How Living the Simple Life Made Me Indescribably Happy
Imagine waking up in the morning, the classic zombie look stamped across your face. You putter into the bathroom but see no mirror above the sink. Your mascara and eyeliner are nowhere to be found. Clothing options are limited—these pants or those, rubber boots or flip flops. Rather than a radio, sounds of nature transfer you from reverie to reality. Your morning shower relies on one of three things: a muddy river, a frigid waterfall or rainwater.
When I spent a summer tucked away from civilization in a bamboo hut in the Ecuadorian Amazon, I learned the difference between being rich and being enriched. My real lesson came when I embraced the simple life, but, as my oft-inopportune luck would have it, I received a jumpstart on my life seminar before my canopy adventure even began.
I do not want to be a woman who uses things to fill up the holes in her existence. I do not want to be someone who uses #firstworldproblems to describe her life.
While on a bus from Quito to Tena, I was robbed of my backpack of valuables. I was a young zebra among a pride of lions, and boy did they sink their teeth into me. Insecurity took over as I fumbled with rusty Spanish asking for the bus driver’s assistance. It proved to be of no use, leaving me lacking first world belongings that I envisioned offered me comfort and stability.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized my tears aligned me with someone who valued materialism over minimalism. I do not want to be a woman who uses things to fill up the holes in her existence. I do not want to be someone who uses #firstworldproblems to describe her life.
At the age of twelve, I remember reading a poster with the adage “Live simply, that others might simply live.” The quote is often attributed to Gandhi, though there is no evidence of him or anyone else actually coining this phrase. Regardless, whoever said it had a point. It whittles down to one simple fact: most of us live with too much stuff. When I immersed myself in the jungle life eight years after first contemplating that mantra, I set off to prove something: simplicity is the key to happiness. To be cliche, I was rewarded beyond my wildest dreams.
Life was spent without electricity and often without running water. Days began and ended with the cycle of the sun. Jungle critters danced and shouted in the branches and vines overhead. Dinners were thrown together in group efforts with fresh farmed foods from the Quechua tribe who lived and worked among us.
By candlelight, I read the mildewy pages of left behind novels. I taught myself to play guitar on an instrument that was embarrassingly out of tune from a songbook that was not in my native tongue. Uninvited scorpions, cockroaches and tarantulas tickled me in the night, but I created a system to fend them off. A woman cut my hair on a fallen log with a woolly monkey watching nearby.
I find myself transported under the canopy, standing in rubber boots with a smile that shines authentic, unadulterated happiness.
I had no access to Facebook, Instagram, cell phones or Skype. I was a woman in a foreign land with foreign people on a foreign adventure. I was living the simple life, and I was incredibly, ungodly, indescribably happy.
As a member of society, I am required to make expectations of myself, some of which I will knowingly fall short. I need to dress presentably, behave professionally, communicate effectively, participate unendingly. Society, quite frankly, bogs me down. Possessions, in my experience, do the same.
Before moving to a remote island in the Bahamas last year, I decluttered the “stuff” I had accumulated over the last three years. Flipping through photos of my life in the Amazon, I allowed myself to be transported back to the simple life.
I heard the adamant refusal of the handicapped Spider monkey at the rescue center where I volunteered. I felt the soreness in my thighs after carrying 50 kilos of carrots up 100 steps. I smelled the pervasive odor of ocelot pee. I saw the Quechua tribe preparing their canoes across the narrow river. I tasted the homemade breads, jams and juices. And I was, in this moment of my past and present, happy.
In the rainforest, the archipelago of the Bahamas, the mountains and floating islands of Peru and the arduous trails of Appalachia, I have embraced a lifestyle where my physical reflection relied upon puddles, window panes or silver spoons. Dually, I welcomed a lifestyle where my self-reflection relied on no reflection at all because what I discovered in my own personal growth was not linked to what I looked like.
Years ago, I made a vow to myself that if I ever get a tattoo, it will be that saying: “Live simply, that others might simply live.” Though I’m still tattoo-less, I do carry the words with me on a little slip of paper in my tag-along travel satchel. Every once in awhile, it catches my eye. And when it does, I find myself transported under the canopy, standing in rubber boots with a smile that shines authentic, unadulterated happiness.