The Simple Life…or is it?

In previous articles prior to our coming to live here permanently in the Philippines, I can recall saying how I was looking forward to retiring here and enjoying the simple life. July 3rd, 2014 marks our first anniversay of living in Samar as full time residents. Over the course of this last year, I’ve been able to observe and reflect, and to view and compare our lifestyle against the standard of living we enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) back in the U.S. One thing is for certain, well…two things are for certain. First, we definitely have much less stress and we do enjoy more carefree living. Secondly, we have much less money (or cash flow) than we were used to. I do now affirm that having less money contributes to more carefree living and therefore, less stress. Since arriving, I’ve made one really critical and emperical observation – there is a difference between living the “Simple Life” and that of just “Simple Living”. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus taught that an “untroubled life was the paradigm of happiness” and was made possible by “carefully considered choices.” He also warned “troubles that followed an extravagent lifestyle outweighed the pleasure of partaking in it.” His teachings concluded “what is necessary for happiness, bodily comfort, and life itself should be maintained at minimal cost, while all things beyond what is necessary for these should either be tempered by moderation or completely avoided.” In this modern era, life is never totally without stress, but when stress levels can be kept at a minimum and properly managed (by exercise, diet, and a regular and proper consumption of San Miguel products), the negative effects of stress can be easily combated and even nullified.

A Simple Pleasure

A Simple Pleasure

While I’m not the first person to ever  make a reference to the enjoyment of  life here  in the Philippines as that of  the “simple life,” I believe that  simplicity encompasses  a number of  different voluntary practices that  contribute to that perceived lifestyle.  For example, reducing one’s  possessions or increasing self-  sufficiency. Simple living can easily  be characterized by some people as  being satisfied by meeting their  needs, and by reducing expectations  and desires (wants). While wants and  needs are technically two different categories, they can many times be synonomous with each other. Take food for example: it is both a want and a need.  A good “Chicago Style” pizza in my neck of the woods would be a want but listen to some expats and all you hear is “NEED.”  Family security is both want and a need. A fancy sportscar, well that’s simply a want. I believe many of the personal  finance issues that people face today are due to their own stubborn confusion of  being able to identify and differentiate between their own wants and needs. If you want to come here to live but need a western lifestyle, well then you will have a conflict (unless you have a boatload of money coming with you). If you are going to live here, then plan on altering your lifestyle…it’s that simple!

While a change in lifestyle will be required to achieve a more relaxed mode of living, there are several practices that can lead to a more simple life. Take religion; The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic society and almost the entire country is of some religious faith. That strong faith certainly plays a dominant role in guiding the masses to easily meet many of their daily basic needs. Religious and spiritual traditions encourage simple living. In other parts of the world, more secular approachs to simplicity can be observed.

Preparing Lunch!

Preparing Lunch without a kitchen!

A reduction in consumption of goods is the result of reducing the actual outlay and expenditures on goods or services and as such, the time spent earning that money is reduced. I can honestly say that much of my free time these days is used to improve my own quality of life. It hasn’t been easy but developing a detachment from money has been necessary for me to enjoy a richer and more fulfilling life. While detachment from money is typically easier for men, in reality, women tend to have a more difficult time with this (trust me on this one). Some people will never grasp this concept and to those people I say, you’d be better off staying right where you are. One of the benefits of retiring to the Philippines, or another developing low cost of living country is well, just that…a lower cost of living. When relocating from a western society, there is usually a resulting and substantial loss of income but the tradeoff between loss of income and increased purchasing power will be helpful in supporting a standard of living that is comfortable. The key here is that you must have an income!  Little or no income is not a good thing.

Increasing self-sufficiency is a developed skill that will lead to a greater appreciation and one’s overall enjoyment of life (simply living). This does not necessarily relate to a “simple-life” lifestyle as becoming and sustaining a level of self-sufficiency can require a substantial amount of work. My grandparents along with that generation of the early to mid 1900’s were a much more self-sufficient society. That culture of having the reliance of family to help out was a key in family survival, not to mention they also worked from before sunup to sundown. Reared as a Baby Boomer and growing up looking at their lifestyle, it was clear to me – this was not my idea of a simple life. To me, “simple” was never in the same context as being free from stuff and being a consumer. I know now that increased self-sufficiency reduces dependency on money and the economy to survive. This is readily apparent throughout society in the Philippines. Tom Hodgkinson, British writer and socialist, states that the richest countries in the world, in terms of economic output, are the ones where people work the hardest. I somewhat disagree. They may work longer hours and may be more productive, but they do not necessarily work any harder, in the literal sense. I do agree with him about his belief that the key to a free and simple life is to stop consuming and start producing.

Generator make life easier!

Generator make life easier!

So as I approach the one  year mark living here in  the Philippines full time,  I  I ask myself the question  whether life here really is  simple?  Looking all  around – at how hard  family members might  work to raise and  educate their children and  what they must do in  order to survive every  day, and also in observing  the day to day activities  and lives of our immediate neighbors and friends – I have to say life here is not easy…if it takes work and worry to survive, then that’s not simple. The majority of folks here live day by day or, hand-to-mouth as my wife says. Fisherman fish early in the morning for today’s meals. Women and children carry containers of water daily from public wells to be used for that days bathing, cooking, or washing of clothes. I’ve seen children fetching water as an early morning chore before heading off to school. Also before school, young children may walk the village streets peddling their father’s morning catch just to earn a few pesos for today’s rice.

Selling Fish in the Rain!

Selling Fish in the Rain!

People gather up firewood for cooking their rice and meals. Clothes are washed by hand and hung out to dry – a perpetual daily chore – which becomes even more challenging during the rainy season. Many homes here have no running water and some still have no electricity. There are few houses with glass paned windows or screens and most deal with the heat, humidity, insects, and elements every day. When it rains and the roof leaks, it may not be looked at as a problem so much as it is an opportunity to catch fresh clean water. People tend to their mostly small gardens to help feed their families or generate a little income. Other families work the rice fields and farmlands. I’ve watched kids use long sticks and throw their shoes at high hanging fruit in hopes of a reward for their skill and accuracy. Many will climb trees for this food. A good majority of folks here rely on cheap public transportation and methods to meet their local transport needs. Manual labor here takes on an entirely different meaning for example, when mixing concrete, there are no cement mixing machines – it’s mostly mixed with shovels by hand – on the street. Living here is about as close as one can get to living in a true hunters/gatherer society.

So you might be thinking as a westerner, I’m not going to live like that so how could all this affect my lifestyle? Basically, many a westerner’s life’s experiences and all accquired technical knowledge can be a moot point in everday life here. Things here just don’t operate in the greasy-smooth efficient fashion that you may be accustomed to. Quite the contrary. While many things here are accomplished by totally foreign methods, things sometimes seem way more complicated than they need to be –  and it can bothersome to some expats. If one has a hard time accepting the status-quo, your “simple life” here can be, well…more complex. If you are the easy going type and can go with the flow and let things happen how they may, adjustment to life here will be easier for you. Generally speaking, your lifestyle here is what you make of it. Some will adust, some will have difficulties. Some will not be able to make the adjustment. Even when one becomes acclimated to life here, the system will break down, and when it does, you had better have some toughness to you. It will be good also if you brought some of that good-ole fashioned, turn-of-the-last-century work ethic along with you. Know this: any part of any system can and will at times fail…the power grid or the water delivery system, internet and cable TV services, interruptions to food stuff/supply deliveries, and logistics.

And then there will be storm related problems or natural disasters. Throw any bamboo stick in the fan here, and you will likely experience a major inconvenience of some sort. A westerner’s life can be easily disrrupted..that will always be a given…and events here can can turn life around 180 degrees. How well one can handle it is about as complicated as defining the term “simple life”. For example when Super Typhoon Haiyan hit last year, just the indirect problems we encountered lasted significantly longer than the initial problems we experienced from the storm itself. However, to the local residents of our village, the only real inconvenience was the lack of electricity. Other than that, life was almost normal for them with the exception of having no fans or lights. Did they adapt easily to that? Absolutely…and much better than any westerner could or did. We literally found ourselves living like the rest of the population as we “camped out” for nearly 30 days before purchasing a generator. Even then, we only restored part-time comfort and some conveniences as we could only run the generator for about 8-9 hours per day. At least we had ice and a return to cold drinks! That in itself became a “simple” luxury.

Moving right along, there will always be negative connotations to the simple life. And while this topic is in it’s own category, it never gets related in most discussion groups as to how it negatively impacts the quality of the “simple life” here. That category is Communications. When it takes a full dissertation in three-part harmony to purchase something (with a non-English speaker), life immediately becomes rather un-simplified and frustrating…for both parties. If you don’t believe me, go out to a local provincial market and try shopping for a “Fly Swatter” or a “Bungee Cord” and you will quickly discover somebody is going to get a nosebleed (filipino expression) caused by excessive thinking and or frustration. Of course, one could always send their significant other/interpreter to do all the shopping, thereby avoiding all the un-simplified consequences of not achieving their shopping goals. But how is that simple? Microwave popcorn is simple – manually making a pot of popped corn, not so much. Having a refrigerator full of food and frozen goods is simple enough, but having an extended power outage with that freezer full of frozen stuff – not so simple. Lack of communications and inconveniences can put significant strains on your simple life, especially if you are not prepared for it or if you allow it.

So now the big question presents itself like this: Is moving to the Philippines to live really a return to the simple life? The answer is not that simple and can be full of complexities. If you imagine the simple life as being able to sit back, relax, and watch TV all day or surf the internet in air conditioned comfort with popcorn and cold beer, or maybe having enough pesos (peso-nality) to throw around so that you can live like royalty, then you may be confusing the “simple life” with the “easy life,” which is an entirely different concept of living. I believe that is where all the confusion begins.

A Simple Game of Volleyball

A Simple Game of Volleyball

If anyone is seeking the easy life here, they will need plenty of money  or a  sizable income. If that someone can make the adjustment to live  a more relaxed and less materialistic lifestyle, non-dependent of  western-world conveniences and luxuries, life can still be good. And  with a little advance planning and a sufficient income, one will be able  to enjoy the good things in life when they present themselves, and  that will contribute to a more fulfilling lifestyle.

So I guess the real answer is easy: Life can be simple living here in  the Philippines…as long if you have a little money to buy some  convenience to go with it!

The following is a quote taken from renowned sales trainer, David  Knox, and modified to fit as follows:

“Some adjust, some don’t.
  Some will, some won’t.
  Those that do, do – Those that don’t, don’t.”