You Need Less Than You Think

BY Mike Donghia TIMEMarch 3, 2022 PRINT

Recently I’ve been thinking about the happiest periods of my life, and what I might be able to do to replicate some of those experiences in my life today.

So far, the three best years of my life have been:

  • my freshman year of college
  • the year I studied abroad
  • my first year of marriage

By highlighting those years in particular, I mean to take nothing away from the really good childhood I had or the unique, indescribable joy of raising children myself. Those 3 years, all bunched into a 5 year window, just happened to be a very formative period of my life. They are nostalgic to me in many ways.

In Defence of Nostalgia

Some people think you should ignore nostalgia. Or they accuse it of being an overly-sentimental longing for an idealized version of the past.

There’s truth to that. We tend to form a golden-age in our minds for some period of our life and remember what was best about that period. But I don’t think that’s always a bad thing.

The period we get nostalgic for was typically full of something we sense is missing (to some degree) from our current lives. And so by looking back we can learn what really makes up the good life and what things we’ve added that we never really needed.

What most struck me in my reflection is how little I actually need in terms of material possessions, nice things, or wealth to enjoy the lifestyle that I now consider to be the best I’ve ever enjoyed. The “good ol’ days” were good for a handful of reasons that have nothing to do with how much I could afford.

My Personal Recipe for the Good Life

So what do those three years of my life have in common, if anything? I sat down with a pen and paper to really think it through, and I discovered that there were at least a handful of themes that tied together those periods:

Close Friendships

Looking back, friendships absolutely formed the bed-rock of these three amazing years of my life. Not only did I have close friends that I could share anything with and be completely myself around, we were spending nearly every free minute together. Of course, not every day was perfect because humans aren’t perfect– but by and large we got along and had a great time together. I sometimes wonder if humans were made for a more communal form of living than simply every family in their own four walls and with their own yard. Who knows?

Lots of Laughter

When I think of heaven, I think of laughter shared among friends. Think about it, I bet the best laughs of your life have come with your best friends nearby. That might seem like common sense, but is it really? With the internet, we’re just a click away from the world’s best comedy, but still our best laughs tend to be over dumb stuff that happens when you’re with close friends. There’s something about the trust, intimacy, and shared experiences of friendship that produce the perfect recipe for laughter. Those three years of my life packed in some of my longest and deepest laughs.

Novel Experiences

The first year of college, my first travel abroad experience, my first year of marriage– these were all hugely novel experiences in my life. I think novelty heightens your emotions and memories of an event, and that partly explains why these years were best of my life. Of course, there is a danger in chasing novelty all the time. It might lead  you to be unfaithful to your spouse or restless at a job, or who knows what. But there must be a healthy way to pursue novelty in your life in smaller, more frequent doses while still holding onto some of the advantages that come with the stability of adulthood.

Work I Enjoyed

In college I had tons of free time relative to my life today, but I also had a purpose and structure to my day that I enjoyed. I went to classes, took care of my coursework, and met daily for cross-country or track and field practice. I was particularly motivated and disciplined about my training and all that it entailed. After college, I was so blessed to have a job that I loved in doing online marketing for an ecommerce company. I was learning so much and excited to go to work each day. It is truly good for the soul to have work or a goal that you are excited about– even if it involves hard work.

Strenuous Physical Activity

In college I was running 50+ miles a week. When we studied abroad in England I was going on multi-hour hikes every week, running, and playing lots of ultimate frisbee. Is it any wonder I felt so good? It’s well known that endorphins are a powerful, natural feel-good chemical that get released during exercise. But best of all, nearly all of my “exercise” was done with friends and felt much more like recreation than something I had to talk myself into. Most of us who exercise regularly as adults, do it alone or out of a desire to stay in shape– and the result is that we don’t do it nearly as much as we should to reap the benefits.

Frugal Living

Sure, I was going to a nice college and studying abroad, but the actual feet-on-the-ground experience of those years of my life was one of being relatively tight on cash. Even during our first year of marriage, we lived super frugally to help pay down about $30K in student loans. Funny thing is that I have never felt richer in my life than I did during those years. I felt like there was always enough (and thankfully, there always was). And the things that mattered most were free anyway. As the years have gone by, our income and discretionary spending has gone up, but so too have our expenses thanks to a degree of lifestyle creep. This is something that we are actively pushing back against and, in the process, rediscovering some of the joys of limits.

You Need Less than You Think

If you’ve been stuck on the treadmill of a constantly rising standard of living and all the expectations that go along with it, maybe this post can be a reminder that you really don’t need much to live a happy and satisfied life. For me personally, I’ve found that all I need are some friends to laugh with, something to give my days meaning and purpose, plenty of physical activity, and a spirit of contentment.

Mike (and his wife, Mollie) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.

This article was originally published on ThisEvergreenHome.com.

Mike Donghia
Mike (and his wife, Mollie) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.
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