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Monday, March 9, 2015

The Less is More project: Week 10 - The happiest time of your life

Stop and smell the oleander - JSM, 2012

If I asked you the following question:

"What was the happiest time of your life?"

... what would you respond?


And if you had to come up with two or three different periods of your life that made you the happiest?


Now what if I suggested you take a few of those "happy periods", and examine them closely to try and figure out what they had in common? 


What you will come up with likely constitutes the key to your happiness. No matter what your life has become now, and the underlying reasons for it, there is something to be learned from the common characteristics of your happy times.


"What should I try and instill to my current life in order to maximize my well-being?"

Here's my example.

Happiest times of my life:

  1. The 3 years I lived in Senegal (Western Africa) as a child
  2. The summers spent working as a lifeguard/canoe-kayak instructor in my late teens
  3. Studying for my Master's - the first year (my father passed away during the second)
  4. Going on wilderness camping trips
  5. Traveling with my family as a child, then traveling alone, with friends or with my own family now that I have kids

What do those "happy times" have in common? 

When I stopped to think about it, I made some interesting findings:

Those were all times when very little emphasis was put on the material sphere: whether it was a) living in Sub-Saharan Africa of the 1980s, b) working at a summer camp by a lake deep in the woods, c) camping in a National Park or d) living the "poor" student life...

... those situations all offered very few opportunities for shopping and indulging materialistically.

As for traveling, no matter if you do it "in style" or on a shoe string (I have done both), it usually implies living with less: the contents of your suitcase or backpack are all you have. I, for example, took a 65-liter backpack - sleeping bag included - for a 3-month trip all over Europe, and I try to fit everything I need in a carry-on whenever I travel for a week or less. (My friends have - kindly - made fun of me for traveling light.)

Therefore, the common denominator seems to be a simple life involving few possessions.

Even more interesting, I realized that whenever I stepped away from the material sphere, it was either the cause or the consequence of focusing instead on other, more fulfilling things; indeed, all of the situations above involved:

  • Less time spent inside, more time spent outside (either in nature or walking my way through cities)
  • (Partly arising from the above): More physical activity
  • Deep, meaningful connections with people (whether you are "taking the time" with your family members/friends or meeting new people with common interests and values)
  • A slower pace of life (with time to talk, read, write, listen to music, contemplate, meditate)

In my current situation (living "in the woods" in a province that has a total population under a million), I notice that the above criteria are at least partly met... as long as I remain vigilant. 

Your turn to "do the exercise". What were your happiest times? What did they have in common? Can you try and implement some of those things in your current life in order to increase your well-being?



Finishing a workout at the gym, I knew I had another thirty minutes or so before I had to go pick-up my daughter at her play date (They went snowshoeing. How cool!) I really didn't want to exercise anymore, having already done a full hour of strength training, a half-hour of cardio and about ten minutes of stretching. The gym being located in a commercial neighborhood, I felt tempted, for a moment, to pass the time by doing a little bit of shopping. This is something I would have done without a thought in the past (i.e. before this project), whether I actually needed to buy something or not.

Of course, the Less is More project kept me on track: instead of going shopping, I found an empty group activity room at the gym, rolled a mat, sat on it, and meditated. Needless to say, the benefits of a meditation session far outweigh the benefits of a shopping outing.

Donations (good riddance)

This weekend we rearranged some furniture in the children's bedrooms. While we were at it, I asked them to hand me any toy or item of clothing that they have not used recently and are not planning on using again. D and I also got rid of a few clothes. 

We then tackled the "reading nook". This is a small room with a large window on the second level, above the entrance, that I had envisioned as a yoga/meditation room when we moved in. Soon enough, however, it was invaded by bookshelves, a desk, a chair, and some toys. This weekend, R, who is in Grade 5 and getting an increasing amount of homework, "inherited" the desk and chair. The toys are gone. The nook is empty again. Hello, yoga/meditation spot!


We went to the Museum of Natural History. Apart from dinosaurs (the current temporary exhibit), we also learned about the Aboriginal and the Acadians' past way of life. The simplicity of it all was a great reminder that we need very little: a shelter, food and water, some clothing, feeling safe and connected to others. Everything else is a luxury. Medical discoveries and technology have simplified our lives in some ways, and have made them less "painful"... but it is nice to be reminded of the basics.


The fact that I considered shopping (see above) just because I had a little bit of time on my hands says a lot about our careless approach to consuming: Bored? Early for an appointment? In need for a little pick-me-up? Go shopping! 

Errr... no thank you.

Later on, I was talking to another mom, T, who remarked that her kids rarely wear (or need) the back to school clothes she buys every year. We buy back-to-school clothes for the sake of it, she said. Another mindless habit, for sure. We will both ditch it this coming fall (unless there is a real need, of course).

What did you resist this week? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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  1. I think I feel my happiest when I have no responsibilities other than to be true to and in the moment.

    That has happened the most, I imagine, when I am traveling.

    I've joked that the happiest time in a person's life is when they know they are going to get married, but they haven't yet :-)

    1. I like your first sentence! Be true and in the moment. Words to live by.

  2. First....the times I've been happiest....the first 10 years of my life while at home (not at school), the three years I worked as a pharmacy technician, the first few years of being back at work after raising our daughter, the first year of retirement....what do they have in common? Not sure...perhaps that feeling of independence??
    I have a little pile of 'donates' growing this week...yippee!!

    1. That's interesting! Independence is a wonderful thing.

      Congrats on your pile of donates!

  3. I think like Delores my happiest times were/are those of independence. And you are right happy doesn't need 'things'. And times spent shopping are NEVER on my happy page. Time outside? Yes. Time with a book? Yes. Time with the guilt button turned off? Definitely yes.
    Still working in the garden. Still donating time. Still thinking about donating objects.

  4. Happiest Times are NOW ...... because they make your happy times now, tomorrow, and especially when you look back.

    Memories are precious - make sure you make plenty.

    All the best Jan

  5. My happiest times all seem to focus on the number seven. I loved being 17; age 27 was a great year for me; age 37 was also a great year. By 47 I was divorced and the freedom was such a relief, another good year. Each of those ages held a freedom that the preceding year or years didn't.

  6. Hello! Thanks for your comment on my blog :)
    I am very interested in going back to January and reading all your posts about the Less is More project.
    What did I resist? Buying a new dresser for hubby--we ended up with a very cheap used one--Yay! He truly needed a dresser. My challenge is to rearrange furniture to make it fit well in the bedroom.
    We did get rid of something important--in dealing with an outside project, I had thought I would save some cement blocks to build a raised bed. Huh. Didn't happen. After using some of them for another project, I asked the worker to simply take them away which he was happy to do. No more messy pile of bricks and blocks!

    1. It's great that you got rid of those bricks and blocks - it would have been very easy for you to keep them "just in case". Thanks for visiting! :-)

  7. Oh--happiest times: when my children were babies and I snuggled them. Now I love snuggling my grandbabies. Also, right now, is my happy time!

  8. I like your updates on what you're spending/not spending and what you're decluttering. Keeps me motivated to continue paring down my own belongings!

  9. Happiest times? For me now, honestly? I'm happy all of the time. The more focus I have taken off material stuff and moved the focus to time with grandchildren, going to our beach house and simply relaxing the happier I have become. I really am living a dream life - I know this change change in a heartbeat so I appreciate every day of happiness I have.