Back to Basics: What Matters Most

Back to Basics: How Focusing on What Matters Most Creates Happiness

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Lately, I have found myself applying a back-to-basics approach to life. Simplicity is a state for which I strive; it’s an unassuming form of peaceful fulfillment that offers a myriad of moments to practice gratitude. In today’s culture of excess, it can feel isolating to refrain from an overindulged and overscheduled life. Rather than discover and pursue individualized fulfillment, many unconsciously subscribe to the societal standard of satisfaction, success, and happiness.

Break Out of the Box

Does this standard work, though, when so much of America is unhappy? A record 29% of adults report that they have been diagnosed with depression at some point during their lifetimes. Now, the skeptic in me questions the accuracy of this figure and how much our healthcare system and big pharma have a hand in manipulating people, but that’s a conversation for another time. Nevertheless, people are expressing their unhappiness and lack of fulfillment more freely than ever before.

Is it possible that so many people feel unhappy because they’re living a “boxed” life rather than one that truly reflects who they are? How would things change if people were to step outside of the box to create a fulfilling life of their own?

Perhaps a reset can help those feeling unhappy pursue a healthier and happier life.

Break out of  the Box

Get Back to Basics

In my process to simplify and get back to basics, I took some time to consider how I’d like my day-to-day to look. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, but sometimes it feels way less than that. When I start to feel this way, I do what I call a “pulse check”: I run through everything that I’m spending my energy on and ask myself how I am feeling about it. Right away, this helps me eliminate or adjust what doesn’t serve or fulfill me. It’s a way to determine what matters the most.


I recently read the book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles. Ikigai (ee-key-guy) is a Japanese concept that essentially means “a reason for being”. This philosophy acknowledges that each person has their own ikigai, or purpose, waiting to be discovered.

To live with ikigai is to live with meaning and thereby create a life of passion and joy.

The book delves into research and interviews with the residents of Ogimi, Okinawa, a village with the world’s highest percentage of 100-year-olds. It also outlines different tools and techniques to help the reader discover his or her own ikigai. By presenting the research in a format that is both relevant and relatable, this book offers an exceptionally easy and enjoyable reading experience.

Back to Basics

The basis of ikigai is simple. It’s a back-to-basics approach in which one finds meaning through the convergence of four basic principles:

  1. What you love
  2. What the world needs
  3. What you are good at
  4. What you can receive payment for

Additionally, the interviews with the residents of Okinawa offer excellent insight into their relaxed and simplified approach to life. They echoed a back-to-basics way of living and celebrating through their daily routines.

  • Eat until 80% full
  • Sleep deeply and rest well
  • Connect with friends
  • Serve and participate in the community
  • Stay occupied
  • Exercise each day
  • Give thanks
  • Celebrate often (even the little things)

Okinawa is home to some of the world’s happiest, healthiest, and longest-living people. I’m happy to borrow a page from their book and learn from them.

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Let Go of the Excess

Our country and its people are enraptured by the idea of “more”: more laws, more cars, more money, more scheduled events, bigger homes, larger portions, and, inevitably, more waste. And yet, we’re also disturbingly enmeshed in perpetual detoxes and diet trends. Why is that? Could it be that we’re not versed in the balance of moderation? Or is it because we are chasing after what we’re told rather than what we truly want?

Each person embodies a unique set of dreams, goals, and limits. In order to cultivate happiness, we must ask ourselves what actually matters most to us. Is it more fulfilling to have experiences and create memories than to own more material things? Should you maintain toxic relationships for the sake of making others happy? Is it best to continue 60-hour work weeks for a great paycheck, or would you rather earn a good paycheck and have more free time?

Back to Basics: Time to think

Let go of the excess. Society continues to tell us that we aren’t enough. Who cares? Isn’t it exhaustingly miserable to live up to someone or something else’s idea of enough? Tune out the noise, let go of the things that don’t matter, and focus your energy on what does.

  • Nurture your mind, body, and spirit
  • Celebrate your loved ones and yourself
  • Walk away from draining relationships
  • Remove unnecessary distractions
  • Commit to your version of success and happiness

Concentrating your energy and time on what matters most will keep you energized, fulfilled, and happy.

Remember Your Roots

Your story is not mine, and vice versa. We all have our own origins. Remembering where we started reminds us of how far we have come and how far we still want to go. If you’re not a superhuman, then you’ve likely made many mistakes and learned a few lessons along the way.

I think that paying respect to our beginnings can keep us humble and grounded. After all, life can change in an instant. It’s important to keep in mind that we have and can move forward, especially when we need to start over again.

Practice Gratitude

Artificial intelligence marketing and social media, along with our general culture of excess, have skewed our perception of sufficiency and gratification. Instead of being thankful for what we have, we are constantly flooded with imagery and multimedia that send the message that we can’t possibly be satisfied.

What if we trained ourselves to be grateful for the here and now? If we roll back to basics and express gratitude for shelter, food, and water, then we may be able to better appreciate the beauty and opportunity that each day has to offer. It can be easy to take certain things for granted, especially when they’ve become so commonplace and integrated into our daily lives.

Consider for a moment that 1 in 4 people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water. One in four.

Gratitude is a conscious perspective that shapes our emotions, outlook, and actions. It is a powerful and positive state of mind that is integral to achieving happiness. A thankful person is happy with what they have and not dejectedly fixated on what they don’t.

Create Happiness

Above all, honesty and accountability are essential to understanding 1) if one wants to be happy and 2) how to achieve happiness. What good would it do to go back to basics if a person cannot figure out where their baseline is because they’re unable to be honest with themselves?

Personal passion and priorities connect individuals to their own happiness and fulfillment.

What matters most to you? Be honest. Learn to appreciate where you are and focus on where you want to be. Break out of the box, dedicate your time to exploring your own purpose, and create your happiness.

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2 Responses

  1. In your opening statement you implied that culture and big pharma have a hand in manipulating our psyche. I agree. I have long felt that a large percentage of American medical practice is the put all of us on some ‘maintenance medication’. I don’t think there are many television commercial segments that don’t include an admonishment to ‘ask your doctor about (fill in the newest prescription therapeutic)’, which only encourages chemical dependency. I wonder how many of those 100+ year old Okinowans take as much as an aspirin in their daily regimen.

    I believe that this life provides all the tools for one to create satisfaction and, to a large extent, happiness. This, of course, depends on individual circumstances. You mentioned that about 25% of people do not have access to safe drinking water. I’m actually surprised that the estimate is so low. There are organizations that are heavily engaged in the reduction of that percentage. They are actively drilling wells in these areas that suffer from water-borne deseases. Support of these organizations will accelerate development of these areas and provide benefits well beyond the obvious health improvements. Villagers no longer spend their days tracking the bush for a bucket of dirty water. They can engage in more meaningful pursuits such as education of their youth and development of local enterprises.

    I find the spectrum of what makes people happy is quite broad. Those of us who live at the height of advanced civilization also seem to have the highest percentage of depression. The people that receive a fresh water well in the center of their village are ecstatic! They don’t have the time or luxury to dwell in depression. They want to live past their twenties.

    1. Absolutely.  I agree with your comment and perspective. It’s disheartening to learn that so many suffer from depression in the developed world. I can certainly see how “first world problems” became such a cliche. I think we face manipulation each day, from medical practice and the media to corporate standards, deified politics, and more.

      With all of this external noise, I think many aren’t conscious of things that others would, as you mentioned, feel ecstatic to experience: Safe water, free will, growing old, education, a chance to overcome poverty, etc. Creating happiness is a personal process, and I honestly believe that by going back to basics, one has a better chance of figuring out the first step toward their own happiness.

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