Today’s essayist in the NY Times series on “happiness” is Pico Iyer. He calls it “the joy of less…” which would have been an excellent title for this blog given that my name is Joy. Unfortunately I’m only GETTING to less. BEING at less is still just an aspiration.
Iyer’s parents are Indian, but he was raised in Santa Barbara, with stints at Oxford and Harvard. A constant world traveler, he went to Kyoto more than 20 years ago for a stint at a Buddhist monastery. Although that only lasted a week, he satyed on. Perhaps because he has spent so much time folded up in an airplane seat and living out of a suitcase, the simple life is especially appealing to him these days.
I still live in the vicinity of Kyoto, in a two-room apartment that makes my old monastic cell look almost luxurious by comparison. I have no bicycle, no car, no television I can understand, no media — and the days seem to stretch into eternities, and I can’t think of a single thing I lack. I’m no Buddhist monk, and I can’t say I’m in love with renunciation in itself, or traveling an hour or more to print out an article I’ve written, or missing out on the N.B.A. Finals. But at some point, I decided that, for me at least, happiness arose out of all I didn’t want or need, not all I did.
In an interview for Vagabonding.com he spoke of how he came to travel so light:
A few years ago my house burned down, and I lost everything I owned; all my notes, all the books I hadn’t yet completed, all my photos and hopes and letters. And yet traveling helped me see this as a liberation: to live more at home as if I were on the road, to savor the freedom from a past and from possessions, and to think back on all the people I had met, in Tibet and Morocco and Bolivia, who would still have thought of my life as luxurious. Most of the people one meets while traveling deal with more traumas every day than the privileged among us meet in a lifetime. That’s how traveling humbles and inspires.
I know that if I had less to care for and worry about and be attached to, I’d be much more inclined to travel. Heck, my son is currently globe-trotting with nothing but a backpack, his modest savings, and his native wit. Could I (would I?) do that?
Iyer concludes his Times essay:
And yet my two-room apartment in nowhere Japan seems more abundant than the big house that burned down. I have time to read the new John le Carre, while nibbling at sweet tangerines in the sun. When a Sigur Ros album comes out, it fills my days and nights, resplendent. And then it seems that happiness, like peace or passion, comes most freely when it isn’t pursued.
If you’re the kind of person who prefers freedom to security, who feels more comfortable in a small room than a large one and who finds that happiness comes from matching your wants to your needs, then running to stand still isn’t where your joy lies….
I love the idea of such a simple life… but getting the ball rolling seems so hard, like a Sisiphean boulder:
Rock, thy name is Inertia.