This is my column in today’s Greenville News.  I hope you enjoy it.

If you learn anything from children it’s their innate understanding of simple pleasures.  Case in point:  I looked outside the living room one recent cold, blustery day, to find my children waving plastic grocery bags on the end of sticks, trying to see how far they could fly them.  I’ve purchased kites before.  They ran a little, pulling the kite-string higher.  Then they simply and suddenly lost interest.  But a bag?  Yippee!

Over the years, I used this realization when buying gifts.  Few things are better to any child than an inexpensive flashlight, a matchbox car, a cheap stuffed animal.  My second son, Seth, has a pocket always full of simple delights.  Empty his pockets in the laundry-room on any given day and out will fall a screw-driver, a pocket-knife, two compasses, a rock and a key.  What does the key open?  We have no idea; neither does he.  But it’s a key, and it’s interesting.  None of these things require batteries or complex manuals.  Yet they delight.

Many days we head off into the woods near our house; my four intrepid explorers and I, just to see what we can see.  (As an added bonus, our ‘walk-abouts’ give Mama a chance to have a quiet house for a while.)  We find fallen trees across creeks, in which shiny quartz shimmers in the shafts of light that probe the water.  We may find the dens of animals, scrapes or rubs from deer, ground scratched by turkeys.  Once, one of the kids leaned against a hollow tree and out flew an owl, awakened from his mid-day rest.

As a bonus of our exploration, we get to enjoy watching our five dogs experience their own simple delights.  They chase one another, then chase some poor, surprised creature that we never see.  They return and collapse by our sides.  They splash in the springs and lap up the water on the cool winter days.  Their presence is a simple gift.

But simplicity doesn’t just live in the forest.  It’s bean-soup in a warm kitchen.  It’s a card game where parents and kids all laugh out loud.  Simplicity is a movie and a fire.

Simplicity is holding my wife’s hand in church and enjoying lunch with her afterward.  It’s a cup of hot tea on an icy evening.  Simplicity is the car radio, its music still free, still delightful after all these decades.  It’s being thankful for the job I have when I drive away in the morning, conscious of the fact that many would be happy to any job at all.

The reason I’m saying all this is that we need more simplicity.  Largely because, as a nation, we can’t seem to afford much else.  We should have learned this ages ago, but we were seduced, in a way, by complexity.  We came to believe that we needed more, and then we accepted that more required credit, and a little credit became a lot, and over time, a lot became nothing.  All our complexity brought us empty savings accounts, defaulted mortgages and a degree of debt the world has never seen.  What do we do?

One of my favorite sayings in medicine is ‘don’t just do something, stand there!’  Read it again and let it sink in.  In the practice of medicine it’s extremely important to learn this.  Sometimes, we need to just stand back and watch; let the illness declare itself, or run its course, without trying to ‘fix’ it right away.  Pay attention for the simple answer.

I’m no economist.  I have my opinions about what’s going on nationally.  I won’t give them here, today.  But I do know that as families and individuals, maybe we need to learn the value of not doing things; at least not complicated, expensive ones.  Not for a while.

Maybe we need to learn to save more money, require less electronics, drive the same old cars, put the money in retirement or savings accounts and leave it be.  Maybe we just need to stay home and let the kids shine flashlights at each other in the night, laughing and playing tag.

What I mean is that we need to just do simple things with the people we love; cheap, priceless things, like eating together, walking together, sitting with the dogs and flying grocery bags on the spring wind.

Complexity is so expensive!  But simplicity is an endlessly valuable bargain by comparison.

What can we do collectively?  Very little.  But individually, we can simplify.  And only good can come of that.

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