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The Simple Life

by: Samarth Bansal | 12 September, 2023

September 12, 2023. It’s 7:21 a.m.

“Big Brother” by The Stephane Wremble Trio is playing in the background—a beautiful song I first heard yesterday in Woody Allen’s lovely film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I’ve had my morning coffee. Now I have to work out, but before that, I feel like getting this feeling out of me, before I start overthinking and reading what others have to say about it. My thoughts are occupied with the notion of a simple life.

I was thinking about money yesterday. I don’t like discussing my personal finances with anyone. I don’t want the world to know what I earn. My accountant obviously knows, as does the government, and that’s okay. I’m talking about others: family, friends, and society in general. Because the moment that happens, my income is subjected to worldly standards. And I don’t want that. With my educational background and lifestyle, I’m damn sure that anyone who learns of my income will remain unimpressed: just this much? You’re 30, and you make just this?

And my answer in my head is always this: yes, only this much—because that’s enough for me. I mean, I’d love if there were more in my bank account. I’d really love if there were 10x the figure I have now so I could fly to Paris again for a week and read Simone de Beauvoir at Luxembourg Garden. But I can’t, and that’s fine. Because I feel really fulfilled with the life I’ve created for myself.

There is this notion that we need to make more money as we age, which is why the appeal for the “annual raise” exists in a working setup. It’s needed, they say. Responsibilities rise as you grow up: you have a family to raise, you have to be prepared for health emergencies, you may want to buy property, and you may want to enjoy the pleasures you’ve dreamt of but could not. These are all reasonable things human beings expect from their lives. And more cash makes you feel secure to get through life.

But I don’t want this. I know—and I’m not saying this arrogantly—that I could triple my income easily any day I want. It’s just that I don’t want to. Because what I have is enough to support both the life I’ve crafted and the life I imagine for myself.

Every day I wake up, step outside, and as I look at the trees, mountains, and the beautiful sky of Landour, I feel so incredibly grateful. This is dreamy. I have the solitude I need to read, think, and write. I am increasingly convinced that my best thinking happens when my mind is wandering, and I let it wander, without needless interruptions from the world—and most importantly, from my own self. I let it go wherever it wants to. And then I just capture it.

I hate all the status games everyone around me seems to be playing all the time—knowingly or otherwise. Maybe I am also; maybe even by saying I don’t like doing things for status’s sake is a status game. That’s not the point. The simple life involves not letting status and societal approval be the compass around which your life revolves.

I write because it gives meaning to my existence. The joy of imagining something in my head and giving it life with words feels like magic. Or having a conversation with myself through the act of writing. And yes, it feels so fulfilling when someone reads my work and it did something to them—like reading others’ work does to me—that they feel compelled to email me and tell me how they felt. So yes, I have readers in mind when I’m working on my essays or big journalism projects, and that’s my way of feeling connected to humans around me. Which adds an additional layer of meaning to my writing. But I don’t write to impress anyone. Or to be on the stage at a literary festival. I don’t want to become a brand. I’m a human being, not a product.

And just like that, I don’t read to tell someone how many books I’ve read or to flaunt that I have a taste for The New Yorker. I read because I want to read. And so I re-read stuff I’ve read to think about it more. And likewise, I don’t want to keep travelling for the sake of travelling or experiencing novelty—I travel because new environments help me imagine different ways to think about life, expose me to sensory experiences I didn’t know existed, and in that way, make my life richer. So I like to reflect on what they did to me. Which is why I keep thinking of Paris—and the extraordinary two weeks I got to spend there this year.

I could write similar stuff about movies and music. And for deep conversations, whether with friends or even strangers. There is this cliché about living in the moment, but I can confirm that I now really do know what it means and how it feels. And it’s really quite simple. Which is why the simple life. Which is why I feel so alienated in Delhi and so at peace in Landour. Modern city life, especially in India, just does not let my mind be at ease.

I wrote about whatever came to my mind just now because I’m alone with my thoughts. I can’t express these ideas to people face-to-face. Most would say I’m naive, accuse me of overlooking life’s uncertainties. They’ll repeat warnings meant to make me fear the unknown—because they fear those things. For the record, I think about death. It’s the ultimate fear for many, and our collective inability to accept mortality fuels endless anxiety. I don’t feel that way.

At its core, simple life is a life with less fear. We humans have a conflicting need for security and freedom. These needs often clash: we want to know if we’ll be okay and safe as we get through life, and we also want to feel free to do the things we want to.

A simple life—which seeks a degree of detachment from societal expectations—reduces fear by eliminating needless wants and concerns. It allows for a clearer view of reality and offers a sense of purpose, a clearer ethical compass.

And so, perhaps, the way to a simple life is to identify our deepest fears and examine them. Where do they come from? How real are they? How to overcome them? Are some so deep that one can never get over them in life, which ensures a life full of fear for eternity?

A life consumed with fear cannot be simple. And it can’t be free.