Essential Life

What is essential life?

I have a saying: we only have one life and one planet, we need to look after both.

Here at Econation we promote simple living as the most potent way for people to maximise well-being whilst minimising resource use, and therefore ecological footprint. But what does it mean to live simply? Often people think that simple living is about austerity, and even deprivation, but this is not the case. Simple living is about having and doing the essential things in life and not having or doing the inessential, superfluous things.

Our habits, as well as the habits of our culture, often stop us from being ourselves and from living fulfilling lives. We can fill up our attention with attitudes, behaviours and objects that don’t truly matter to us. We are therefore being wasteful and unsustainable. 

The essential things will be different for everyone and we can’t tell you what they are. However, it is crucial that you be honest about your choices. It often involves choosing things that feel right rather than those that simply feel good.

Essential life choices

Two of most common regrets that people have on their deathbeds are firstly, they wished they had been more true to themselves. Secondly, they wished they hadn’t worked so much. We should always keep in mind that we only get one life and it isn’t good to waste it having and doing things that don’t really matter to you in the long run.

People are often driven by insecurity, rather than being motivated by personal development and fulfilment. For instance, I have spent too much time worrying about things that are out of my control and may also never happen. It is natural to dwell on negative things like: what will people think of me, how will I cope if the worst happens, what if I never get what I want, what if I lose everything. However, Steve Jobs used the fact of his own mortality as a motivator, as he explains: 

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
– Steve Jobs

The question to answer is: What regrets DON’T I want to have on my deathbed? Or, better still, turn the question around and ask what things you want to achieve and experience in your life. These are your essential things.

Essential living

“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 did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

― Henry David Thoreau – Walden

Henry David Thoreau famously said he went to live in a cabin in the woods because he did ‘not wish to live what is not life’ because ‘living is so dear’. ‘What is not life’ is really all of the superfluous trivialities that we unconsciously fill our days and lives with. 

The 80-20 principle predicts that 80% of our well-being comes from 20% of the things we do, meaning that 80% of the things we do only provide 20% of our well-being. It could even be more skewed than that.

Essential living is about focussing your energy and resources on those vital few things that provide the most well-being and minimising your energy and resources on the trivial many things that don’t. Read about the Not-To-Do list here

Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.
– Steve Jobs