I recently read Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin, an author and media activist. Elgin defines voluntary simplicity as living more deliberately, intentionally, and purposefully with a minimum of needless distraction. “[A] manner of living that is outwardly more simple and inwardly more rich.” People choosing a simpler life tend to:
– invest in quality time with family, friends, or volunteerism
– develop their potential physically, emotional, spiritually, and mentally
– feel connected to the earth and nature
– feel compassion for the poor and vulnerable
– lower their consumption levels
– unclutter their lives physically and mentally
The reasons for this conscious shift in lifestyle are two-fold argues Elgin. One is the push of necessity – increased global population, climate change, world poverty, depleting resources, and so on. The other is the pull of opportunity – the potential of the simple life to produce a more satisfying and fulfilling existence.
Elgin incorporates E.F. Schumacher’s theories of appropriate technology and smaller being better in terms of companies, agencies, and educational institutions. He also touches on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas of focused attention, mental processing, and awareness in the present. Elgin takes a hard stance on mass media: “The mass media, particularly the television, are a powerful force in promoting ecological collapse. [It promotes] a consumerist consciousness,…divert[s] public attention from urgent global challenges,…and retard[s] the process of social learning.”
Voluntary Simplicity is a short but informing read. It discusses the challenges of our world, but more importantly it suggests ways in which individuals can make a difference.
*Please note that Voluntary Simplicity has three editions printed in 1981, 1993, and 2010. This review covers the 1993 book.