Hoarding less stuff in less space can lead to more happiness.
That’s the view of writer and designer Graham Hill in a thought-provoking TED talkthat has attracted over 2.3 million views.
Hill has walked the talk of his minimalism. He room-tested his claims by moving into a 420 sq ft Manhattan apartment, ingeniously and beautifully custom-designed to seamlessly accommodate his “less = more” philosophy.
Now perhaps, like me, you are reading this and thinking: “That sounds really cool, I want one!”
Or do we? Recent research indicated there is a profound answer to that: “It depends”.
That is, seeking and successfully getting things we think will make us feel good might actually undermine our happiness by leading to poor health. That’s the outcome, says the study, if the feelgood factor is pursued independent of “meaning” – defined as “an orientation to something bigger than the self”.
That makes a lot of sense when you realise that there really isn’t much substance to that material stuff in the first place, as astrophysicist A.S. Eddington suggested way back in 1928.
“The stuff of the universe is mind-stuff,” he wrote in The Nature of the Physical World.
Another word for ‘mind-stuff’ is consciousness, and there are no limits to how much of that we can have, whatever the size of our home!
In fact, the more the merrier, provided we choose wisely which thoughts we accommodate. For instance, I’ve found that the best guests to entertain are the spiritual qualities which are sourced in the divine Mind – such as patience, perseverance, forgiveness, and unselfish love. Over many years of striving to embody more of this spiritual “Mind-stuff” I’ve found such thoughts can lead to genuine and sustainable joy, rather than what often ended up as a fool’s errand of pursuing material self-satisfaction.
So, what does it take to swap a materialistic ‘me’ orientation for a more expansive, spiritual sense of oneself?
One of the key points in Graham Hill’s TED talk was that we need to ‘ruthlessly’ edit our lives.
I fully agree that persistent editing is necessary. But to me, the key is editing – or, rather, transforming – the way we think about ourselves. I have been grateful for role models who have done this, such as the Apostle Paul whose experience of powerful spiritual renewal is recorded in the Bible. He went from someone feared for his cruelty and ruthlessness to a fearless messenger of the promise that we will each one day see ourselves as we really are, made in the ‘image and likeness’ of the Divine.
A more recent example was that of former prison inmate Jeff Rice whose journey of spiritual transformation rescued him from long term drug addiction. There were many steps along the way, but perhaps the most pivotal was a trip to a car repair shop. While there he spotted the sort of socket wrenches that had once doubled as his drug paraphernalia. He’d even stolen similar goods from that very store, and that memory triggered an almost overwhelming craving for drugs once more. Thankfully, another thought soon followed – that he should actually pay for the sockets he had once stolen.
“In spite of the fear of possible consequences, I paid for them right then and there”, he said, and added: “I’ve never had another drug craving since then.”
After being drug-free for some time, he was thinking about how far he had come when he recalled the first sentence he’d read in a book that had been key to his transformation: “The habitual struggle to be always good is unceasing prayer.”
Jeff, now a happily married father of four, realised that the sentence, from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, had actually come to fruition in his life.
He continued: ‘I realized that I always was good–that my every struggle to be good was the expression of the fact that I was “always good.” Like Paul in the Bible, once I saw who I truly was in my spiritual identity, I was completely transformed, and any flood of memories that would try to come back and tell me I had a history of drug addiction had no power over me anymore.’
Jeff’s experience illustrates how we might feel we are centred on ourselves because we have problems, yet often the underlying spiritual issue behind those very problems is that we have lost sight of our innate “orientation to something bigger than the self”, particularly the Divine. Instead, we can refuse to let our mental space become cluttered with such materialistic thinking.
That refusal arms us with the all-important key to unlock the gates of self-preoccupation and open our hearts to the health-giving joy of loving – and living – who it is we spiritually are.
This was first published in the Huffington Post UK blog post, as “Is Our Key To Happiness Unlocking Who We Spiritually Are?”