Secrets to Being Satisfied with Less – the Best Bits from the Minimalism Documentary

I heard many good things about the Minimalism documentary (full title: Minimalism: a Documentary about the Important Things, currently available on Netflix).

So what is it all about?

The documentary primarily follows the Minimalists themselves, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemusthe, as they tour around the States promoting their book whilst explaining how they came to embrace minimalism in their lives.

Both guys had enjoyed much career success in their twenties within their corporate jobs. Each found that they were leading empty and meaningless lives. Ultimately, they were led to conclude that accumulating money and stuff wasn’t the answer to lasting happiness. No surprises there, you could say.

what I learned from the minimalism documentary


The best thing about this documentary for me was the other people it featured.

You hear from authors Sam Harris (Free Will and Waking Up), Dan Harris (10% happier), Patrick Rhone (Enough), Zen habits blogger Leo Babauta and most poignantly (for me at least), from an ex Wall Street broker named AJ.

Between them, these guys really get to the heart of what I think minimalism is about: how to reach satisfying levels of profundity and depth everyday in our relationships and our work. Levels that, for many of us, remain elusive unless and until we seriously reorganize our lives and priorities.

Minimalism isn't about stuff. It's about creating a more meaning rich everyday experience Click To Tweet

This article offers three main takeaways from the documentary participants. They may seem obvious, but I bet you’re still not doing all of them.

1. curtail your smartphone use (it’s feeding your consumer mindset)


Neuroscientist and author Sam Harris says that we unconsciously wind up measuring ourselves by unattainable yardsticks set by advertisers portraying glam and sexy lifestyles. This causes ‘immense amounts of dissatisfaction.’

“I think that we’re confused about what makes us happy. Many people think that material possessions are at the center of the bull’s eye, and they expect that gratifying each desire as it arises will somehow summate into a satisfying life.”

Needless to say, this isn’t the case.

More interestingly, Harris discusses the ruinous effects of the way we use technology now. He implies that this is what is feeding our consumerism mindset.

“We have this capacity for focus. But we are living in a context where we are continually moving from one stimulus to the next, in search of the dopamine experience where we are rewarded by the next email or the next retweet, or with the next thing that comes into our phone rather often. I think there is a price we pay for that.

“Very rarely do we do one thing. We allow ourselves to be interrupted by these streams of data in what would, in any other context, be thought of as distractions, but now we think of as necessary parts of our bandwidth.”

Harris mentions meditation as the antidote to ‘high frequency flinches’ caused by smartphone addictions.

“We’re ruminating about past and future in a way that keeps us from really connecting with the present moment in a way that values it as good enough.

“Meditation is a technique of finding wellbeing in the present moment – before anything has happened. You can be happy and satisfied simply being aware of the sensation of breathing.”

2. meditate (it’ll make you 10% happier)


Dan Harris, a journalist and news anchor, got a job at ABC at 28 years old ‘a really ambitious young guy’. In his words:

“My way of compensating for my insecurity about being such a newbie was to throw myself into the job and really become a workaholic”.

Harris says that his overall state of anxiety and depression was what led him ‘to lose it’ live on national TV during a broadcast. After that, he followed ‘a whacky and windy path that led him to something that he never thought would help him, or anyone – meditation.’

3. stop deluding yourself that you can afford to wait to make things better for yourself


The most powerful content of the documentary is delivered via AJ Leon, an ex broker. He describes an out-of-body experience he had when he was offered a promotion whilst working on Wall Street.

“How do you win? You win by the traditional monikers of success. By the number of zeros at the end of your paycheck.

My entire life became about winning with a capitol W. It became about being the guy that would be respected.

I’m making a six figure salary. I have a corner office.

And on December 31st 2007, my boss calls me into his office and he tells me that I am getting a promotion.

And this was it. This was the game changer. And everything I had ever worked for was going to be handed to me right there and then.

In banking terms, I was ‘minted’.

Leon left his boss’s office, walked into his own and started weeping because “I realized I was completely and utterly trapped. I’d never be able to walk away from that amount of money in my life. And any dream I had of living a life of purpose and meaning, and being an adventurer, being somebody that actually took risks and lived a life that was deliberate and intentional, was gone.

Maybe this was never for me to begin with.”

It’s a feeling that will be familiar to a lot of us.

From that moment, Leon decided that his life would be his. Wildly, flamboyantly his own.

When you finally live the truth that this is your one life, you'll stop wasting time on what doesn't matter Click To Tweet

He no longer works at Wall street.

AJ delivers the documentary’s money shot line:

You recognise that this life is yours and it is your one and only. When that ceases to be esoteric bullshit, when it’s not hippie poetry anymore, and the pragmatism of that statement seeps into your bones that ‘this is it’. Everything changes.



Minimalism the movement was never about stuff.

It is about how we find what’s important to us. And for a lot of us, that isn’t clothes, shoes, handbags, cars and watches. It is love, relationships, contribution, learning – and a whole load of other things that don’t cost anything.

If we really want to find out what’s important, then we have to be willing to get on healthier terms with the way we use our devices. And of course, to meditate.

And maybe even we need to be open to doing an AJ, and getting the balls to walk away from our high paid, but soul destroying jobs, for the sake of a much higher prize – a life of genuine satisfaction and freedom.