Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau met in 1837. Lucy Brown, who boarded at David Thoreau’s home, was the sister-in-law of Ralph Waldo Emerson. On April 9th, she introduced the two men who were destined to form a lifelong friendship. Emerson was 34 and Thoreau was a 20-year old Harvard senior. Both men were to become leaders in the transcendental philosophical movement that sprang up in the 1830’s and 1840’s, which spoke to the connection between man and nature. Perhaps the genesis of frugality comes from differentiating between wants and needs, desires and requirements.
“We make ourselves rich by making our wants few.”
Henry David Thoreau
“Can anything be so elegant as to have few wants, and to serve them one’s self?”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Frugality forms an affectionate companionship with gentleness and humility. One leads to the other and then to the other before returning again to the beginning. Lao Tzu (Laozi), a philosopher of ancient China best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching and, in tradition, the founder of philosophical Taoism, offers these words of wisdom.
“I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.”
North Vancouver Waterfront
“Labour was the first price, the original purchase – money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased.”
Adam Smith (1723-1790), a Scottish moral philosopher best known for his work entitled, “The Wealth of Nations,” said, “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790), a contemporary of Adam Smith, believed that frugality and industry were the conduits to acquiring wealth, as an individual and as a nation. “The way to wealth is as plain as the way to market. It depends chiefly on two words, industry and frugality: that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both. Without industry and frugality nothing will do, and with them everything.”
Humanity thrives on innovation and advancement. Frugality creates the opportunities in which to explore possibilities. Industry draws on dormant potential to achieve new horizons.
“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.”
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
Charles Dickens was a fierce critic of poverty and the social stratification endemic within Victorian society. Even today, we still encounter the idea of keeping up with a wealthy lifestyle. There is a subtle promise that happiness comes from buying the “niceties” of life.
John Stuart Mill, a philosopher, advocate for human rights and a contemporary of Charles Dickens once said, “I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them.” Perhaps frugality is the mechanism that helps us to live within our means and gently reminds us that happiness cannot be purchased. Happiness is already free.
Granville Island, Vancouver
“Focus on what makes you happy, and do what gives meaning to your life”
― Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
“Less is more” seems to have its genesis in the 1855 poem attributed to Robert Browning – Andrea Del Sarto. Andrea del Sarto was a Florentine painter who lived in the time of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (1886 – 1969), one of the founders of modern architecture, embraced this idea in his artistic endeavours, which has come to signify that simplicity and clarity lead to good design.
While “less is more” is really a paradox, we accept it as an absolute truth. The definition of “less” is clearly the opposite of “more.” And yet, we recognize its validity in our experience. Perhaps we can argue that frugality = “less is more.”
Vancouver Community Garden
“Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.”
Elise Boulding, a Quaker sociologist, scholar and activist, had a bold and ambitious goal to reinvent the international “global culture” by introducing a holistic, multidimensional approach to the peace process. She believed that we must turn away from consumerism and concentrate our energies on building educational communities that encourage creative and intuitive learning. Our perilously divided world requires imaginative solutions.
Frugality is a desired state because it allows us to pursue ideas and outcomes that give life meaning.