For some, minimalism appears to be a relatively recent concept. Perhaps cooked up in a Scandinavian design studio or in Silicon Valley. However, minimalism actually has deep roots in schools of philosophy that are thousands of years old.
Whilst Buddhism is certainly one such source, possibly the most direct ancestor was Stoicism, an ancient Greek school of philosophy. Stoic ideas have greatly helped me refocus my ideas about the world by articulating wisdom that is true and valuable, regardless of time or culture.
One of the key foundations of the Stoics is to learn to fully appreciate the things that we already have and be truly grateful for their presence. If we learn to thoroughly value what we already own, then we will ease our desire for more.
Of course, in the modern world, full of advertising and sales, people are taught the opposite—to always want more. The problem with this is what’s known in psychology cycles as hedonic adaption. We work extremely hard to fulfill a desire, initially getting some satisfaction, but soon enough, we adapt to its presence and no longer find it as desirable as we once did. We end up caught in a loop of dissatisfaction with no expiration date.
The Stoics understood that in order to break free of this loop, they could practice negative visualization. They would imagine losing their most loved possessions. Their family, their money and their health—all lost.
Visualization of this kind can makes us bulletproof to any eventuality because, in our minds, the worst has already occurred. From then onwards, we can only see the positive actions and potential in the world. We are protected from the naive and at peace with our current situations. We can appreciate everything.
Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.
—Stoic Philosopher King Marcus Aurelius