bathing Enhances Human Natural Killer Activity and Expression of Anti-Cancer Proteins.” International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, vol. 20, no. 2 Suppl 2, June 2007, pp. 3–8. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1177/03946320070200S202.
Nisbet, Elizabeth K., et al. “Happiness Is in Our Nature: Exploring Nature Relatedness as a Contributor to Subjective Well-Being.” Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 12, no. 2, Apr. 2011, pp. 303–22. DOI.org, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-010-9197-7.
Phillips, Anna. “A Walk in the Woods.” American Scientist, vol. 99, no. 4, 2011, p. 301. DOI.org, https://doi.org/10.1511/2011.91.301.
Rowland, Lee, and Oliver Scott Curry. “A Range of Kindness Activities Boost Happiness.” The Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 159, no. 3, May 2019, pp. 340–43. DOI.org, https://doi.org/10.1080/00224545.2018.1469461.
Buchanan, Kathryn E., and Anat Bardi. “Acts of Kindness and Acts of Novelty Affect Life Satisfaction.” The Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 150, no. 3, Apr. 2010, pp. 235–37. Taylor and Francis+NEJM, https://doi.org/10.1080/00224540903365554.
Post, Stephen G. “Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to Be Good.” International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, vol. 12, no. 2, June 2005, pp. 66–77. DOI.org, https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327558ijbm1202_4.
Barber, Larissa K., et al. “Sleep Habits May Undermine Well-Being Through the Stressor Appraisal Process.” Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 15, no. 2, Apr. 2014, pp. 285–99. DOI.org, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-013-9422-2.
Dreisoerner, Aljoscha, et al. “The Relationship Among the Components of Self-Compassion: A Pilot Study Using a Compassionate Writing Intervention to Enhance Self-Kindness, Common Humanity, and Mindfulness.” Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 22, no. 1, Jan. 2021, pp. 21–47. DOI.org, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-019-00217-4.
Finkelstein-Fox, Lucy, et al. “Valued Living in Daily Experience: Relations with Mindfulness, Meaning, Psychological Flexibility, and Stressors.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, vol. 44, no. 2, Apr. 2020, pp. 300–10. DOI.org, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-019-10062-7.
Jha, Amishi P., et al. “Comparing Mindfulness and Positivity Trainings in High-Demand Cohorts.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, vol. 44, no. 2, Apr. 2020, pp. 311–26. DOI.org, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-020-10076-6.
Ivtzan, Itai, et al. “Mindfulness Based Flourishing Program: A Cross-Cultural Study of Hong Kong Chinese and British Participants.” Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 19, no. 8, Dec. 2018, pp. 2205–23. DOI.org, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-017-9919-1.
Xiang, Yanhui, and Rong Yuan. “Why Do People with High Dispositional Gratitude Tend to Experience High Life Satisfaction? A Broaden-and-Build Theory Perspective.” Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 22, no. 6, Aug. 2021, pp. 2485–98. DOI.org, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-020-00310-z.
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