Marty Stano: Adventures with Minimalism and Happiness @ TEDxUMDearborn (Transcript)

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Here is the full transcript of filmmaker and traveler Marty Stano’s TEDx Talk: Adventures with Minimalism and Happiness @ TEDxUMDearborn Conference.

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Marty Stano – Filmmaker and traveler

All right. So I remember the first time I left home. I was only about five years old, and my sister and I had got into an argument; I don’t remember what about. I remember being so mad that I clenched my little fists and said, ‘That’s it! I’m running away and I’m never coming back.’

So I ran to my room and the only luggage I could find was this little red plastic briefcase, and in it, I packed all my things, stormed out the front door and traveled all the way to the end of the block. When I got there, guess what happened, I was bored.

A few minutes is a long journey for a five-year old. So I went home and started unpacking my things. And I remember my intention in that frustrated moment was to run away and never come back. And so I would assume that I had packed everything I needed to live and survive in this little red plastic briefcase. And so I don’t remember why I packed the things I did. I remember when clicking the little latches, opening it up and seeing five pairs of clean underwear. That’s all I thought I needed as a five-year old to live. Five pairs of underwear!

I was running away to a utopia world where no one can make me wear a shirt or pants. So as an adult, I still run away from home a lot. Instead of a little briefcase, I pack a backpack. And I’ve also accumulated more than just underwear, I pack my basic needs: a tent, warm clothing, a pot, food water and mini stove. I also carry things I don’t really need to live but which I enjoy, like my camera, computer and more.

Still I find it empowering to know that everything I need to live and be happy, I could carry on my own back with my own two feet. It gives me a sense of freedom, mobility. I find much happiness living simply with few things.

So I began retracing my journey to happiness and I found a pattern — a pattern by which I had been living most of my life, whether I was conscious of it or not: Minimalism. My simplest definition minimalism means less is more. One purpose of minimalism is to get rid of the things in life, the distractions that we don’t truly need, to find more of the things that bring us happiness. We can apply this idea ‘less is more’ to all aspects of our life: material possessions, health and diet, our work and non-material things like thoughts. When we practice minimalism, we could benefit with more time, more energy, more money, more freedom and ultimately more happiness.

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As a minimalist in college, I was only concerned with material things and I decided to live an experimental semester homeless. I went back the next semester and all I brought with me was a single backpack. And I packed everything I needed to learn: had all my books and then I went to the locker from the recreation center where I kept a small hamper of clothes and toiletries. I lived mostly in library studying and I would couch surf among friends, sometimes I slept in the libraries. But what I learned is that with less possessions, less distractions, fewer showers, I had my most productive semester, and I also saved a lot of money.

After college, I experimented with minimalism with my health and diet. On a whim I went to intern at two natural health and wellness centers: one in Michigan and one in Puerto Rico. And I worked in the kitchen and in the greenhouse. I didn’t make any money but I had healthy food to eat, a place to sleep, time to exercise. And I was learning a lot about nutrition and I learned how destructive our standard American diet is. And it’s based on the opposite of minimalism; it’s based on more processed foods, more meats, more dairy and less fruits and vegetables. This leads to a more consumption of fat, salt, chemicals, refined sugar, artificial additives, ingredients, all these foods and things that we don’t need that aren’t good for us.

And so for six months at these natural health institutes, I experimented with my diet. I tried eating a plant-based diet. I was eating much less to no processed foods, meat and dairy. And after about four weeks, I felt absolutely phenomenal. I felt physically different like I’ve never felt this way before. I seriously like felt high. I had been high before in real life. I had — I had these energy bars, I had all this energy, I didn’t know what to do with it. Just by changing the way I ate and I started running. And I played soccer in high school but I was never a super athlete, I never ran much. But I had all this energy. So I was running every day, every day and I felt great. And I trained for my first marathon which I ran four months later in under four hours. Thank you.

So after Puerto Rico, I went to Chile to teach English and I learned a new form of minimalism — minimalism of the non-material, with things like communication. When I first arrived, I didn’t know any Spanish. And so I had to learn to communicate with less. I would live and learn with the Chilean host family who welcomed me and treated me as a son, even though we didn’t understand each other well. I had a point, used hand signals, I would learn a few words, I learned each day. Simple tasks like taking a shower and trying to ride the bus could be very difficult.

One thing I experienced a lot in Chile was lots of kindness coming from strangers and people I’d just met. And it was difficult to not have words to communicate my gratitude. So I was smiling all the time. That’s the only way I learned: is to communicate my gratitude, I would try my best smile. And one of the hosts’ mothers of another volunteer noticed this and she said, ‘Marty is my favorite because even when he has no idea what’s going on, what’s being said or why we’re all laughing, he still smiles.’ And so I was smiling all the time, studying every day, listening, trying to understand this foreign language. And in doing so I experienced great moments of isolation and solitude from which I would learn the most important form of minimalism — minimalism of the mind.

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When I arrived in Chile, I couldn’t understand the people around me, the news, the media, all this noise that tries to tell us how to live our lives and what we should do. And the only thing I could really listen to and try to understand was myself. I became much more conscious of all these thoughts I had packed in my mind over the years. I started to ask myself: what thoughts do I really need? What thoughts are good for me? What thoughts are healthy? I started to unpack these thoughts that no longer defined me. If I was to survive the months of mental and emotional solitude ahead, I had to get rid of all the thoughts of negativity, discouragement, fear, insecurity and I had to pack the best, the most positive thoughts to sustain me.

I realized that the thoughts we pack in our minds are much more important to our happiness than anything we could pack in a backpack. So I worked on my mind with minimalism, started cleaning everything out, things I didn’t need. And with a cleaner mind I was able to ask the really important questions in life: how do we live? How do we be happy? And that’s what we all want, right? We all want to live, we all want to be happy.

So how do we practice minimalism to either discover our happiness, or improve the happiness we already have? Well, first, we have to ask these important questions: what do we truly need in life to be happy? And these questions take time. I spent several months in Chile thinking this over and I still wasn’t sure. So we prep ourselves thinking of these questions and afterwards it’s time to experiment with our own lives.

To practice minimalism, take it one step at a time. Take one thing from your life and get rid of it. Temporarily just get rid of it. Go on about your daily routine and after a while if you realize, ‘Hey, I don’t really need that one thing’, great, that’s one success, one win for minimalism. And often you’ll find you’re better, happier without it.