Matthew Shankel – Majuro: “Happiness in Simplicity”

A simple life. One might question if it exists. If anyone here on earth has a simple existence. So maybe simple does not mean easy but rather stripping life of its unnecessary elements. A lifestyle involving less of what we “need” and yet still living. Finding this “simplicity” in America may be difficult, as we are surrounded by people informing us of what we “need.” Discovering a happy life without various “essential” pieces of my life has been a blessing gifted from Majuro.

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What is removed to create this “simple” life?

Screens flashing all around us, seeking to pull us towards them. TV shows. Movies. Vines. Snapchat Stories. All attempting to explain why we must see this or that. Notifications ding, directing us to open our smartphones. Being unable to resist, we view the snapchat, the new followers, the likes. Oblivious to the existing world around us, whether there be family or friends around, we consume ourselves with digital lives.         Majuro snapped the wire attaching me to a digital life, with no internet to load applications, no data to connect me with the world, no internet for three weeks. Experiences spelling out the word horror for modern Americans. One step closer to a “simple” life. Happiness with this simplicity is found in a lack of distractions. Distractions preventing you from ever finishing that book; from creating meaningful conversation at dinner. Activities previously pushed out by this drive to remain attached to media.

Mouths watering as the scent of well prepared food wafts into noses. Food ready to be eaten everywhere. America has a surplus of food chains. Taco Bells, McDonald’s and restaurants line the streets. Spend a few dollars and forget wasting time in the kitchen. But what if there were no food chains? What if milk, frozen meals and restaurants became unaffordable?

Majuro forced me to consider my options. Cooking meals with cheaper ingredients became the new normal. Egg dishes, potatoes, rice, pastas and curries make up the daily sustenance. Simple meals requiring preparation may sound torturous, but the necessity gave me valuable skills. Learning to spice up meals by getting creative with what is available, finding ways to feed groups of people with homemade recipes, all abilities useful for life. Happiness is found in this simplicity as a thrown together meal tastes good and provides leftovers for the whole week.

Classes all morning. Lunch time with friends. Labs filling the afternoon. Intramurals at night. Studying until late. Any free hours left spent hanging out. College has a way of packing your schedule tight. Engagements crowd the waking hours and expectations pour their pressure on. Keeping close relationships and good grades forces a lack of sleep. Stress pries eyes open for morning classes, tension obvious in each student.

Island life lifted the weight off my back. I found myself with hours of free time and enough sleep. I missed close friendships and being busy. However, simplicity in scheduling gave me freedom to pursue hobbies or old dreams laid to rest. Time to lesson plan, to make plays for the basketball team. Time to develop relationships with fellow missionaries, church members, and students. Happiness has been discovered in these connections and made Majuro a home for me. A place of peace, freedom and community.

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Majuro whittled many excessive “needs” from my life and left me to put it back together. It has created a simple existence. Not to say it has left holes in daily living but created growth where necessary. Forced me to discover happiness in simplicity. A happiness in little pieces of life such as: being able to talk at dinner with no distractions, excitement over a meal turning out well, time well spent in conversations with students and locals. I encourage everyone to “simplify” their lives, find happiness and discover the growth.

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This short essay was written by Matthew Shankel, a student missionary from Walla Walla University who is currently serving as a 4th grade teacher in Majuro, Marshall Islands.

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