A Simpler Life

Over the years, I have sought simplicity because I am overwhelmed by the productivity mindset that our culture has imposed upon us. People who are not productive are seen as losers while people who work 12-hour days are seen as heroes. Furthermore, it seems to me that people who read diverse books, talk to a lot of interesting people and have traveled to many countries are put on a pedestal. A few years back, I tried to be all these things. But I was miserable. I wanted to simplify my life.

Ironically, A Simpler Life by the School of Life is a summary of the things I did to simplify my life. I have not read this book prior but I simply made changes according to what I felt were necessary to give me peace. It felt like the author and I are kindred spirts.

This is little book is for everyone who wants to pursue a simpler yet more meaningful existence.


We crave simplicity not because we are simple, but because we are drowning in complexity.

Simpler Relationships

A ‘simple person’ is someone who speaks plainly about what they really want and who they really are.

Around simple, straightforward people, there is no need to second-guess, infer, decode, untangle, unscramble or translate.

Human interaction always carries a risk of conflict: we are never far from misaligned goals and divergent desires.

Simpler Social Life

There is one thing that makes our lives a great deal more complicated than they should be: that is, that we are rarely far from the oppressive worry of ‘what other people think’.

How care less about what others think?

  1. An aristocratic view

Aristocratic – someone who follows their own mind, who reasons independently and who is instinctively suspicious of popular assumptions.

An aristocrat of the mind assumes that the mass consensus could very well be wrong in many instances.

2. Loving ourselves more

If we – independent of others – trusted that we were decent and good, we’d not be so affected by the level of esteem accorded to us by others.

When we are too hard on ourselves, and doubt our worth or right to exist, it is because we haven’t fully observed and remembered how hard it is, through no particular fault of our own, to be us.

3. Trusting our own experience

In this respect, we should remember to be more childlike. As children don’t know what they are supposed to think, they naturally go with their true feelings – and sometimes come out with startlingly insightful and prescient judgements as a result.

How many friends do we need?

To make an analogy: suppose we set off to collect sticks in the forest. We could pick up lots of them – but how many do we actually need? The answer depends on what we need them for: lighting a fire to cook supper, or making a shelter for the night? It’s only a sense of purpose that allows us to see how much of anything is enough.

What to look for in friends?

  1. They broaden our sense of normality

Through their warm, sympathetic, knowing reception of our confessions, and their equal admissions, they help us to reframe our sense of what being ‘normal’ really means.

2. They help us to be less vague

Socrates, who argued that conversation with friends was the ideal medium in which to straighten out our thoughts – and gain insight in a way that we never could when by ourselves.

3. They ease out our defensive postures

A true friend is sympathetically curious about how we’ve come to be as we are; they are deeply attentive to the story of our background – and they want to be of service.

So, how many friends do we actually need?

‘Far fewer than we normally suppose – so long as they are delivering the true satisfactions of friendship.’

How often do we need to go out?

One of the major reasons why our lives are so busy is that we come under immense pressure to ‘go out.’ It is because these parties are so ubiquitous and benefit from such widespread approval that we’re liable to miss how confusing and unhelpful they can be to our sensitive inner selves.

The moral is clear. If we seek others, we should stay at home; if we wish to alleviate loneliness, we should turn down invitations; if we want company,

The moral is clear. If we seek others, we should stay at home; if we wish to alleviate loneliness, we should turn down invitations; if we want company, we would be better off communing with dead writers and poets than hunting for solace at large gatherings.

We must cease to be ashamed of our buried longings to remain by ourselves.

A Simpler Lifestyle

The more things we own, the more we are exposed to misfortune: a fashionable home will soon be outdated, our prestige in the eyes of others will fluctuate for trivial reasons and the monuments we hope to be remembered by will be misinterpreted or torn down.

‘Without a peaceful mind, palaces and fine houses mean nothing.’

This cult of busyness insists that a good life, indeed the only life worthy of a capable and intelligent person, is one of continuous activity and application; we must strive relentlessly to fulfill every ambition, and every hour of the day must be filled with intense activity.

This is something of a tragedy, because most of what goes wrong in our lives is not due to a failure of raw effort or busyness. It is the failure to take the time to think.

We keep wanting more money because we haven’t yet identified a passion that matters enough to us that it replaces money-making in our minds.

Culture and simplicity

how to read fewer books

We have instead adopted an Enlightenment mantra that drives us in the opposite direction. It states that there should be no limit to how much we read, because there is only one answer to the question of why we read that can be ambitious enough: we read in order to know everything.

Ask the question, “what am I reading for?”

We might decide that while society as a whole is on a search for total knowledge, all we really need is to gather the knowledge that is going to be useful to us as we lead our own lives.

The truly well-read person isn’t the one who has read a gargantuan number of books, but someone who has let themselves, and their capacity to live and die well, be profoundly shaped by a very few well-chosen titles.

The most urgent news we need to hear today might not be about the American government’s trade policy announcement but about our need to control our temper around a sibling who refuses to acknowledge our tortuous past.

The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he cannot stay quietly in his room.

Blaise Pascal, French philosopher and mathematician

When we don’t properly know why we’re doing something, we don’t know how much of it we need in our life. Simplicity, therefore, can be defined as the result and precious fruit of clarifying our goals.