Why Everything is So Complicated
It has been proven – don’t ask me how – that the Amish are the happiest people group in the world today, and that the Middle Ages were the happiest time in history. Look it up – it’s very common knowledge among sociologists and psychologists. So, what’s the connecting point between the Amish and the Middle Ages? That’s simple: it’s simplicity. The Amish live the simplest lifestyle of anyone today, and people during the Middle Ages lived the simplest lifestyle of anyone in history, including early mankind. Both groups are/were spiritually-minded people.
So, happiness is not about money. Nor is it about poverty. Rich people are some of the most unhappy on the planet, but so are poor people. Greed is what keeps both groups from finding happiness because both believe that money is the key – and it’s not.
Jesus said, “… the Son of Man [meaning Himself] has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58) That’s a metaphor – not to be taken literally. Jesus had a home in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee where he lived when He was not on the road. (Mark 2:1; 3:20) Jesus never espoused poverty. Nor did He espouse riches. What He did espouse was simplicity.
He said, “Become like little children.” (Matthew 18:3) What is the most distinguishing characteristic of a child? His simplicity. And what is the most distinguishing characteristic of a middle aged person? Her complexity. We spend our lives complicating them under the delusion that it will bring us happiness. It doesn’t. We fill our lives with more and more people (social media? social functions?) and more and more stuff (shopping? collecting?), when all we need is one person we enjoy, a nice meal and a soft, dry bed.
Someone once said, “Why should I want to be rich? I can only eat one steak and sleep in one bed!” I agree with that.
When I was a boy, I sat in the movie theater, totally amazed, as Mary Poppins placed all her belongings – including the hatrack! – into her one carpet bag. At that moment, I said to myself, “I want to live like that.” Instead, I have spent my life collecting things. And I am far less happy now than I was then.
I recently moved from a spacious two-bedroom apartment to a cramped one-bedroom apartment in order to down-size. In doing so, I realized just how much stuff I had acquired over the past 17 years, since I moved to Atlanta. Almost simultaneously, I realized how unhappy I had become. There is a direct corollary between simplicity and happiness, and with complexity and unhappiness.
We think that the one with the most toys at the end of his life wins the game. He doesn’t. The one with the least does. Someone once said, “He who travels lightest travels fastest.” Someone else said, “He who would travel happily must travel light.” Both are true. That second quote is from French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944).
When I look at my life, I see all the things I do, or try to do. It’s a lot. Then I remember the Billy Crystal movie City Slickers, in which Curly – a mystical cowboy, played by movie legend Jack Palance – advises Crystal’s character that the secret to life is one thing. “What one thing?” he asks. “You have to decide that,” Curly replies.
One thing. Consider the Amish. All those people have to think about is… Go ahead, you tell me. What would you say is the one thing that people group focuses on, day in and day out? They’re agrarian. Do you want to tell me that it’s raising food? Raising children? Raising barns? I’ll tell you what I think it is: community. The thing that is most important to the Amish is community, which is why being shunned is such a devastating event. The same thing was true in the Middle Ages: people were dependent on each other. That was their one thing.
Today, it’s nobody’s thing. Nobody today focuses on community, which is why our lives are so spread out and complicated. Oh, we have artificial and cyber communities, but those are false. We have no real communities today, which is why we’re so unhappy. In a community, it is possible to achieve real simplicity, and thus real happiness. Without community, it is impossible.
My goal, and my advice to you, is to find that community and its accompanying simplicity. Find happiness, real happiness. Life is too short to be unhappy. Christ wants us to be happy. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t have spoken what we today call the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are formulas for happiness, and they all involve maintaining community and simplifying our lives.
We can do it, with His help. More on this later.
Waitsel Smith, May 16, 2013
For more Reflections on God, go to my Reflections on God page.
Text © 2013 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.