The Minimalists, photo by Adam Dressler

Happiness Is a Curious Thing

Happiness is an expansive concept: it can be a mind-numbing thing to try to capture with words. But it was this abstract, complex idea—the thought of being truly happy—that led us to minimalism. Eventually.

But let’s rewind a moment.

Before we understood the importance of simplifying our lives, we were successful young professionals from Dayton, Ohio. But we were only ostensibly successful.

Back then people saw two best friends in their large suburban homes and they were envious. They saw our six-figure jobs, our luxury cars, our new gadgets, our lives of opulence, and they thought, These guys have it figured out; I want to be just like them. They saw all that superfluous stuff and they just knew we were successful. After all, we were living the American Dream—weren’t we?

But the truth is we weren’t successful. Maybe we looked successful—displaying our status symbols like trophies on a shelf—but we weren’t truly successful because, even with all our stuff, we weren’t satisfied with our lives. We weren’t happy. And we discovered working 70 to 80 hours a week to buy more stuff didn’t fill the void—it only widened it: the endless pursuit of more stuff only brought us more debt, anxiety, fear, stress, loneliness, guilt, overwhelm, paranoia, and depression. It was a solipsistic existence.

What’s worse, we discovered we didn’t have control of our time, and thus we didn’t control our own lives.

And then, as our lives were spiraling downward in ever-diminishing circles towards an empty oblivion, we inadvertently discovered minimalism. It was a beacon in the night. We lingered curiously on the limbic portions of its perimeter, scouring feverishly through Internet page after Internet page, looking for more information and guidance and enlightenment, watching and learning and attempting to understand what this whole “simple living” thing was all about. Through months of research we traveled further and further down the rabbit hole, and over time we discovered a group of people without a lot of things but with myriad happiness, passion, and freedom. We yearned for the same.

We embraced minimalism as a way of life and discovered that we, too, could be happy. But it wasn’t through owning more stuff; it wasn’t through accumulation. We took back control of our lives so we could focus on what’s important—so we could focus on life’s deeper meaning.

Happiness, as far as we’re concerned, is achieved through living a meaningful life: a life filled with passion and freedom in which we grow as individuals and contribute beyond ourselves. Growth and contribution: those are the bedrocks of happiness. Not stuff.

This may not sound sexy or “marketable,” but it’s the cold truth. Without growth, and without a deliberate effort to help others, we are simply slaves to cultural expectations ensnared by the trappings of money, power, status, and perceived success.

Minimalism is the tool that helped us simplify our lives by stripping away the excess so we could focus on what’s truly important.

Read more of Joshua & Ryan’s 21 days of Minimalism here! Beyond Inspiring!