Transform 2012 Speaker

Happiness: Air, Water, Food, Sleep, Movement

UMR Student Writer Lauren SmithGuest Post by Senior University of Minnesota-Rochester Student, Lauren Smith


Flabbergasted, awe-struck, impressed; those were my feelings after the presentation from the designer and researcher J. Paul Neeley. To me he is the man who has given up everything that I could never imagine living without. I commend him for the research and discoveries he has made regarding what makes for true happiness in life. The definition of happiness between the two of us would be drastically different; however, I feel that he has found a long lasting version of it. If I were to describe happiness I would think Christmas surrounded by the ones I love all eating good food and opening presents. It might be going shopping for new clothes to wear out on a date night. Or maybe going out late at night to a restaurant with my close girlfriends and chatting and gorging on food and drinks till it closes.

Life is revolved around being happy. Every decision that an individual makes takes into account how happy, or unhappy, it will make them. But, are modern day technologies inhibiting our abilities to be happy and life a full life? Neeley states, “I realized that much of our modern world and technology is actually antithetical to our happiness.” If so why are we burdening ourselves with such depressive material objects and technologies?

While my previous descriptions of happiness may sound fun and enjoyable, they would never be allowed under the strict daily regime and healthy lifestyle that Neeley has developed. He has spent an exorbitant amount of time and research to perfect the lifestyle that would allow him to obtain optimal happiness. Neeley was able to break down happiness into several parts: air, water, food, sleep, movement, and material possessions. All of these are basic evolutionary needs that impact happiness. He was able to study most optimal forms of each category that would provide him with the most happiness, such as how early should he go bed or wake each morning or how many shirts would be too many?

Neely stood before the Transform Symposium audience this past September and described his findings in a relaxed manner and at ease with himself, almost like he was emanating happiness and nirvana. Owning only several articles of clothing, eating a strict diet, and following an intense sleep schedule sounds like a nightmare, but after watching his presentation I began to think about how inconveniencing my life is with all the extra clutter and hectic sleep patterns. Would I ever be as happy as Neeley with all the crap I have accumulated in life and the daily actions I am making? In all honestly the shirt I bought last week has not provided me with any more happiness than I had before. And that greasy, fatty burger I ate last night has only made me, and my stomach, more upset after I ingested it. Should we all revert to a basic sense of living?

I talk to so many people who realize they can't remember ever experiencing anything like this. If this is the case there is something wrong about how we are doing things. It's crazy to me that this is all stuff that we know! We know as a society we should sleep more, we know we should eat better, we know drinking isn't good for us, etc, but we don't act on this knowledge. I quickly realized how hard it is to live in our modern world and optimize for our evolutionary basics. In many ways we've actually created a world that is antithetical to happiness!

Neeley could not have better described the frenzied, stressful, and, at times, extremely crazy world that has been created. With his simple outfit and genuine smile, Neeley stood before the audience speaking of his discovery of true happiness; something I can guarantee everyone in the conference room was jealous of. Neeley gave up so much in his life, including all the useless material objects, but in return was able to gain so much more.

Now, I understand that normal human beings with a demanding job and a family to provide for are not able to go to the lengths like Neeley to find happiness. There has to a happy medium; one where an individual can increase their happiness levels. It may not be the optimal level, but increasing happiness even slightly is better than nothing.