The Simple Life

How small joys are illuminating an otherwise bleak outlook.

Photography by Karthik Balachandran, senior software engineer at frog

These past four years have been tough.

Stock markets plunged, unemployment has doubled, the environment is displaying escalating signs of deterioration, and economic disparity is challenging the status quo around the world. In the face of these wicked problems, many are turning to simple joys to counteract the prevalent negativity.

The tendency toward simple can be found growing organically throughout personal documentation and reflection via blogs and books. It’s also impacted commerce by opening market opportunities associated with the facilitation of experiencing and capturing simple joys.

Documenting Simple Joys
In the summer of 2008, Neil Pasricha was already feeling the pressures of negative media and severe personal hardships. To counteract this depressing atmosphere, Pasricha launched his blog “1000 Awesome Things” and began a daily record of “simple, universal pleasures.” His site chronicles his passion for observing and appreciating hundreds of everyday joys that we often take for granted: the cool side of the pillow, when the plane safely touches down on the runway, or when a new checkout lane opens up in a busy grocery store. In addition to Pasricha’s blog and TED talk (“The 3 A’s of Awesome”), a growing number of other people are similarly embracing and documenting the simple joys of life in order to counteract the negative atmosphere and accelerating pace of the everyday.

In 2009, best-selling author Gretchen Rubin published her book, The Happiness Project, in which she challenged herself with the question, “How could I discipline myself to feel grateful for my ordinary day?” She invested a full year of her life into uncovering and multiplying the simple joys in her everyday. During her pursuit, Rubin concluded that, “…happiness has four stages…we must appreciate it, savor it as it unfolds, express happiness, and recall a happy memory.” Photographs, journals, blogs, and even Facebook posts are great examples of popular tools that facilitate all four stages of happiness and present a variety of commercial opportunities. What if taking pictures were so simple it didn’t detract from the moment? A company called Swivl sells iPhone docks that are motion-sensored and rotate the iPhone camera to automatically follow any action in a room. Now we can both watch a baby’s first steps with our own eyes, and have them captured for future enjoyment.

One blog combines the idea of a visual memory log with the capturing of happy moments. After admitted “burnout” because of passionate media engagement during the economic crash and election of 2008, Julia Thomas and Lisa Lehman changed course and started a sketch blog called TheBestPartofMyDay.org. The act of creating daily posts forces them to keep things simple, because their busy lifestyles do not afford them the luxury of perfecting each sketch. They often find themselves reviewing the previous day’s post and marveling at the accomplishment associated with producing something tangible.

The Commerce of Simple Joys
The popularity of the DIY movement (as represented by e-commerce sites like Etsy and instructive YouTube videos about anything you can possibly imagine) is fueled by that same simple joy associated with seeing a tangible outcome emerge from one’s efforts. Furthermore, crowd-sourced funding sites like Kickstarter.com provide a sense of accomplishment to the entrepreneur, and also to the everyday investors who feel personally connected to the success of the product and appreciate the simplicity and transparency of the site’s business model. The Swivl product previously mentioned is an example of one such Kickstarter project that was funded based on the merit of an idea and promised sales instead of the usual venture capital pitch for investment.

Digital technology has also opened a new world of opportunity for the simple joys found in games and sharing time with friends and family. For centuries, games have been a source of joy, whether through shared moments with other players or enjoyed alone. Smartphones have made digital game play ubiquitous among those who may never have invested in a game console. In just 23 months, Angry Birds infiltrated the lives of 500 million players. One reason for Angry Birds’ popularity is the structure of the game’s short levels. From the beginning, players enjoy the reward of quick wins and the joy of accomplishment associated with moving through the game’s lower levels. It is not unusual to observe a smile flash across the face of a subway rider who has just unlocked a new board within the game. Similarly, games such as Words with Friends take the experience to the next level by engaging users in game play regardless of physical proximity.

The passion for simple can also be found in the return to, and appreciation for, nature. In parallel with the 2011 New York City marathon, the New York Times Magazine published an article about groups of people who run barefoot for recreation. They have discovered “simple joy” in one of mankind’s oldest and most natural traditions. Athletic shoe manufacturer Vibram identified an associated market opportunity and released the FiveFingers shoes, which provide wearers with a minimal amount of protection while remaining true to the natural shape of the human foot. Sales have skyrocketed in the past 12-18 months.

The American clothing company Patagonia, known for environmental responsibility, recently made a big bet on the trend toward simple. The company’s counter-intuitive consumer advertising campaign, the Common Threads Initiative, encourages recycling and to repair clothing instead of buying new items. The company is banking on winning over consumers by aligning with their love of outdoor activities, desire for quality over quantity, and passion for the preservation of nature.

Our lives and our world are complex–filled with wicked problems, but with access to an overwhelming amount of information. Many of us are hungry for simple joys inspired by appreciating the everyday.

What has been the best part of your day?

Erin Skurdal is a program manager at frog.

Passion

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