Practising restraint and keeping things simple

Restraint, self-discipline, and simplicity are somehow considered unfashionable these days.  The marketing supremos and our consumer culture entice us to spend, indulge, enjoy - we deserve it, they tell us.  Now I don't want to be a kill-joy - of course there are occasions when it's perfectly OK to do just that, but constantly giving in to temptation and instant gratification will never result in anything other than temporary satisfaction.

Rather than satisfying our needs, the relative material affluence that most of us are fortunate enough to enjoy in the Western world means that we're constantly trying to satisfy our wants.  The problem with this is that there is always another desire for something else - once one desire has been fulfilled, another springs up in its place.

The material improvements to our way of life over the last fifty or sixty years have brought many benefits, but at the cost of our ability to enjoy the simple things of life, and at an enormous cost to the planet and those less fortunate than us.

The truth is that simpler pleasures ultimately give greater satisfaction than material benefits, simpler pastimes don't cost the earth, and a simpler lifestyle is likely to keep us healthier and enjoying life for longer.  We don't actually need too much luxury or instant this or that, and we certainly don't need to have it now.

There's a lot to be said for Lent (the period in the Christian calendar which begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Saturday).  Technically forty days to commemorate the forty days and nights Christ spent in the wilderness, Lent has traditionally been a time for fasting, abstinence, and penitence. Nowadays people often give something up for Lent that they are particularly fond of or addicted to.  Other religious traditions also have times of restraint and self-denial, fasting, and pilgrimage.

Setting aside time to reflect on what we really need in our lives is a good idea - a kind of psychological and spiritual spring-cleaning.  When we don't take so much for granted and live more consciously, we can appreciate what we already have, even more so if we are mindful of how little others in the world have.

Instead of rushing out and buying something new when we think we want it, we can be more restrained - we can repair, repaint, or decorate.  We can use our creative skills to grow some vegetables from seed, to knit a sweater, or make a loaf of bread.  We can become part of the sharing and caring culture growing up as a reaction to consumerism.  Less consumption and greater consideration for others on this earth and for future generations will enable us to enjoy greater freedom, happiness, and peace of mind.