On Living Countercultural Lives


“Money won’t make you happy, but everybody wants to find out for themselves.” —Zig Ziglar

We live in a culture that begs us to conform. Through its various messages, it calls us to squeeze into its mold. It exerts external pressure on our minds to believe in and buy its opinions, hopes, and aspirations. Yet, the pursuits that define most of our culture never fully satisfy our heart and soul.

In response, the world will tell us to just run faster, reach further, work harder, make more, and become conformed more deeply. But its promised offer of fulfillment always remains out of reach. Our deepest longings are left unsatisfied.

Unfortunately, through this vicious cycle, we lose our uniqueness. We lose our passion. We lose our energy. We lose our opportunity to choose a different future. And because we are too busy chasing the wrong things, we sacrifice our opportunity to find something greater and more fulfilling in this life.

Meanwhile, our heart begs us to live differently. Our spirit calls us to seek our own passions. Our soul cries out for us to not conform. Our insides long for us to live countercultural lives. But all too often, the external pressure from the world calls us back into conformity. And we reenter the race. How then do we break free?

Are there steps we can take to live countercultural lives?

First, we can admit that there must be more. We can come to a point where we realize that there is more to life than what the world is peddling. We admit that we have foolishly bought what the world is selling… and our lives are still empty. Possessions have not brought happiness. Money has not provided security. Popularity and power have not satisfied. And sex has not brought love. The answers clearly do not lie in a life conformed to the unoriginal culture of our day.

Second, we can limit culture’s messages into our lives. The calls for conformity enter through our eyes and ears, take room in our mind, and force out the pleas surfacing from within our soul. While we can never remove the external pressure completely, we can limit their opportunity for impact. We can watch less television. We can flip through fewer ads. We can worship fewer celebrities. We can find more silence. And as we begin to reduce the noise from the outside, we open space in our mind to hear from the inside.

Third, we can listen more to our heart. In the absence of external noise, we find more opportunity to intentionally search our heart. We find the space to allow our soul to speak and cry out for its desires. We hear best in solitude, meditation, and self-examination. But be advised, this is difficult at the beginning. We are rarely flattered with what we find at first. We must face the hard truth that we have wasted most of our lives chasing the wrong things. We are humbled at how easily we believed culture’s false promises. But keep listening. The look back is necessary, but short.

Fourth, we can pursue our newfound passions. To complete the process, we must realign our lives to seek our heart’s truest desires. If our lives do not intentionally chart a course in this new direction, they will eventually revert back to their original state. But be assured that you don’t need to know every step of the journey ahead, you only need to know the first one… however small it may be.

Nobody can tell you where your heart will lead. Your soul must speak for itself. But rarely will it ask for more money, possessions, fame, or power. It will usually ask for something far more countercultural than those.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Great post, and very timely for me. I have been thinking a lot lately about how I really want to live my life, and I have been surprised to discover how much of what I thought was what I wanted has in fact only been what I thought was expected of me. I’m still struggling with these exterior expectations, but I am trying my best to find my own voice amongst all the others, and follow my own path. Thankyou for the inspiration I found in this post!

    • Amy says

      Me too! I love my home but when snooty friends come over I look at it critically… Through their eyes and I begin to despise what I otherwise love. It shouldn’t be that way. I love my famy, art books and cats…who cares if my home isn’t magazine worthy? It’s filled with love and depth!

      • Heather says

        I agree! I love our home and the coziness of it. Certain people have a way about them that gets me feeling self-conscious about it. I’m glad there are blogs like this one to encourage me and remind me of what is truly important. Thank you!

  2. says

    Fantastic post, Joshua. Gosh our brains think on ridiculously similar wave lengths, though I trust yours is more wise and experienced than mine, thus why I so often connect and am impacted by your posts.

    It’s funny… the last few years I’ve been moving through all those steps and I’ve been teetering between step 3 and 4 for a bit now, and just recently leapt (albeit reluctantly) into what I think is step 4. I’ll post about this as soon as I can put it all “out there,” but in the mean time it is really reassuring to read that it seems I’ve taken the right path to where I’m about to be and that makes me less reluctant.

    Living counter culturally is a must for me… with the effort put toward making what is currently counter cultural, soon cultural. My intent is not to be different, my intent is to live in what is good, be it counter or not. And scary though it may be, the closer you get to step four, the more sweet, and invigorating and joyful it becomes. I’m nearly there… for now at least.

  3. says

    Thanks for the great post, Joshua. So true that to hear from the inside, we have to block cultural noise that comes at us from the outside. I like what you say about originality and creativity. It’s bizarre that one of our culture’s messages is that we can express our uniqueness by means of what we purchase. Huh? Obviously not true, but…so “easy”!

  4. dave peters says

    we are basically spiritual beings with bodies. we need to focus on the spiritual and the physical will take care of itself. d

  5. Elizabeth says

    I really appreciate what you write. Sometimes I find the pictures you use to be a bit creepy, like today, a blonde with a big giant smile. Not quite sure what that has to do with living in a counter culture. There’s enough substantial material in your writing that you don’t even need pictures. Yes, a lot of substantial material.

    • says


      I so appreciate your comment! Nearly everytime I pick a photo I worry if somebody is not going to like it. Thanks for confirming one of my biggest blogging fears. My personal worry is too often selecting women that fit into a culture-driven stereotype. Unfortunately, I have found a 3:1 (women:men) ratio on stock photo websites and most of those women are squarely in the middle of previously mentioned stereotype. I do try hard to include men on at least 25% of the posts.

      That being said, I do spend energy and resources trying to select photos that add to the words of the post. Images can communicate thoughts and emotions much faster than words. Color helps draw in eyes and attention. And addds to the first impression for visitors. That’s why I use them and will probably continue to do so.

      In this particular post, an image was selected that I thought helped to communicate authentic joy in life.

      • Randy says

        Perhaps photos of nature would be as effective? I have been de-cluttering and de-owning. Yesterday I tackled the big cedar chest packed full of treasures that I had collected over the years. I was surprised that I was able to immediately part with 95% of the items. It was such a good feeling!

      • Robin says

        Joshua, LOVE the change of photo. I agree about a photo being an important first impression. This new photo drew my attention immediately, and is calming in its beauty and simplicity.

      • pat says

        I love the photo! It drew me in instantly.. there is a reason the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is so often repeated. I thought the photo perfectly illustrated the entire post… the beauty of being unique.

  6. says

    Fantastic article.
    Particularly like the idea of ‘limiting culture’s messages into our lives’.

    It meshes well with one of the themes on my own blog http://www.nextstarfish.com, and If you’re interested I’d be very grateful if I could use it as a guest post in the near future ?

    I think it’s a message everyone needs to hear more.

  7. says

    No, James Franklin Johnson, he didn’t write this just for you, he wrote it just for ME, ME, ME! (joking) Now that’s impressive writing – to seem to be speaking directly to so many of your readers. Slightly awestruck by that kind of ability.

    Seriously, this has chimed so perfectly with my personal struggles right now – as I pursue a life which others don’t quite understand – for instance, minimalism, “where’d all your stuff go? have you been burgled?”, and writing because it’s not a proper job, doncha know?, and giving up consumerism “but don’t you worry about depriving your son?”

    I hate to admit it, but up until very recently I sought the approval of others way more than I trusted my own judgement. The life I’m living right now is my authentic path, I know that, but approval is a little thin on the ground. And sometimes it’s hard to hold on to what I truly believe I’m here for when the world around me looks on in mild disappointment (I got ‘Funny, I always thought you’d be a high-achiever’ the other day. That was nice…). Thanks so much for this post.

    • says

      I’d like to reply to your story, because I can really relate to that! The hardest part is not ‘getting on the road to authenticity’ but staying there. When at birthday parties, work or other social obligations (yes I just called (parts of) my work a social obligation I’m aware of that haha) it get’s tough to hold on to one’s believes.

      Especially that feeling that people look down on you is pretty jucky. I’ve been called ‘lacking ambition’ and other words, and that I used to be more ‘fiery and passionate’ Don’t get me wrong, I’d love my fiery self back, but I need the fire in the right track, my track, and not someone else’s.

      As you might expect, it was very reassuring for me to read both this article and your reply, thanks Rebecca! Know that you – and all the others looking for their true voice – have my full support from the other side of the ocean ;)

  8. dave peters says

    i had people accusing me of trying to show off my “poverty”.
    make no mistake, minimalism, especially “extreme minimalism” (minimumism or min) is un American. d

  9. says

    I just have to say that I loved that quote!
    It really hits a point, thank you for sharing it. I have already mentioned it to my colleagues and they agreed, it is brilliant.

  10. j perry says

    There is no happiness in things. Notice what is front of you and realize the flow.
    If you would just let go of expectations and desires your greatest dreams will come true.

  11. mel says

    I love love loved this article!

    (And I’m with those who believe your accompanying stock photos are unnecessary.)

  12. Imprecise Title says

    Great article! But judging from the title, it could be about:
    1) The benefits of countercultural living
    2) Where to find counterculture
    3) How to listen to your soul (what this article is about)
    4) How to minimize the priority of fitting in
    5) How to prevent society from intervening in your pursuit of what you find important, without being an a-hole.

  13. says

    I loved your blog and insights. Having followed nothing but my heart for the last 5 years I know totally understand where you are coming from.

    Its a great pleasure to meet others on this journey and totally enjoy reading about your particular journey.

  14. Debbie says

    I love the post and hope it encourages more people to seek out who they really are and stop being a copy of the culture. I have struggled to live counterculture for a really long time. The most difficult part of it is feeling like I am all alone out there. It wasn’t too bad when it was just my husband and me, but now with kids, it is more difficult to avoid a lot of it. The worst is trying to connect with other parents when their conversation topics are more concerned with shopping experiences and excessive birthday parties. I’d love to see a post on dealing with that!

  15. Ute K. Mercado says

    “And as we begin to reduce the noise from the outside, we open space in our mind to hear from the inside.”
    Simply brilliant.

  16. Happy Annie says

    Great post ! Just a comment on the accompanying photos Joshua: I like photos that are in harmony with the subject matter of a post. You must have changed this one because I see a bright red rose in the midst of a golden field. A perfect photo for this topic! I find that I like photos that are of landscapes, animals, children and still life photos. I also like photos of families, couples and single adults if the photos are thpughtful and go with the article. I think you usually do a very good job. And I love the coffee mug photos :)

  17. Patricia C. says

    I love this. So well expressed. One of your best that I’ve read. I’ll be sharing this with others close to me to explain where my life is headed these days.
    Thank you.

  18. says

    Thank you. It’s that simple. Thank you for sharing! Also, I love listening to you in the podcast universe. I’ve been simplifying, decluttering, donating and tossing out stuff. With every giant Hefty bag that goes out the door, I feel our family
    Getting a little bit lighter. Thank you. It’s like the chicken and the egg. Am I simplifying by decluttering or am I decluttering by keeping it simple. Either way, it’s been a slow and steady process but doing it with purpose, intention and a grateful heart makes it all much more fun. Grateful changes everything!

  19. says

    of course, in a perfect world, everyone could “follow their heart, listen to their soul.” Unfortunately many of us had to work very hard to even survive. Your post is very idealistic and not very realistic. Also, just wondering why you always have to have your photo? ego thing i think. and, i don’t have to worry about you answering this because my guess is you don’t read these posts.

    • Layne says

      I have followed my heart and listened to my soul since I was a child, much to the chagrin of my mother who was all about what people think of her and her life. She was miserable in every aspect of her life, while I let things go. She struggled in life just to survive, but I struggle in life just to survive as well. I work hard; she worked hard. They are not mutually exclusive. This post is very realistic in that who we are needn’t be attached to income or how hard we work. At the end of her life she confided in me that she wished I was her mother after watching me mother my two kids, who I did not reinforce conformity, but who were allowed to follow their interests. We were not free spirit, unwashed hippies, just a family that was relaxed and accepting of those who think differently. They are now 19 and 22 struggling with life, but without the burden of conformity or trying to ‘fit in’ to be happy. She always said, “I don’t know where you came from” as I was so different than what she tried to beat into me at times.

  20. Devon says

    Great piece! Beautifully written and the message is clear and resonant!

    I’ve been working towards minimalism for the past 4 years. My family thinks I’m a bit weird but they seem to be accepting it with time (they are family, after all). But a lot of friends are very resistant and as a result, have definitely distanced themselves from me. I know in some cases we’ve probably grown apart a bit, but I don’t really see why other than the minimalist perspective and my resistance to (typical) American consumerism. I know what makes sense for me and I wish that people would simply accept that (I don’t force minimalism on anyone although I do, when appropriate, talk about how great it is).

    Being part of the counter-culture can be a bit lonely. It’s nice to see so many people on this site who have similar perspectives. Thanks for the great post!

  21. says

    We are knee deep in this right now as we just moved our family of four onto a boat and live docked at a small island in the Pacific Northwest. We are finding that as we venture further down this past away from mainstream culture, there is this beautiful peace that exists that we are only beginning to feel. The hardest part was making the initial leap.


  22. says

    I love this. Sounds a lot like Paul in his letter to the Romans, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Living against the culture has been a challenge for over 2,000 years. Thank you for your beautiful thoughts.

  23. Carol says

    This might be the most fulfilling article I have ever read. It beautifully explains what I have going through for the last 5 years. That thoughtful silence leads to tiny steps towards our souls desire and that the soul never asks for more money or possessions. Perfect read for today. I look forward to your posts every day. Very refreshing.

  24. says

    So nice to not feel alone in wanting to do nearly EVERYTHING the opposite of what everyone around us is doing. We have no TV, we homeschool, we dont buy “stuff”, we dont do birthday parties for our children, we dont do organized sports, we dont complain about our spouse/children/family.

    What do we do…..we are happy, loving, kind, thoughtful, minimalistic, enjoy the simple things, we do what makes us happy regardless of what others think.

    Why do we do this? So we can make memories together as a family. In 3 days we leave to ride 800 miles on our bikes (yes, with our children) through British Columbia. THAT is what we do!

  25. Anonymous says

    I really hope you see this comment.

    I can see that you have touched many, many other lives with this and other posts. I just wanted to say that yesterday I made the difficult decision to try to stick to the whole suburban ideal, as soulless as it may be.

    My reason for doing so was that I feel pulled in two different directions: living an authentic life, which can SOMETIMES be countercultural but not always, and doing what society expects of me and my family. The pressure from my coworkers, social contacts and others has been intense to conform and toe the line. But it JUST doesn’t feel right.

    I have never felt so conflicted about anything in my whole life.

    Because I was moving from one to another, often within hours, I have not accomplished much in either direction.

    However, after seeing this post pop up on my Facebook newsfeed, I feel strengthened and encouraged to pursue the soulful existence that I truly, deeply want.

    I really hope you see this comment because your writing changed my life.

  26. Ella says

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insights on minimalist living. Your posts are always so very interesting and thought provoking. I don’t care what pictures you use….this is YOUR blog, not mine, and I am happy that you share.

  27. says

    “But be assured that you don’t need to know every step of the journey ahead, you only need to know the first one… however small it may be.

    Beautiful! Inspiring post, good reminder, and love the 4 steps you mention. I also believe and am starting to experience how living more in line with your heart is connected to being less attached to material things. The more I do what I love, the more I want to live with less stuff!

    Thank you, you are inspiring!

  28. Suzanne Pontius says

    I am between #3 and #4. We gave away our TV more than a year ago–I have no regrets–and we don’t get a lot of magazines. I am going to have to rethink the amount of time I spend on the computer.
    I have retired from my library job and my project these days is to clean out the house that we have lived in for 28 years so we can move to something smaller in a new location. I have been feeling restless for about 3 years now, but it is not as easy to pull up stakes when one of us still has to work and two of our sons still live with us while going to college.Admittedly, I haven’t quite figured out my new passions, except for reading and getting rid of stuff.

  29. says

    Hi Joshua
    I’ve been following your writings for about a year now and have become totally committed to a life of minimalism.
    I live in Italy (www.cathscache.blogspot.it) but have just spent 5 weeks in Australia and was devastated with the consumerism culture there. I have never noticed it before and can only assume that the country lifestyle I have in Italy and the Italian culture itself have allowed me to see this for the first time. My family and most other Australians spend all of their spare time shopping. I was bored silly in shops and walked around them for the first time noticing that every piece of what was around me was created to feed our culture of government and corporate greed. Quite simply, I think it all comes down to that.
    What do you think?

  30. says

    My wife and I joke that we have quietly become counter-cultural hippies.

    It started with homeschooling. Then self-employment. Then selling our house and traveling fulltime via RV as a family – that’s where our hearts have taken us.

    We we are gratified and humbled to continue to meet fellow-travelers. There are a lot of screwed up things about our world…but out there, under the radar, not in front of the camera, is a growing group of counter-cultural world-changers.

  31. Sydney says

    On the topic of removing those cultural influences, this week I unsubscribed from every promotional email I had ended up subscribed to over the years. a small step but not only do I feel less at the will of advertisers, but now I receive fewer emails to sort through and if I get an email I know it’s actually important. It’s made quite the difference!

  32. Sandra says

    Thank you… you seem to me to share your thoughts and actions in a kind loving way and while doing so you encourage others to continue the journey. Blessings

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