Shrink Your Stress – Live Smaller
What do we really want from life?
I’m feeling a little bit fed up of being told (by magazines, adverts and the media, to name a few sources) that what I want should be a ‘big’ life. In this life, I’m told, I would be successful, the best version of myself; I would think big and secure achievements to measure my status.
But what if that’s not actually what I want? Or what I need?
Choosing to live ‘smaller’ has an interesting effect on stress levels.
I know from my own experience that the more I chase after success, the less happy and the more stressed I am. I used to have a relatively high-status office job, and it made me really un-well, both in terms of unhappiness and physical burnout.
Walking away from what had seemed to be a dream job saved me from that dark period in my life.
And now, over a decade later, I’m still interested in how a smaller life supports increased well being.
I don’t mean physically small, in the sense of the tiny house movement (though I have always been very contented when I’ve lived in small spaces). Nor do I mean small in terms of dress size – that’s a useless measure of how well we really are. What I mean by a small life here is the opposite of the ambitious striving to have that big life of achievement and recognition.
I can find myself looking for that hit of achievement in all sorts of corners of my life; and when I spot that, I can choose to shrink my ambition, keep things smaller and retain more peacefulness and ease.
I’ve started to experience the loveliness of just feeling quietly satisfied with life, without needing external validation or proof that I measure up. In light of that, I’ve become curious about the seesaw between pride and shame that can drive my quest for achievement.
I feel ready to get off that seesaw, and I’m finding that giving up ambition is a surprisingly effective escape hatch – into something far more grounded and happy.
Slowly, I’m losing my fear of being ‘left behind’. I’m letting go of the ambition to be professionally successful, or to be the perfect mother, friend, wife, or meditator. Choosing to get left behind actually feels radical and a bit rebellious: I don’t want to be in the race to be the most successful, the most attractive or get the best stuff. I’m happy to lose that competition.
A small life can be a life of ‘just enough’. It can also be quite a slow life, one of enjoying the process rather than craving the result: “A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving”, as Lao Tzu tells us in the Tao Te Ching.
But living smaller doesn’t mean not caring about anything. We can still hold intentions about living a life that aligns with our values. If anything, this becomes even clearer when we live more simply.
In contrast to the pressures inherent in living a big life, living slower and smaller can be more enjoyable. It’s less rushed, less stressed, and richer in connections with other people and the natural world.
In particular, a small life can be big on the following qualities.
I’m often reminded of why letting go is such an important mindfulness skill. The plans and expectations of life that we hold can really trip us up when things appear to fall short. For me, this shows up most profoundly in letting go of ‘who I need to be’, or a perfect (future) version of myself. When I’m not lugging around a limiting identity that I’m clinging to, I can let go of needing particular outcomes to happen. The freedom in that letting go is immense, when I can be with life very simply and directly as it unfolds, without needing to complicate things by seeking a false sense of control.
Instead or striving for the perfect life (which doesn’t exist), we can work with the conditions we have. I love opening to the new opportunities that life offers when we view it this way. So many times, I’ve grasped at the holy grail of productivity, at the expense of creativity: I’ve been so focussed on getting to ‘the end’ of something that I’ve missed the chance to enjoy the process of getting there. Given that life will always throw up challenges, adopting a creative viewpoint allows us to find the gifts hidden in times when things seem to be ‘going wrong’. These days, I’m less hung up on end results, and more able to truly enjoy the process of whatever I’m doing.
When I’m able to keep ambition in check, I find there’s more room for appreciation. I can be grateful for what there is, instead of hankering after what else there could be. I’m actually living. Now. Not ‘when I’ve achieved x, y and z’. When we stop chasing bigger, better, more – we might discover we already have a beautiful little life. I’ve found there is a quieter, less obvious sort of joy in very simple everyday experiences, if we’re not blinded by striving to achieve something else. Being grounded in that feels somehow more real, more reliable and more nourishing. I get to be happy now, not when I’ve achieved the next marker of success.
In summary, what I’m learning, the more I question what I really want, is that small life can be so full of satisfaction, enoughness and appreciation that there is just less room for stress.
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I also really liked this post by another blogger about living small – although it relates to physical space, I think the ideas translate well into how we can live simpler, no matter what size house we occupy https://asmalllife.com/2015/07/01/what-does-living-small-mean/