Simplify Your Life

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

As much as I have studied stress management, I have never come across any literature on "junk mail stress." Yet, I think that constitutes a significant source of stress in my life. Monday afternoon is especially stressful when a bucketful of three days' junk mail from office and home stares me in the face and I feel obligated to scan every bit of it in case something might be helpful to me or my clients. Lately, I have mustered enough courage to throw 50 to 75% of it away without even opening it and I feel a lot better.

Junk mail, television, computer, phone, mobile phone, pager, fax machine, e-mail, and similar other inventions of modern life can be thieves of time. Take for example, the e-mail. Many people, including myself, feel compelled to check their e-mail every day--one more thing added to our "To Do" list. Just a few years ago, we didn't have to do this at all. These devices and gadgets are supposedly for our convenience, but what do we have to we give away in return? Every gain comes with a loss. The same thing that can save us time might also rob us of the time from our own selves and our families.

I would love to live on the water. But my work is such that I must live in town. I was once thinking seriously about having a second house on the water for weekends and vacations. Then the realities of the cost of construction, increased mortgage payments and extra time for driving and the upkeep of two homes began to hit me. My tension level went up just thinking about it. I wanted a second home so I could relax and enjoy my life even more. But, it would've made me busier and more tense than ever. The second home would've owned me more than I would've owned it. Instead of more relaxation it would've brought me more frustration and aggravation.

I don't have to own everything I use. When I am ready to take time off, I can go to any beach I want to, and check into a motel or hotel. That way, my life would remain less complicated and I might really be able to relax on the water. This may not make sense to an investor but I know it can work for me. By simplifying your life and cutting back on unnecessary activities, you free up more time to enjoy your life and your family. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But how many people actually do it? Generally, when we get a promotion, a raise or a success of some sort, we go for a bigger house, more expensive car, clothes, or furniture. We do these things almost automatically, that is, without thinking if they would genuinely make us happy. I am suggesting that when we take important material decisions we must routinely ask ourselves the happiness question.

Human beings, by nature, are hunters and gatherers. We instinctively go on adding things. "Pack rat" behavior is a part of the same "gatherer instinct," deeply rooted in us. We feel compelled to buy more clothes, more shoes, more gadgets along with bigger cars and homes. As a result, we carry bigger loans. So, we work harder and longer hours to pay the bills. When that is not enough, our spouses work overtime and take a second job.

How does it impact the family? Here is a skewed and oversimplified scenario of a couple, "John" and "Jane," who work long hours and different shifts: John and Jane are exhausted when they reach home. Their work hours don't allow them to spend any down time in each other's company. Overworked, overtired and always rushed, they feel completely stressed out. Their tempers are frayed. Their exchanges are largely task-oriented and often result in an argument in front of their children. The younger child spends increasingly more hours at daycare and the older one becomes a "latch key kid." The whole family is paying the emotional cost.

We keep taking more and more. Every day becomes more hectic with myriad places to go, people to see and things to do. As a result, children wish they had more of the parents. Parents wish they had spent more time with the children. A day comes when children are grown and the clock cannot be turned back. We are left with regrets and yearnings. But, we have a choice and we can choose, now.

Examine what you can cut down in your household responsibilities and personal, social and occupational commitments. Examine what you can eliminate from your schedule so you can give more time to yourself and your family. Get rid of what you've not used in the last three to five years. Think carefully before you buy that house or that car by asking yourself, "Can I afford it without compromising my ability to nurture my family and myself?" Oh yes, don't forget the happiness question. Our lives are becoming too busy and too complicated. If we are not careful, redundant and unnecessary things can take control.

The guideline for investment may be "diversify, diversify, diversify," but the guideline for life should be, "simplify, simplify, simplify."

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Copyright 2000, Mind Publications 


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