Life is easy. Why do we make it so hard?

Kangchenjunga Himalayas

A few years ago I sat in an auditorium listening to David Graham tell the tale of how he, his son, and a family friend were the first Canadians to summit the peak of Pathangtse in the Nepalese Himalayas.

One of the stories he told has stuck with me to this day.

The mountains in the Himalayas are tall and the altitude at the base of them is high to start. The air is thinner, which means there is less oxygen to breath, making climbing there more challenging and physically exerting. As David Graham and his team were climbing their chosen route, it gradually became more technical and difficult. Until finally they reached a section of the climb that appeared beyond daunting, but overwhelming.

One of the Sherpas that was leading the expedition wore a smile everywhere he went. David described this man as enchanting. Whenever their route became harder he would encourage the others with a smile and say, “It’s easy.”

At this point in the route David looked at this man, expecting now he would admit that the challenge ahead was not easy but potentially deadly. Instead, he smiled at David and said calmly, “It’s easy, we’ll need to take it slower.”

David experienced an epiphany from this man. Life doesn’t have to be hard. It is really how we perceive it. This epiphany was clearly contagious because as he shared it I too experienced that moment of enlightenment.

I had recently launched a startup with my brother and friend Art. In the months and years that followed I had many opportunities to make this Sherpa’s approach to problem solving my approach. Often I was asked by the team if the task ahead would be difficult. I enjoyed responding that it was easy, it would just take time. It’s hard to know for certain, but it may very well have been the lessons learned from this talk that accounted for the amount of technical hurdles that we overcame in the first few years as a startup business.

David Graham and  Finbar O'Sullivan Mt. Pethangtse climb.

Fast forward 5 years. Surfing Youtube I stumbled upon a video entitled, “Life is easy. Why do we make it so hard?” by Jon Jandai.

This remarkable talk reminded me of the story I just told you. In the video Jon Jandai describes his life growing up in a poor village in northeastern Thailand. It wasn’t until they got TV that his village suddenly realized they were poor.

To overcome his newly discovered poverty he moved to Bangkok, to work hard and earn a living. However, after moving there and working hard everyday he had very little to show for it. His diet was terrible and he lived in a cramped accommodation. He decided that he needed to make an improvement so he attended university. But university was hard, “because it’s very boring.”

Jon explains that he had a realization at university, “We were taught to make life complicated and hard all the time … but we don’t know how to make it easy anymore.”

So he decided to simplify his life. He moved home and started growing rice instead. He grew 4 tons of rice and it took only 2 months of work. He didn’t need all the food so he sold the rest at the market. He made a pond and now has fish for food year round. He’s since gone on to build a beautiful home with his own hands and has no debt. His friend, one of the smartest people in university, just built a home as well. However, he is in debt for 30 years to pay it back. The way Jon looks at it is that he now has 29.5 more years of free time compared to his friend.

Jon has many profound insights in his talk, one of which probably deserves it’s own blog post, “The four basic needs: food, house, clothes and medicine must be cheap and easy for everybody. That is civilization. But if you make these four things hard for many people to get, that is uncivilized.”

The biggest takeaway from Jon Jandai’s talk is that life does not need to be as complicated as it’s made to be. Jon said, “Now when you look around everything is so hard to get. So I feel like now is the most uncivilized era of humans on this earth. We have so many educated people and our life is getting harder and harder.” I realized that what Jon was saying is true. It’s easy to become absorbed by the demands of life and lose sight of the ease of a simple one. As I looked away from the screen of my computer towards my yard and aging fence I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation.

David Graham learned from his Himalayan guide that a challenging climb can be an easy one. Jon Jandai’s outlook is much the same. A challenging life can be an easy one.

I leave you with this last statement of Jon Jandai, “Now I try to become normal, but people look at me like I’m abnormal. Crazy people. But I don’t care because it’s not my fault – it’s their fault, because they think like that. My life is easy and light now.”

How to change your life without changing anything, the scientific way

adding the outdoors to your life

Every year I look forward to the winter snowfall, the reason is that I love to ski, but that all changed about 8 years ago. My friend was teaching me how to ride a dirt bike. A passion of his. Sadly I shattered my knee.

The bike was a two stroke and my friend was riding ahead of me. I was going up a hill when the belt caught, the front wheel lifted and my knee was driven into a rock as I lost control.

For the next two seasons I sat on the sidelines as my leg healed. Losing the ability to ski, bike, run, walk… taught me how much I took for granted. Fortunately my knee did heal but the lesson has remained.

adventure quote

Recently I learned a second lesson. A friend of my wife and I was sharing how every morning and evening she says 5 things that she’s thankful for. What a great idea! So for the last 3 weeks or so I’ve been doing this as well. In the next bit I will share what I’ve learned.

Before we get into that, Robert A. Emmons published a fascinating study on sleep and gratitude in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. People were asked to keep a gratitude journal everyday for 2 weeks. The subjects were able to fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and feel more refreshed in the morning.

I didn’t know about this study when starting this, but I’ve experienced a similar effect. I’ve also noticed that I have more energy after work.

At first it felt kind of weird saying 5 things I was thankful for. In fact it felt so weird that I had to force myself to do it at first.

Today I heard a guy talking about the fact that so often we look to people that we aspire to be like and we spend our time focusing on that, rather than looking at our own lives and realizing that there are some people who would love to be like us.

Not only can I relate to that statement, but it’s the very thing I’ve been thinking about. As I’ve continued saying things that I am thankful for I’ve noticed that my appreciation for the things in my life has increased. I like driving my car more … I’m amazed that I get to live where I do … you get the point.

But not only that, the other day I saw a reflection of my wife and I driving and a thought popped into my brain, “I want to be like those people”. Again it’s a weird thought, it’s strange even to write about it. But really how cool is that! To want to be like you are.

We live on this amazing planet. Everyday is a gift. So I want to leave you with this thought. There are people around the world who want to be just like you. Who want to live where you live and hangout with people like yourself. By saying 5 things you are thankful for everyday you can live a better, more fulfilled life, and you don’t need to shatter your knee to do it.