The Simple Lifestyle

Henry David Thoreau’s timeless tome Walden speaks to us today at least as much it did to the readers of Thoreau’s time. While some of its language could understandably use an update the book’s principles are as timely as ever. In fact, author Robert Sullivan writes in The Thoreau You Don’t Know that Thoreau’s message was written during a time very similar to our own.

“It’s important to think about the economic climate. As the country reeled from market forces, as the gap between rich and poor widened, as people strained to make a living and saw their social and family life begin to change as a result, Thoreau was about to give a very practical answer to the question that Emerson asked, the question that was not just on the mind of philosophers past and present but on the mind of the country: ‘How shall I live?’”

For readers past and present Thoreau answered the question himself in Walden. “My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there, but to transact some private business with the fewest obstacles…I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Elsewhere Thoreau wrote of “sucking the marrow out of life” rather than having the life sucked out of him…or living a life that sucks! But he was quick to state he wasn’t necessarily suggesting that others copy his lifestyle by retreating to the woods as he had. Rather it was an overall philosophy of simple living that he espoused and encouraged others to emulate.

As Sullivan reminds us: “Walden takes the long way around on purpose, making it in itself representative of Thoreau’s life. With the book, he was not suggesting everyone live as he did at the pond, or as he ever did at Concord: ‘I would not have any one adopt MY mode of living on any account.’” As with so much of life, simplicity is as much caught as taught. And what Thoreau was trying to communicate was the need for all of us to consider simplifying our lives, whatever that looks like for each of us.