Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Being Happy With Less

Walden by Henry David ThoreauI am currently reading the book "Walden", by Thoreau for a book club.

His words are especially applicable at this time of economic hardship. He philosophizes that it is not only O.K. to be unemployed, but it is better. He laments for those who inherit wealth and property and sees voluntary poverty as the only freedom.

Even if you don't want to go off and live in a little self-built house in the woods like he did, anyone can benefit from his perspective and feel grateful for what they have....

"I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle and family tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in...

Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born? How many a poor immortal soul have I met well nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of life...The portionless, who struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet (a personal garden)....

But men labor under a mistake. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool's life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before....

Most men...are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. Actually, the laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day...always on the limits, trying to get into business and trying to get out of debt...contracting yourselves into a nutshell of civility, or dilating into an atmosphere of thin and vaporous generosity, that you may persuade your neighbor to let you make his shoes, or his hat, or his coat, or his carriage, or import his groceries for him; making yourselves, sick that you may lay up something against a sick day...

What a man thinks of himself, that is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate... The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation...It appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it...Yet they honestly think that there is no choice left... No (different) way of thinking or doing (which) can be trusted...

What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion. What old people say you can not do, you try and find that you can....

Some things (seem to) really (be) necessities of life in some circles...which in others are luxuries merely, and in others still are entirely unknown...

The greater part of what my neighbors call good, I believe in my soul to be bad...we are made to exagerate the importance of what work we do... (and) are determined not to live by faith if we can avoid it...

It would be some advantage to...learn what are the gross necessaries of life and what methods have been used to obtain them...

The necessaries of life for man may...be distributed under the several heads of Food, Shelter, Clothing and Fuel... The grand necessity is to keep warm.... I find by my own experience, a few implements, a knife, an axe, a spade, a wheelbarrow, etc. and for the studious, lamplight, stationery, and access to a few books rank next to necessaries, and can all be obtained at a trifling cost.

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life are...positive hinderances to the elevation of mankind. With respects to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor....poorer in outward riches, none so rich in inward....

None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty...

What does man want next? Surely not more warmth of the same kind, as more and richer food, larger and more splendid houses, finer and more abundant clothing, more numerous incessant and hotter fires, and the like. When he has obtained those things which are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now...

Find (your) encouragement and inspiration in precisely the present condition of things, and cherish it with fondness...I speak to the mass of men who are discontented, and idly complaining of the hardness of their lot or of the times, when they might improve them. There are some who complain most energetically and inconsolably because they are, as they say, doing their duty....

If I should attempt to tell how I have desired to spend my life...I have been anxious to improve the nick of time...which is precisely the present moment.

As for Clothing...perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by true utility...the object of clothing is, first, to retain vital heat, and secondly, in this state of society, to cover nakedness, and he may judge how much of any necessary or important work may be accomplished without adding to his wardrobe... there is greater anxiety , commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience....How far would men receive their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes? If my jacket and trousers, my hat and shoes are fit to worship God, than they will do.

Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows regularly the new...as far as I have heard or observed, the principal object is , not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that the corporations may be enriched. In the long run men hit only what they aim at...

Consider first how slight a shelter is absolutely necessary. In modern, civilized society not more than one half the families own a shelter. In the large towns and cities.. a very small fraction of the whole. The savage (Native American Indian) owns his shelter because it costs so little, while the civilized man hires (rents or pays mortgage) because he can not afford it....I find for the most part they have been toiling twenty, thirty, or forty years, that they may become the real owners...with consummate skill he has set his trap with a hair springe to catch comfort and independence, and then, as he turned away, got his own leg into it... and for similar reasons we are all poor, though surrounded by luxuries...

And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer, but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him. (The house) is not movable, by which means a bad neighborhood may be avoided. Our houses are such unweildy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them. I know one or two families, who for nearly a generation have been wishing to sell their houses in the outskirts and move into the village, but have not been able to accomplish it, and only death will set them free.

While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them.

Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have.
Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not sometimes to be content with less?

Why should our furniture not be simple? At present our houses are cluttered with it, defiled with it (furniture), and a good housewife would sweep out the greater part into the dust hole.

I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, and I threw them out the window in disgust.

I would rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on the grass.

Let our houses be lined with beauty, where they come in contact with our lives."

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