Would it surprise you to know that I don’t live in the U.S. any longer and I don’t miss it? It will always be my first home, but I’m not in a hurry to go back. Eight years ago, I left the United States for the Philippines. During this time, I’ve been back and forth, but mostly forth, seeking a better life.
I learned some valuable lessons.
I had the benefit of seeing what life is like outside of the echo chamber where I lived most of my life. When I left, I assumed that the States was the best place to live in the world. I held on to the mistaken belief that America was the cradle of humanity, and if you wanted to be successful in life, you had to be there to do it.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
My life was changing before I transitioned here to the Philippines. Even though I was poor but caught up in the all-you-can-eat mentality that permeated everything. I wanted what everyone else had, even knowing the only reason they could afford stuff is by maxing out their credit cards. If I had good credit, I would have bought everything they had. I would have purchased every new iPhone released. I would have bought the biggest television in Best Buy, even if it was too big for my living room. I would have worn nice clothes and drove a new car.
I dreamed of living the good life, and I would have mortgaged my future to get it.
But, as time went on, I started to see that the way I lived in America was toxic. I started reading about minimalism and living a simple life. I knew if I lived with less, and consumed less, my life wouldn’t be as complicated as it was.
I sold, donated, or trashed everything I owned. What remained was a suitcase full of clothes and documents. I also owned a laptop. I arrived in the Philippines with few possessions and a willingness to see life differently. This place was willing to teach me how to live with less and be happier than I’ve ever been.
The people of the Philippines are different than most. Most people here don’t have a lot, but they are grateful for what they do have. About a year after arriving in this country, I was standing on the side of the road, waiting for a jeepney. There, sitting in front of the sari-sari store was a group of men — construction workers — covered head-to-toe in mud. They wore a t-shirt, shorts, and slippers (flip-flops). Each of them had a small plastic sack sitting next to them. In the sack was enough rice to feed their family for the day and some dried fish. They each had enough money left over to buy themselves a Red Horse beer. One of the men looked at me and smiled. I didn’t look like I had worked 12 hours so that I could buy enough for rice for one day, but he mentioned for me to come over and sit with them and have a beer. Before I could pull out my money, they scrounged in their pockets and pulled out enough change for my bottle.
I was dumbfounded.
I sat with them for an hour and even bought the next round. The man who mentioned me over was the only one who could speak English, but I was able to get a good idea of what they were talking about the whole time. These men worked seven days a week and made 200 pesos a day ($4). They worked until their hands bled, then purchased enough food to feed their family. They had enough left to buy one beer, which they drank while they enjoyed the company of their friends. Then they went home and spent a wonderful night with their family.
I asked them if they were happy with their life. They looked at me like they didn’t understand the question for a minute, then broke out in laughter. My English-speaking friend said, “Of course we are happy — life is good!” The whole time we sat there, they all had the biggest smiles on their faces. I could tell that this simple reality gave them infinite joy.
I reconsidered my life. I felt like an idiot.
This isn’t the only time I’ve been asked to join a group of men enjoying a beer. Even though each time the introvert in me screams, I sit and share a few moments with these people who have lived a life so unlike my own. Even if I couldn’t understand a word they said I learned something.
I learned that a simple life could be rewarding too.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned to be grateful for the things that matter. I have a great family. I have food and a place to sleep. I have a car to get me where I need to go. And, even though I have some issues, I have my health.
I own a few more things now, but I would still call myself a minimalist. I don’t buy what I don’t need. Before I break out the credit card, I think about it first. I don’t make impulse buys. I buy quality items that will last a long time.
I live a simple life. There is nothing luxurious about anything I own. I like it that way.
I love my life.
My family and I have been talking about moving to the States. As much as I don’t want to go back, my wife does. A dream of hers has been to live in America, and I don’t want to deny her the chance to see how I grew up.
But, I have to say I’m a little concerned. I’m worried that our simple life won’t survive. I’m worried about our freedom. Life in America is tricky. I don’t want to get stuck back in the rat race. All it would take is someone getting sick, and we would be in debt for the rest of our lives.
Life in America is not free, as much as everyone likes to pretend they have freedom.
But, I’ll take the bad with the good. I will continue to pay my taxes as I always have. If someone gets sick, I will pay the outrageous charges from the hospital. I will vote. I will do my duty as an American citizen as I always have, even though I know the system isn’t fair.
I won’t destroy my simple life. I won’t step up to the capitalist buffet and become an out-of-control consumer. I won’t buy something I don’t need because I want to make myself look better. I won’t live a single-use lifestyle and abuse the planet in my search for the meaning of it all.
I will remember the lessons I’ve learned.
I will be happy enjoying the important things in life no matter where I live.