Earlier this week I ran across a study that demonstrated a “simple lifestyle” can decrease our contact with toxic endocrine disrupting chemicals. The researchers looked at lifestyle elements like transportation, personal care products, and homegrown versus purchased food in their participants. I was struck by the study’s suggestion itself but also by the larger metaphoric significance. A simpler code of life can spare us some of the inherent stress and damage of our modern lives. As this study showed, the principle certainly holds for physical health, and I easily venture it holds for mental well-being, too. Living simply offers a multi-layered protective benefit. That’s worth taking apart.
The heart of The Primal Blueprint, as broadly applicable as it is for many people, is pretty simple, but I wonder how and when it inspires simplicity itself. We simplify our food by choosing fresh options based on what our ancestors ate for tens of thousands of years. We simplify our fitness by letting go of the need to follow every “latest and greatest, end-all” fad and just adopt some easy Primal movement principles. We simplify our priorities by putting a premium on sleep, outdoor time, and social connections. In many ways, it’s kind of about getting back to basics – ancestral style.
We do all this, of course, while we live in a culture that loves to complicate. In fact, we moderns have an uncanny way of making life difficult for ourselves. We stay up late, eat crap, guzzle caffeine, and wonder why we crash and recover multiple times a day. We surround ourselves with so many “things,” the clutter impairs our own ability to focus.
We’re strivers, analyzers, and accumulators but wonder why we burn ourselves and our relationships out on stress, self-chatter, and anxiety. Most of us have so much – much more than the majority of the world at least (and more than our primal ancestors ever dreamed of), yet we live with a misplaced sense of deprivation. Too often, we neglect or undervalue what we need (e.g. time to foster close relationships, time in the sun, time to sleep) but elevate aspects of life that are tangential at best. We give our positions and possessions more power than they deserve in the grand scheme of life – let alone human history.
It’s true of how we experience our own lives and how we look at others’. In our culture, we tend to attach status, even maturity and identity to the elaborateness of a home, vehicle, or outfit. Some of us overwork ourselves for a nice house we barely get to enjoy. Others forgo a vacation but spend money on collections that could easily pay for time away. Too often, we accumulate instead of experience. How much sense would any of this make to our ancestors? We’re stuck circling in a cul-de-sac of our own making. This would be the time to abandon the car and just trample through the manicured yards to get out of dodge.
Of course, it’s all about coming back to yourself. The freedom comes, I think, in identifying your core interests and values and centering your life around them. Although I’m not one for austerity, I think there’s something to simplicity – the mental, logistical, and physical spareness that brings a few key priorities into focus. If you can avoid the literal and figurative toxins of modern life while you’re doing it, all the better.
Ultimately, I don’t think it’s about formulas or absolutes or right answers. Everyone’s different. I think simplicity is about proportion – about aspects of our lives finding their “right” size in respect to everything else. In assessing these proportions, we recognize the influence each choice has on another as well as the impact of action on mentality. Researchers at the University of New Hampshire and Yale University, for example, found that those who felt less loved and accepted within relationships rated material possessions as more monetarily valuable. Underscoring this study, the researchers explain, is the source of our security and comfort. It’s worth asking, with what or whom do we situate our sense of personal security and comfort? Do our life choices and investments of time and energy appear to follow these priorities?
When I think about how I’ve changed over the last several years, I come back to that question. Although I’ve never been a complicated, high maintenance guy, I know I’ve changed as I’ve defined living Primally. These days I wear pretty much the same shoes – my Vibrams – wherever I go. I don’t think I’ve ever given much thought to clothes, and that’s certainly true now. I eat more or less the same thing for lunch each day. I like to work from home to avoid the hassle of traffic. Unless I have to be on the road for work, I pretty much follow the same schedule with some room for a spontaneous hike in the hills near my home or dinner with friends. I’ve never considered myself an accumulator of things or gadgets, and that remains true today. Maybe it’s in part the journey of later adulthood, but I know at this point what I like and what I need. I’ve decided what matters to me and what doesn’t. For example, I enjoy good food and a comfortable bed. I love to travel (sometimes) and then simply being home for long stretches where I can be with family and spend time in the ocean. When it comes to my personal life, these are the things in which I invest my time, resources, and attention.
At the end of the day, I think we embrace simplicity when we pare down our lives to a point at which we’re not overwhelmed or diverted by our inputs – our stuff, our choices, our responsibilities, or our aspirations. “More of everything!” seems to be a chant distinctive of our modern age. Although ambition and even a degree of materialistic interest might be part of human nature, gone are the traditional codes that kept those in check. People too often mistake this for inevitable progress and justification. When you take the original context away, however, natural impulses end up not making sense. Living Primally, I think, is about living conscious and respectful of that original context, however we choose to envision it at work in our personal health and life journey.
Thanks for reading today, everyone. Let me know your thoughts on living simply and how the Primal Blueprint illuminates or contributes to that motivation. Have a great end to the week.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.