In 2014 I decided to live my dream. I felt there was more to life, in my life, beyond the daily grind. So I quit my sales career, sold my house and left. I lived out of a backpack for six months, traveling solo to 17 countries on four different continents.
Three months into the trip, I was in Kuta, Bali, staring at a gorgeous 4.5-star hotel from across the street. If I had come here before then, before I tossed my life up in the air, that would be the place I would be staying. I would have been sipping champagne on my private balcony, away from all the people on the beach, watching the sunset fall into the horizon. Except at that moment, I was the people on the beach. And I was sipping $2 beer from a cooler, watching the sunset from a plastic chair.
Staring at that hotel, I was literally on the outside looking in. I was thinking to myself that I would have, under normal circumstances, checked in, believing anything less would have made me unhappy. I could have it again if I wanted it. I could walk in and ask for a stunning room with a view of the ocean, instead of the less impressive two-star hotel I was staying in. But I went on that trip to try a different life. I didn’t even pay extra for the hot-water option. Because really, would a more expensive hotel make me feel happier than I was right then, or would it just have temporarily made me feel deserving? It was no longer a case of the “have and have-nots”—it was now about the “wants and need-nots.”
Before that trip, I had become accustomed to my pretentious lifestyle—which isn’t to say that I didn’t love it. I worked hard for it; I worked my butt off. I told myself I deserved expensive vacations and closets filled with designer clothes and shoes, and dinners that cost more than my rent did at school. Leading up to that moment on the beach, I believed my happiness would be found in the sum of the parts—that I could add up the value of items I purchased and consumed, and that would be my level of happiness. So I would add more stuff, the more expensive the better…. Because if it wasn’t provided in an extrinsic form, how would anyone know?
But the addition of so many things in my life was just adding a level of complexity, and I wasn’t any happier; I was just better at not focusing on happiness because I was so busy managing all the different pieces of my life. I was consistently adding, not conscious of the decisions I was making. I wasn’t taking time to reflect if each new piece of the puzzle was adding value to the overall picture, or if it was, instead, creating unnecessary complications. I never asked myself if I was adding to contribute to the happiness in my life, or if I was just adding for appearances.
There, on the beach, I thought hard about how life had been giving me subtle hints that I needed to slow down and refocus. So I decided to be more conscious of the elements I added into my life. I ran through it all in my mind: What did I really need to make me happy? Could I be just as happy with the minimum as I could be with anything more?
That trip changed me. I was a different person coming than I was going, and I brought my reflections home. I knew I wanted to approach life differently, so I made a list of what actually gave me joy—and, surprisingly, it is the simplest things in life. My dog makes me happy because I get the opportunity to enjoy fresh, crisp air and watch my dog run and explore and be free—and because dogs remind us that every day can be the best day ever if you let it be. Yoga makes me happy because I love the calm, the flow and how each day my body responds to it differently. Watching the sky transition in color during sunrise and sunset from my now tiny townhouse makes me happy. Writing makes me happy because it’s a chance for me to self-reflect and create, and just the idea of creating something from nothing makes me happy.
It isn’t just about recognizing these things—it’s about truly appreciating them. I know now to accept these things for exactly what they are and hold onto the moments for the moment they’re here. I am consciously choosing to no longer overcomplicate the process—because happiness was never about adding more things into my life, it is not found in the sum of the parts. Happiness is creating the most value with the fewest pieces.
Kim Orlesky is a 2015 SUCCESS BlogStars winner, nominated and voted upon as one of the most influential self-development writers and bloggers on the web.