Extremism is Easier than Being Happy in Real Life

When I wrote about The Man Who Quit Money, some of you suggested that what Suelo was doing – completely removing the concepts of money and debt from his life – was nice, but not very realistic for most people. I pushed back, because I hate hearing “oh, well that’s nice for them” used as an excuse, as if they are somehow more or less human than you and therefore you are totally justified in remaining stuck and miserable wherever you are. But one reader, through a series of emails, helped me see the disconnect in another light, while reminding me of one of the biggest obstacles to being happy: real life.

Jacqueline said:

“Take my neighbor who also chooses to consciously live without worrying – and has an active meditation and yoga practice and truly does not judge, does not get worked up about ‘stuff’ and is currently wandering around Spain and Portugal with her husband… but she has a house, a job, a young adult child… she rarely gets angry and truly works to be in the moment, be thankful for the moment. That I aspire to. I have another friend – a mom to 5 kids – who is in her early 30′s – and she just got accepted, with almost a full scholarship, to law school. She already has a degree in social work and is drawn to taking it a step further. That I find inspiring – she’s on the PTA – she drives a mini van – but she is not worried about ‘how’ she could be a lawyer….these are regular people (like yourself) who are making paths that I can find inspiration in.”

(I immediately wanted to meet that mom of 5 who is going to law school.)

I got what Jacqueline was saying, but mostly on an intellectual level. I read her words in the beginning of April, fresh off of my own impossible dream – 10 months of traveling in an RV with my family – so it seemed to me like anyone could go to extremes to live their values if they wanted to. They just had to be really committed.

Fast forward to today:

I’ve been living at my in-laws’ house for almost two months and will be here for two more before moving to a new city. I’ve been to a nail salon twice in the last two months and bought new shoes and clothes to replace some of what I sold last spring. I’ve gone on zero hikes with my family and one date night with my husband.

At first glance, my life today is almost identical to my life a year ago, except now I’m living in another adult’s house in my hometown instead of in my own home in sunny Florida.

I have had moments when I have wondered if we made a huge mistake. Perhaps I had been too naive and optimistic, thinking we could live some kind of life that most people don’t, thinking we could ditch prescribed reality for intentional living. I have used the word failure more than once.

But the point that Jacqueline was trying to make back in April lies in the subtle differences between life today and life a year ago.

Today, my husband is working in the next room. I can hear my daughter reading aloud. My son is sulking in his room after an argument with his father, one he could have only had with me a year ago because his dad was almost always at work.

Everything we own still fits into three bedrooms; Jared and I comfortably share a closet and a car – the car we bought ten years ago that has since taken us over 200,000 miles.

More than that, I am intentionally happier than I was a year ago. I’m more aware of the choices I make every day that determine who I am, where I’m headed, and what mark I’m leaving in my wake.

We are living our values within the confines of real life.

As someone who has fairly recently dropped out of and then back into “real life”, I can say with confidence that it is a hell of a lot harder to be intentional as a “regular” person. The pressure to conform is everywhere and the landscape is slashed with deeply worn ruts of tradition and normalcy. Living intentionally among mainstream society means constantly having to define and defend your values, even to yourself. It can be exhausting. It’s tempting to fall into the nearest groove and let yourself be carried away for a while on the current of commonplace.

I understand now why people join communes, cults, and convents.

I get why people expatriate.

I know why Suelo took refuge in the Moab caves.

It is easier to be who you want to be when you aren’t surrounded by people telling you who you should be.

But I am not a solitary person, nor is Jared. We are both very social creatures who happen to love a lot of the people that make up mainstream society. I also value diversity of thought. Furthermore, I have two kids who haven’t yet had the opportunity to decide what their values are. Like most of you, dropping out of real life permanently isn’t the best option for us.

However, I realize now that our temporary isolation has made it much easier to hold on to our values in real life. Our brief encounter with extremism gave us strength to swim against the current, in the same way that moving to Florida gave us space to find who we were away from the people we’d known our entire lives, in the same way that teenagers become complete strangers so that they may separate from their parents.

Going to extremes once in a while can help us be happier in real life.

I believe that small changes can make a big difference in how happy we are. I think that it makes sense to focus on the little thing you can do right now to make your life better. But I also know that our own hard reset has made our normal, everyday life more extraordinary. It was a lot easier to redefine our life when we were out of it.

Maybe we all need to drop out once in a while, if even for just a short time.

What do you think?

Get More Inspiration & Encouragement

Sign up to get my weekly(ish) email with personal stories, practical tips & links to recent blog posts. You'll also have access to exclusive discounts on products & events and a handful of freebies I've made just for you.

I save my best stuff for subscribers! Join us.

Your email will never be sold or shared, because I aspire to not be a jerk.

  1. daniel says:

    What you’re talking about here is a strong sense of self, either as an individual, a couple, or a family unit. One of my favorite quotes of all time (I have about 4 or 5 I turn to regularly) is from Hamlet, which I don’t like, but features this line – To thine own self be true.

    You can cultivate a strong sense of self be going to extremes, but you don’t need to. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe you can argue that my situation (bullied throughout school) was a form of extremism that was forced upon me to give me that strong sense of self to get through it.

    I’m not sure where I was initially intending to go with this. I was interrupted by a toddler and lost my train of thought. I remember I was going to use the word “acceptance” in there somewhere in relation to who you are and where you are in life (generally speaking), but that doesn’t allow for growth, so I apologize for rambling on and having lost my point.
    daniel’s most recent post: The Day – And Not All Of It

  2. Kent says:

    Very true! Did you read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth? It’s a great read that (indirectly) gets into the same concept that you touch on here. Namely, that sometimes you need to break away from the “collective pain body” in order to figure out who you are – to reconnect with your values (values that aren’t ego based!).

    Changing things up = a very good thing!
    Kent’s most recent post: It’s Official, We’re Not Security Threats

  3. I think you are right, but sometimes I think it takes an extreme action or event to help us remember to live a intentional life.
    Corey Feldman’s most recent post: Follow Friday # 5 Joanie Leeds

  4. Charlene says:

    I think I adore this line: It is easier to be who you want to be when you aren’t surrounded by people telling you who you should be.

    I grew up moving every 18 months – at first it was the military, then Dad’s job in retail. 4 grade schools, 4 high schools, etc. I hated it at the time because my personality was more suited to being in one place and hiding in the corner with a book to read or writing something.

    And though I hated it at the time, what that life has given me is a strong sense of self – a strong sense of values that I work hard to maintain.

    I’ve been drawn to living on the road in an RV since 1990 – hubby and I just didn’t know how to do it. We’re planning for it now, though. And I’m looking forward to it.

    You’re absolutely right that it’s much easier to have the courage of your convictions when not immersed in a community that has different convictions.

    Thank you for making me think. Thank you for saying it so succinctly. Thank you for inspiring me.

  5. Carly says:

    Wow, this concept seems so “of course” to me, but I had never really explored the line of thinking. Many thanks to you and your friend Jacqueline for sharing this, because I suspect it’s going to go a long way towards making me less hard on myself. Still gonna hold onto my dreams & ideals, but now I have a new perspective on why it’s sometimes so difficult to implement them out here in suburbia ;b

    And I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that extremism is the easy choice sometimes. Being vegan was easier (minus all the veggie chopping) for me than any other way of eating I’ve ever tried. I have a very much a black & white, all or nothing tendency so it’s often WAY easier for me to be extreme than to get lost in all of the different shades of gray.
    Carly’s most recent post: Generations

  6. annettek says:

    You know it’s funny to me that compared to what you did, the downsizing that I did last year seems practically nothing. BUT. My friends and family think that moving to a new city, donating most of our stuff, buying a condo less than half the size of our old house, and getting rid of one of our two cars WAS extreme. Apparently extreme is only in the eye of the beholder. Living in the real world with intention to live a smaller life is possible, you just have to stop thinking about what other people expect and know that what you are doing is right for you.
    annettek’s most recent post: my colon hates me

  7. Nanna says:

    I think this is a REALLY important concept and I wouldn’t have thought of it so clearly before BUT it makes sense why, in my life, I have made EXTREME changes at times when I just couldn’t do what I was doing. Good job!
    Nanna’s most recent post: Suicide – It Touches Us All

  8. Megan says:

    Every change begins with something small, I think. You toy with the idea for a bit until you see how it will work and then you go forward. Sometimes all it takes it a change of mind.
    Megan’s most recent post: On Running And Doing What I Never Thought I Could

  9. jb says:

    nice job on this post. sometimes its hard to see where we have changed but we have. and sometimes it does have to be drastic, but sometimes not. I think having the courage to do small things can build our confidence to do the big things.

  10. naomi says:

    Yes to the expatriating !! and yes to the going to extremes bit … I am nodding my head vigorously!
    naomi’s most recent post: ON LEAVING.

  11. Momma says:

    I hear you!
    In 2002 Poppa retired and we purchased the ‘required’ condo on a golf course. Two months later the priest who married us in 1964 asked us if we would come work in the mission in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, in the arctic, and two months later we stepped off the plane to begin our adventure. In a French parish, where we were responsible for everything including Sunday Liturgy- in French. We are ENGLISH. I found myself having to learn to do much of the books and publications in French and do services in French. At 60 years old. Nothing is impossible. We felt more at peace and at home there, living in another’s home using another’s possessions than anytime since. I had never been happier living there, and after leaving, grieve it every day! We just missed our family after 4 years so returned to ‘real’ life and the icky eat race Sigh.

  12. Momma says:

    That is ‘rat race’. Not eat race.

  13. Audra says:

    I think you are going to be invaluable to me in the next year. After months of gnashing my teeth I did it…I jumped and next year for the first time in my adult life I’m going to be working part time, I’m going to work on free lancing, improving my blog and writing a book. I’ve given up some financial security which is exciting and terrifying at the same time, You and Amber Strocel were big positive influences.

  14. sheriji says:

    “It is easier to be who you want to be when you aren’t surrounded by people telling you who you should be.”

    Exactly. Perfectly said, and exactly right. Thank you!
    sheriji’s most recent post: I can’t decide

  15. Happiness says:

    Happiness comes to them who opens their door for small treats that life provides to them. So be happy and live longer!
    Happiness’s most recent post: #30 Happiness-How to Remain Happy When Feeling Overwhelmed by Life

« « What I Learned About Success From High School Girls | Happiness Highlights: In Memory » »