In Praise of Small Pleasures

In 1973, E. F. Schumacher published a book on economics called “Small is Beautiful.” It contradicts the mainstream economic preference for size. Even though it is a book on economics, it is also a book on spirituality. Schumacher borrowed many ideas from Buddhist economics. The link between economics and spirituality is often overlooked.

The same point should be made about pleasures. Modern life puts a high premium on big and expensive pleasure quests. I just published an article on small pleasures in the context of a comparison of three world civilizations — Indian, Chinese and Western. Among the three, only Chinese culture puts an emphasis on the small pleasures of life. Indian culture is too spiritual and otherworldly. (Modern) Western culture, on the other hand, is too materialistic. Modern people tend to swing between being a workaholic and a hedonist. The Chinese people have always been earthly and practical. Traditional Chinese culture knows the joy of small pleasures. The “Six Records of a Floating Life” was published in 1809. It offers glimpses of the small pleasures in Chinese daily life. In his book, “The Importance of Living,” Lin Yutang also mentioned the small pleasures as part of the art of living.

Our consumer culture has put us on the path of an environmental apocalypse. The endless drive to acquire more material wealth and goods has made us lose our humanity. I believe that the discovery of small pleasures can be part of the solution to our materialistic culture. As I gravitate towards retirement, I am discovering more and more small pleasures — taking photographs of nature, soulful talks with friends, reading and writing while having coffee at a quiet cafe, playing the oldies on YouTube. These are activities that cost little. Yet, they greatly enhance my contentment in life.

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Published author, Zen teacher, professor, scientist, philosopher, social commentator, socially-engaged human

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