The COVID 19 pandemic has ravaged many parts of the world, most notably Northern Italy, Spain and New York. But in many other areas, like California where I live, the effects have been far less severe. In fact, I keep reading about people who are actually enjoying life in quarantine. How could that be?

I believe it’s because those people have been forced to simplify their lives. Peoples’ focus has been reduced to getting enough food to eat and staying safe, the only two things our hunter-gatherer ancestors concerned themselves with 100,000 years ago! There’s a deeply felt comfort when these ingrained, primordial needs take center stage.

Sushi, shoes and jets

What has quarantine life prevented? The many “extras” we all think we need to be happy. Going out for sushi. Shopping for shoes. Jetting around the country on business trips or vacations.

Pursuing our every desire has been forcibly replaced by simpler living. In addition to eating and staying safe, it’s walks. Board games. Reading. Face Timing with friends and family.

This quarantine is a monumental gift from the heavens…if humanity plays it right.

Why? Well, you could make the argument that the biggest cause of human unhappiness is wanting too much. Desiring too much.

Try this experiment

Don’t believe me? Next time you feel awful, try this experiment. Say to yourself, “Am I wanting too much right now?” The answer is almost always yes. Identify what you’re wanting, then say to yourself, “I don’t need anything. Other than a roof over my head and some food.” Then feel yourself unclench inside, the anxiety melting away.

Many may say, “That’s crazy. You have to want things. Life would be boring if we didn’t want anything.”

Wrong. Life is absolutely fantastic, fulfilling and energized when you cut down on desire and live more simply.

My simple, happy parents

My parents were a great example of this. Mom grew up poor in Milwaukee so life was pretty simple from day one. Dad also grew up with little. They got married and had a great life, pumping out six good kids (I’m #6).

About twenty years into their marriage my dad became a Fortune 500 CEO. And it didn’t change either of them one bit. They drank Gallo jug wine until the end.

Want to know what my dad used to make himself for lunch on weekends when he was Mr. Big? Caviar on toast points? Foie gras pate? Steak sandwich? No. He’d slap a couple hunks of Swiss cheese between two pieces of rye bread. That’s it. No mayo. No mustard. He’d wash it down with a Pabst beer.

My mom also kept life simple. She rarely shopped for clothes. Her extravagant lunch consisted of sliced green peppers on wheat bread. I remember this distinctly. Why? Because the crunching sound she made chewing those green peppers used to drive me crazy.

My mom’s fake jewelry fake out

My favorite was what my mom did with jewelry. My parents would go to glitzy fundraising events in Los Angeles with the top business leaders. The rich wives would come up to my mom and say, “Oh, Darlene, that bracelet is beautiful!” And my mom would just smile and thank them. What these women didn’t know is that she was wearing costume jewelry that cost ten bucks. Had it been real it would have been worth six figures.

Fine, so my parents were simple and frugal even though they had plenty of money. But that would be pointless if they were both miserable. They weren’t. They led great lives and felt incredibly fortunate, largely because they kept their desires to a minimum.

Buddhism’s main teaching

Does all this sound farfetched? Don’t take it from me. The Buddha himself, one of the great spiritual teachers in human history, made this idea the central tenet of Buddhism.

The Four Noble Truths, the foundation of Buddhism, basically boils down to this: Life is suffering; suffering is caused by desire; if you eliminate desire, you eliminate suffering. That’s pretty much it.

Exploit this opportunity

The bottom line on all this? An enormous opportunity has been presented to the millions of people out there, especially in America, who have learned that having less has given them so much more.

The key is to realize this and then fight like hell to keep it going when this quarantine winds down. Keep walking. Getting out in nature. Playing board games with your kids. Face Timing with friends on the other side of the country.

Keep it simple. You’ll be happier.