According to the Mental Health Foundation, more than 74% of people felt overwhelmed (Source). And this despite the fact that life is actually simple in and of itself. We just make it complicated for ourselves.
It is quite possible that your reaction to this statement is not unconditionally positive. You may even feel attacked, and you are quite sure that modern life is not particularly easy.
And I agree, but in this article you will discover why in the vast majority of cases this is due to choices. Of course, there are also destinies that have a really hard time and yet, with all of us, the chances are that we complicate things.
But before we get into the more specific meaning of this quote, let me give you a little introduction to Confucianism:
Confucianism is an ethical and philosophical system that originated in China about 2,500 years ago. It is based on Confucius' teachings, which you have probably already heard of. His teachings focus especially on personal and governmental morality, justice, sincerity, and respect.
Now back to the quote.
Life itself is quite simple - we are born, we grow up, we learn, we work, we have relationships and then we die. However, the complexity of life arises, on the one hand, from the unnecessary demands we make on ourselves, the goals we want to achieve, the things we want to have, and, on the other hand, from the expectations society places on us.
And here we have reached the crux of what you probably thought of at the beginning: How am I supposed to escape the overwhelmingly complex construct of our society and its expectations of us?
It used to seem much simpler, and the suggestion implied in the quote to live a simpler life may have been realistic then - but apparently isn't anymore.
But in fact, 2500 years ago, the world was anything but a bed of roses. Especially in ancient China when Confucius found these words. For example, he experienced the flare-up of the time of the contending empires, an era during which today's China sank into several wars and civil wars. Moreover, even then the social trajectories were strict and demanding. The social hierarchy was even much more strictly defined than is the case here.
In addition, prosperity was a real rarity compared to today. Not to mention the lack of technologies that today ensure our survival in most cases in an enormously convenient way.
I am well aware that I am in a very privileged position and that there are more than enough people who fear for their existence, while I can choose when I want to eat and how much, and on top of that what I want to eat. I also choose my own clothes and even vacations are a regular part of my life. Nevertheless, my life does not always seem easy to me.
But then why is it so difficult for us to live more simply?
Often, societal and cultural expectations to which we feel bound keep us from a simple life. These are ancient social mechanisms that have ensured and continue to ensure the survival of our species. It is just that these mechanisms do not yet fully take into account that we can now contribute to society in many more different ways than we used to. Therefore, there is actually no need to subject ourselves to the stress and myriad demands of modern life. After all, the real task for progress is that it serves us - not that it enslaves us.
If you're interested in a longer explanation on this topic, you can find a full article here:
In the end, however, it is always our own decision how we react to our circumstances and how we want to see things. I know enough rich people who are actually always in a lousy mood and others who don't have a great fortune but are almost always in a good mood.
There are even people who can retain their confidence despite the greatest abuses. For example, Viktor Frankl, who experienced the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps and lost almost his entire family there.
What does this mean for daily life?
We tend to make things more complicated than they need to be, creating stress and anxiety in our lives. We often worry too much, create problems where there are none, and get bogged down in unnecessary worries. We all chase things that we think will bring us happiness, success and fulfillment, but in the end it's the simple things that matter most.
Almost all known philosophical schools come to this conclusion, and we have already looked at the subject several times from various angles. Here is a small selection:
So how can we make our lives easier?
First, we need to recognize and look at the unimportant as such. We must focus on the things that are important to ourselves and let go of everything else that holds us back. No, this does not mean one should not have nice things. But we should be ready to let them go at any time. That alone is an enormous challenge. However, it is absolutely possible and very liberating. How you go about it we explain for example here based on a quote from Goethe.
Second, we need to stop chasing perfection. There is no such thing as the perfect life, the perfect job, or the perfect partner. Instead, we need to embrace imperfection, to appreciate what we have. That, too, can be very difficult. Why this is so and what you can do let's look at in this article an.
And third, we need to simplify our minds...simplify, if you will. We need to let go of negative thoughts, toxic relationships, and things that rob us of energy and instead focus on the present moment and what we can do right now to improve our lives. In this article about Buddha's Philopsophy on Relationships (to others and ourselves), you will learn more.
In summary, we tend to complicate our lives by placing unnecessary burdens on ourselves, setting unrealistic expectations, and chasing after things that are not important to our well-being. By simplifying our lives, we can reduce stress and anxiety and focus on the things that really matter, like relationships, health and personal growth.
Remember, while life is very complex and therefore not simple, it can be simple if we let it be. So always take a moment to appreciate the beauty of simplicity and enjoy the little things that make life worth living.
By the way, Luke has a special article on this with examples of how we manage to delight in small things.