January 1, 2011
Writer: Steve Dennis
Simple Pleasures in Family Life
By Steve Dennis
(LDS Life, January 2011)
The New Year is traditionally a time for reflection and renewal of our commitment to change. Our reflections often inspire a list of resolutions that we hope to add to our daily routines. While healthy change is essential to continual growth, change does not necessarily mean "adding". Perhaps, the change many families need most is one of "subtraction"-taking away unnecessary activities, reducing physical and emotional clutter, and eliminating distractions that cloud our perspective of things that matter most.
Letting go of non-essentials so you can joyfully embrace the things that are most important to you is the goal of voluntary simplicity or simple living. It doesn't mean selling all your worldly possessions or heading for the hills. Nor does it mean hiding from the challenges of life. Life's challenges and opposition can encourage growth.
Simple living means clearing your life from the clutter that distracts you and your family from both the challenges, and the beauty and joy of life. It means taking a fresh look at what you really value and spending your time, energy and resources supporting the things you love. In 1845, the philosopher Henry David Thoreau built a cabin at Walden Pond and penned these words: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I want to live deep and suck all the marrow of life." It wasn't the solace of the cabin on a pond that brought joy to Thoreau's life. Nor was it his escape from the world. It was following his passion and designing his life to be in harmony with his values. It was living consciously, deliberately and passionately.
At times we may find ourselves or our family drifting down life paths, which we find empty, chaotic, or painful. While not every path can be charted, we can take active steps to be more deliberate in our lives. Here are several suggestions to help your family "live deep and suck all the marrow of life."
- Remember what's most important. Think about your values, dreams, and life goals. Map your life accordingly, but leave room or the Lord's guiding hand. Live your life as if you only had six months to live. Remember Elder Dallin H. Oaks' sage advice, "We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families."
- Limit your children's extracurricular activities. Choose activities that foster family relationships and life skills. Help your children discover their passion and perhaps do fewer things better. Don't allow the minutia to hold the monumental hostage. Even wholesome and good activities in excess can be barriers to the essentials of family life. Last October, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf reminded us that, "It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice. Overscheduling our days would certainly qualify for this. There comes a point where milestones can become millstones and ambitions, albatrosses around our necks."
- Spend more time outdoors. Spend at least an hour each week in a natural setting. Smell the roses. Feel the breeze. Look at the autumn leaves. Create a snowman. Watch a squirrel. Gaze at the stars. Or cast your eyes across the horizon. The world is beautiful. Enjoy it.
- Plan 15 to 30 minutes a day for silence and solitude. Each person's method may be different, but reflecting on life's simple pleasures by meditating, writing in a journal, or saying a prayer can help restore serenity and inner peace. Look for God's hand in all things. Oddly enough, we generally find what we are looking for. Ponder and look for goodness. It's abundantly available.
- Limit commitments. Learn to say no to excessive work schedules or other commitments that don't directly contribute to the things you value, love to do, or feel prompted to do. Even activities we'd like to do may have to wait for a more appropriate time and season.
- Limit material possessions to what you need or cherish. Live under you means. Reduce the clutter in your home and work space. If you don't like to buy, clean, organize, or tinker with stuff, have less of it.
- Develop healthy habits. Eat balanced meals from a range of healthy alternatives. Savor the best in moderation. Exercise five days a week. Get the sleep you need. If you need an alarm clock to wake up, you are probably sleep deprived.
- Follow your passion. Do the things you love-in moderation. Help others in your family discover their strengths and achieve their dreams. Share your talents in the service of others.
- Purposefully create memorable moments. Fill your life and mind with happy memories of working together, playing together, exploring together, reading together, praying together, and laughing together. It is memories that sustain us.
Living a simply beautiful life is possible in any setting. We need only to clear the clutter that distracts us from the things that matter most. De Saint-Exupery said it well in his book The Little Prince, "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
Steven Dennis is a faculty member of the Department of Home & Family at Brigham Young University-Idaho.