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The Truth About Living with Less

A two-week vacation to Bhutan turned into a lifetime of lessons on the art of simplicity.

In 2013, I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks, wonderfully uninterrupted, in the Southeast Asian country of Bhutan. At the time, I was living and working in Singapore. I sought out Bhutan’s breathtaking landscape of lush mountains and valleys for a holiday, blissfully unaware of the life changing experience that was about to unfold.

A reputation for happiness

Many people don’t know Bhutan; they aren’t even sure it exists, let alone know where it’s located. But if you have heard of Bhutan, perhaps it’s via the Happiness Project, a popular memoir published in 2015. The book depicts a woman’s journey at discovering pure happiness, despite having so little. This concept sits at the core of the country.

My first impressions of Bhutan aren’t unlike those the book depicts: kind people, incredibly laid back. Always smiling, relentlessly optimistic. Bhutanese people don’t have much stuff. They’re not obsessed with the latest brands, how many cars they have parked in their garage; how jampacked their closet is. Instead, they create value and life fulfillment around experiences, family, friends, community and spirituality.

You won’t find people humbler. You won’t meet people more kind. It’s now been four years since I’ve left, and I’ve continued to travel the world—and this statement holds true every time.

Slow down—life is passing you by

Pause for a second, and give serious thought to this: when was the last time you took a moment to yourself to just breathe (without sitting in a fancy schmancy meditation studio?). When was the last time you saw a flower for what it was: soft, velvet petals, vibrant stems, delicate blooms? Or, what about just doing something for you—a walk, taking a class, doing something you love versus camping out in front of the television?

The Bhutan people live day to day, and that’s what makes them so happy. They’re completely satisfied with the fulfillment of basic needs, being surrounded by family, or a beautiful day. One highlight that still gives me chills: an eight-hour round trip trek I took to Tiger’s Nest, a monastery located among steep cliffs and narrow trails above a lush valley. Spending eight-hours “alone with myself” in a meditative state, as my body worked to climb higher, legs pumping, heart beating, is something I won’t soon forget.

I only spent two weeks there, but that two weeks is sure to stick with me for a lifetime.

My attempts at living simply

Living in San Francisco and being in the hustle of the tech world, well, it’s hard for me to get to that place where I’m wondering where my next meal is (and for that, I’m grateful!). But I have taken away some lessons and practices. And I’ve attempted to integrate these practices into my city life.

For example: I’m on the verge of a move, going from a one-bedroom place to three. While most people would be stressed about packing, I’m not because I’ve gone out of my way to not cram too much “junk” into my little place. I’m okay with less.

Here’s another lesson: do your best to live wholly and healthfully. Eat real food—not boxed junk. Make exercise a priority. And call your parents and tell them you love them.

Bhutan has built a reputation for happiness, built on the notion that living simply gets you farther. And it works. I know, because I’m striving to live it every day.

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