Category Archives: Simple Philosophies

Appreciating absence – A key to happiness

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

In our everyday lives, we tend to notice when something is off. Like when we’re feeling stressed because of work, or tired because there aren’t enough hours in the day, or that we don’t have enough money in our bank accounts to do all the things we want to do.

It’s easy to spot when we’re lacking something. When things aren’t going well, we tend to zoom in on all the good things that we want and don’t have, like fortune or fame, rather than all the things we don’t want, and don’t have.

When was the last time you stopped to appreciate that you’re not in pain? Or that you’re not terminally ill? Or that you don’t live in a war-torn country? Or that you’re not living on the streets? Or starving to death? Or any one of the million types of suffering that life can throw at us.

How often do we take time to notice when we’re not lacking something?

We crave for good things to happen to us, that’s natural. But much of the time, no news is actually good news. A life without much drama is actually a pretty good life.

taking the time to be grateful – for the bad and the good

It’s one of the secrets to happiness – to appreciate the absence of bad things as much as the presence of good things.

We can’t always get what we want, and many of us never will. But instead of concentrating on those few things, why not feel grateful for the almost infinite amount of things we don’t want in our lives, and are still lucky enough not to have, at least for now.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re living in a country with access to a computer, and the internet, which means that you are lucky enough to be living with a roof over your head, enough food to eat, and access to medical care, hopefully. If not, even without looking too hard, I’m sure there are still many things to be grateful for.

Things could change in the future. Who knows what will happen. But for now, let’s enjoy the present moment, when we’re lucky enough to have our health, or youth, or people who love us, or all three and more.

The ability to see, and appreciate, even just a few of the good things we have in life is key to being happy. The ability to still do that when life has dealt a mediocre hand, that’s a testament to our character.


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P.S. On the Shortness of Life series to continue soon!

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On the Shortness of Life – Part II – Protecting time and living in the present

-by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

This Part II of a five part series about the stoic philosopher Seneca’s work, On the Shortness of Life, read Part I – Finiteness.

2. the whole future lies in uncertainty live immediately

Of all the things we have, time is arguably the most precious.

There is nothing else in which we are only given a set amount of it. However much we have, we  would never know until the end, and no matter what we do or who we are, we can never earn, gain or buy a single second more of it.

And yet, within this mysterious amount of time that we given, we’re supposed to achieve so much. Or, at least, so we want to. Which is understandable – what kind of life would we have if we didn’t aspire to travel the world, write a novel, fall in love, raise a family, do fulfilling work, learn a language, run, dance, sing, paint, or do any one of the amazing opportunities life has to offer us?

But how much of your time is really yours? How much of it is spent doing the things that you want, that mean a lot to you, as opposed to what other people want you to do, or worse still, what you think others expect of you?

In other words, are you spending enough time pleasing yourself, instead of others? For me, I know I have a lot to work on here. Seneca points out what we all ought to know:

“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which is right to be stingy.”

Of all the things we are possessive about – money, land, partners, status, possessions… the one thing we hardly think twice about – time – is what we should be most protective of.

We let others encroach on our schedules, making us do things that we don’t want to do, or making us feel ‘obliged’ to do it, as if we don’t have a choice.

“Call to mind when you ever had a fixed purpose; how few days have passed as you had planned; when you were ever at your own disposal; when your face wore a natural expression; when your mind was undisturbed.”

I admit I haven’t had many days like this, but they sound ideal to me. There are a lot of tough questions being asked here, and it’s easy to consider them and then not do anything about it. Most people might think it’s fine to spend time winding down watching three hours of TV after a long day of work, but if that means that we don’t have time to do the things we really care about, then maybe it’s the amount of time we spend at work we need to fix.

I’m certainly not perfect, so I don’t have all of the answers. I still can’t believe it’s my birthday in just two weeks – where did the time go? It feels like I’ve let an entire year slip by me. How many do I have left? No idea. How much time in the last year did I spend doing the kind of things I wanted to do? Not enough.

If there’s one resolution I want to make for the rest of this year, or for the rest of my life for that matter, it would be to better protect my time.

the whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately

So let’s say we learn to guard our time better – now what? This isn’t just about other people. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Yes, we should spend time on ourselves, but how much of the time we’re lucky to have for ourselves (or for the people and things we love) is wasted?

How much of it was spent procrastinating, putting off things that would have otherwise been fulfilling, for the sake of ‘relaxing’ or just out of pure laziness? Seneca said,

“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future”

Procrastination isn’t just de-prioritising the task you have in mind, it’s de-prioritising your whole life.

On top of that, we humans tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the past and the future. It’s natural for us to go over our regrets, or worry about things to come. But each minute wasted thinking about the things you have or haven’t done, or things that may or may not happen yet, is a minute squandered.

“Life is divided into three periods, past present and future. Of these, the present is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain. [..] In the present we have only one day at a time, each offering a minute at a time.”

Life is too short to mourn over things that cannot be changed. As long as you did your best at the time, then you can’t have any regrets about it. And every minute spent worrying about the future, which by nature is unpredictable, is just using up what precious time and energy you have left to actually do something about it.

Whenever I’m in danger of worrying too much, I repeat to myself, Time is the most valuable thing I have – live in the present moment and savour every moment of it.” In good times or bad, it’s a reminder of how lucky I am to be alive.

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On the Shortness of Life – Part I – Finiteness

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

On the Shortness of Life is a moral essay written by Seneca the Younger, a Roman philosopher who lived between 4BC – 65AD. In his letter to his friend Paulinus, he lays out Stoic principles that have lasted centuries in teaching us about the value of life itself.

1. life is long if you know how to use it


Inspired by this essay, I have written a series of posts on my interpretations on the different themes that occur in his writing (Parts II-V to be published). Even if you haven’t heard of the Stoics before, in just a few short pages, a lifetime of lessons can be learned.

life is long if you know how to use it

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.”

Seneca introduces the contradictory life lead by most men, in that it is a common belief that the human lifespan isn’t long enough to achieve everything we want to do. Yet, we squander so much of it on things that don’t matter, or don’t contribute to the things that we want to achieve in the first place.

If only we could learn how to use time more appropriately, perhaps then we wouldn’t feel that it is too short, but instead it is a brilliant miracle that we have even the few years that we are given.

“Just as there is no use pouring any amount of liquid into a container without a bottom to catch and hold it, so it does not matter how much time we are given if there is nowhere for it to settle.”

There will never be enough time. We will always find ways to fill up whatever we were given. Even on a daily basis, whether we have an hour to do something, or 30 minutes, we are very capable of using up whatever time we’re given to achieve the same thing.

From my own experience, I can easily find ways to put something off for entire weeks or months, and yet when it comes to the deadline, I manage to do finish it all in one day. Why did I not just take a single day to do it?

Because, despite knowing that my time is finite, for some reason I choose to live as if it’ll last forever. Much of my time is spent at my desk job not being present in the moment, or spent being idle, and ultimately not contributing to my one amazing thing.

Like most people, I have a bucket list, which I’m working on, but I still see myself putting things off way into the future, even though I don’t even know if I’ll be alive five or ten years from now.

I’m not the only one. Life can be a difficult thing to figure out. Seneca thought so too.

“Living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man, yet there is nothing which is harder to learn.”

When we’re asked the question, “What do you do for a living?” we tend to answer with our job titles. Hundreds of years of social conditioning has taught us to. But our one chance to walk this earth isn’t for working.

Distracted by the mundane interruptions of daily life, we forget our main purpose. It’s simply to live.

We don’t have to do something huge and exciting every day to ‘live’. We all have commitments and we’re constrained to an extent by society and the reality of having to earn a living, or take care of those who rely on us. But the very least one could do is to enjoy each and every day that we are still breathing, each day that we have above ground, where we can smell the delicious scent of coffee and feel the sunlight on our cheeks.

The biggest regret I could have is to reach the end of my life, whenever that may be, and felt that I had not lived it fully.

Even if it takes a lifetime to learn how to live, the best (and only) thing you could do is to spend it trying.

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Simple Philosophies – Live to Dive In

Your work is to discover your work and then, with all your heart, to give yourself to it.

~The Buddha

Looking down into deep waters is scary.

It’s dark and you don’t know what’s down there. There could be sharks, or poisonous jellyfish, or any manner of monsters, waiting to eat you alive.

But you jump in anyway. And it was the best decision you’ve ever made.

That’s how I felt, going to live in Japan, armed with not much more than a suitcase, some basic phrases and a lot of preconceptions.

I had no idea what was going to happen and I was scared out of my wits. What the hell did I sign up for?

Then, after all of the trials and tribulations of living in Japan, I had almost slipped into my comfort zone until I decided to visit Korea. I literally couldn’t speak a word of Korean, but I still experienced some of the greatest moments in my life.

And then I went to Hong Kong and did exactly the same thing.

Being scared of the unknown is natural, but that doesn’t mean that we should submit to it. Life is all about overcoming the challenges that face us, but also the challenges that we seek out to make ourselves better people. To avoid good challenges is to avoid the best that life can offer.

Even if you’re not living in an exotic country or about to jump off a plane, we could all use a bit more immersion in our everyday lives. We tend to slip into spending too much time on auto-pilot, falling into an unfulfilling routine and not really living life.

In a way, it’s easier to be present when you’re doing something exciting like travelling, than it is when you’re lining up at the supermarket checkout, but both of those situations are equal in terms of our precious time being spent. Nobody knows what will happen to us tomorrow, so let’s not waste even a moment.

simple act

From just washing the dishes to going for a run, whatever you do, just jump in. Dive deep and fully immerse yourself in the moment. Give it your all, plus a big dash determination, enthusiasm or whatever else you have to offer. Do nothing half heartedly.

Life is a miracle, and yet it doesn’t ask for much in return… just that you live it.

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Simple Philosophies – Live like you’ve only got one chance

You only live once… but if you make it worthwhile, once is all you need.

Right now, millions of people out there are so busy working to buy more and more stuff, they forget that they’re wasting something so precious that they will only ever have one of it, no matter how much money they earn or things they own.

Their life.

If there is ever a clearer demonstration of how wrapped up people can get in their material lives it’s that they don’t even realize this one plain truth.

One. That’s it. No exceptions.

Even if you believe in souls or reincarnation or heaven, all of them still mean that you will only have this life, right now, only now.

If you don’t use this chance to do that one life-changing thing before it’s too late, I’m sorry to tell you that it simply won’t be done.

It seems so easy to realize this, but then why are people wasting their time away doing things that makes them upset or miserable, or doing things that don’t matter to them or simply ‘killing time’?

Oh, killing time. I know that watching TV isn’t evil. Even I do it from time to time, but there’s a line that marks the difference between a little entertainment and then just plainly wasting time. After another rerun or trashy program or commerical, it all just becomes a meaningless way to waste life. Did you know the average person living in a first world country spends at least 10-12 years of their lives watching TV by the time they’re collecting their pensions? I know a few people who could only dream a deceased loved one had lived that much longer.

Having a job and/or saving money isn’t a bad thing either. It’s real life and planning for the future. But constantly working to accumulate more money so that one can buy a bigger-slash-better ‘x‘ every other year or just for the sake of ‘having a lot of money’ is totally defeating the point. Money is earned to be used. Now, I’m not saying you should splash out on a mansion or get into debt or anything (after all, this is a minimalist blog) just keep in mind that you can’t take that money with you when you go, so perhaps using it for something meaningful is the best thing to do, or something that makes you, or someone you care about, genuinely happy.

There are other ways of wasting your one chance at life too. Such as constantly complaining, having a closed mind or being persistently pessimistic about everyone and everything. Even if it’s genuinely not the best, at least you were granted a life – it’s Mother Nature’s greatest creation. Even if things aren’t going to well, each day that you’re alive is beautiful, and we should embrace it.

a minimalist’s paradox: happiness-maximizing

What does ‘worthwhile’ mean anyway? Well, the answer is that I don’t know – because everyone has their own ideal life, stored somewhere in the back of their minds. I can’t tell you what ‘worthwhile’ means to you. This isn’t a cop out, it’s true. I don’t want to declare that only travelling makes a life worthwhile, that’s just me. Others think a raising a happy family with kids is worthwhile. Others actually enjoy their work and want to advance in their careers. You may think the same or differently.

But generally, I like to think of a life well spent as one that creates the most happiness – whether it is in oneself, other people or even in the world. Everybody individual has a different way only they can offer to achieve that. Those that use their one chance well are those who bring their worthwhile, happiness-maximizing life closest to reality.

so what was the point again?

Happiness-maximizing has become something that I’ve been pondering about a lot lately. There are plenty of tips about how we can please other people, but what about making ourselves happy? And I don’t mean the artificial materialistic ‘happy’, I mean the minimalist, no-frills, genuine Happy.

My minimalist journey started out really as a pursuit for the meaning of happiness. It’s easy to get caught up in desk-decluttering and other minimalist tips whilst forgetting what the real purpose of minimalism actually is. I’ve written about some of the bigger challenges we have to face and battles we forgot to fight, but now I realize that I’m still searching for the answers.

Last week I mentioned I’m going to shift the content slightly, and here’s how it’s gonna go: I’m moving a little bit away from the how of minimalism – because I think many of you already know that, and if not, there are the MS archives and some really great blogs out there that can tell you – and more towards the why. I’m still going to talk a lot about minimalism but I also want to ask the bigger and harder questions and explore a different kind of how – mainly how can we live a happy, fulfilling life?

How can we make our one chance worthwhile?

I’d love to know what you guys think! (At least don’t knock it ’til you try it?) :) Thank you for all of your feedback about the redesign, I took all of them into consideration and more changes will be made soon! In the mean time, you can find me on Twitter for daily updates, subscribe to MS via email or leave a comment below!

Simple Philosophies – Live to listen

It is far more impressive when others discover you good qualities without your help.
~ Judith Martin

Every time you meet someone new for the first time, you have one chance to make a good impression. In the first few minutes, an image of who you are is already formed in your acquaintance’s mind.

Naturally, you want to show the best of yourself. Most people would want to talk about all of the things they’ve achieved, all of the wealth, possessions and qualifications they have, where they come from and who they are. As people, we love to talk about ourselves.

But, instead of worrying so much about what to say, how about just listening? After your initial introductions, why not try asking questions and listening to what your new friend has to say?

Listening to others means devoting a little of your time to someone else’s story. Not surprisingly, people who listen a lot are thought of as better conversationalists than those that talk too much. People feel more engaged in a conversation if they feel that what they are saying is being appreciated.

They say that nobody knows an enlightened person. That’s probably because they spend their time listening, not speaking. They don’t go on about themselves, they don’t show off or try to be something they are not. They are simply there to lend a patient ear to those in need, and they only give advice when they are asked for it.

That’s quite different from the rest of us who can probably go on and on about our life story. I’ve seen it so many times, people trying to ‘have a conversation’ but what they were really doing was reeling out monologues in between each other’s pauses. It’s not a big shock to see that these people eventually fail to make deeper friendships and connections.

It’s fascinating to see the differences that come from just shutting up every once in a while. Who knows, perhaps if you try listening a little more, you might discover something, or someone, amazing.

simple act

Listen to someone intently today. Try to resist judgement or the temptation to give advice. Observe how they react when you don’t interrupt. Do they end up sharing more?

Simple Philosophies is a series of short posts about small things we can do to live a happier life. Please let me know what you think in the comments!

Simple Philosophies – Live slowly

Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience.

The human lifespan is short. That’s why we’re told to constantly cram as much as we can into each day. We do things that we like think are important, but aren’t really, like ‘having’ to catch that show or ‘having’ to go to the party.

We stuff our schedules with driving instead of walking, microwaving instead of cooking, and never really taking the time to have a moment of silence.

Of course, I’m not saying we should all turn into tortoises. There is a time and a place for everything, but for a lot of people, actually taking time to slow down has been completely forgotten.

Doing things slowly once in a while isn’t being lazy or unproductive. On the contrary, it’s doing things properly and with purpose.

When we slow down, we can take a step back and observe our actions.

We can think before we speak.

We can look at where we are going, instead of charging forward in any direction.

We can actually enjoy living.

simple act

Do one thing today as slowly as you can for a few moments. Notice all of the thoughts that go through you head as you move with focus and intention.

Simple Philosophies is a series of short posts about small things we can do to live a happier life. Please let me know what you think in the comments!

Simple philosophies – live with less

Live simply so others may simply live
~ HH Dalai Lama

Six billion people live on this planet. Each and every one is worth just as much as the next. But many of them have to struggle to obtain basic human needs such as water whilst others are wasting it washing their cars.

According to the BBC:

The world distribution of wealth and income is highly unequal. The richest 10% of households in the world have as much yearly income as the bottom 90%.

Wealth – total assets rather than yearly income – is even more unequal. The rich are concentrated in the US, Europe and Japan, with the richest 1% alone owning 40% of the world’s wealth.

Distribution of global wealth

Individually, we may not be able to do much about this problem on a global scale, but we can do the best we can to be content with what we have, so that we may give some to others that may not be as lucky as we are.

We don’t even have to physically give. If we live a little more simply and just stop consuming as much, perhaps we can stop taking from the poor and giving it to the rich. Perhaps we can stop cutting down trees in undeveloped countries to make cheap furniture and paper we’ll end up throwing away anyway. Perhaps if we didn’t desire so many cheap electronics every Christmas, we’ll reduce the amount of stuff we end up dumping into Asia.

Perhaps if we lived with a little less, others can live a little more.

simple act

Grab a bag and fill it with things you don’t need: clothes, shoes, books, toys and anything else that’s gathering dust. Give it away to a charity that will sell it to make money for a poor country or better yet, will take your stuff and send there for real people just like you and me to get some real use out of it.

Simple Philosophies is a series of short posts about small things we can do to live a happier life. Please let me know what you think in the comments!