The world feels too frenetic nowadays. In our individual pursuits of whatever it is we are trying to achieve, we collectively resemble a panicked crowd inside a movie theater that has caught fire. We readily trample on others to save our own lives in the mad rush to get out. It doesn’t matter where you go these days, the picture looks the same everywhere. The Ghana that I’ve observed lately looks nothing like the country I grew up in just a few decades ago.

From this sprawling, stormy sea, it is quite refreshing to cast an eye and see a young man on a nearby calm lagoon who is not scurrying around as everyone else is. His demeanor serves as a reminder that life doesn’t have to be as stressful as how the rest of us live it these days.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about Simon Altford, a 26-year-old Ph.D. student at Cornell University. Altford’s take-home research-assistant salary is said to be $3,200 per month. Because he manages his expenses carefully and lives well within his means, he is able to save $1,000 each month, a rate that has allowed him to accumulate $77,000 in assets. That is quite impressive in itself, but the most eye-popping piece of information was his $320 per-month contribution to charity.

According to the article, Altford has wondered lately whether he should save a little less and enjoy life a bit more at this stage of his life. Although he is quite content with his current lifestyle, devoting his leisure time to playing Ultimate Frisbee and hiking, a financial planner who was mentioned in the piece agreed. She recommended that Altford lower his savings rate slightly to ensure that he doesn’t later regret missing out on adventures and connections during his twenties. What a nice problem to have.

Whenever I come across a disciplined and principled person like Altford, I begin to wonder about their family tree, and how those values were passed on to them. Altford credited his self-restraint to his upbringing, but unfortunately there were no details in the article about his parents. I longed to know who they are, and where their own values originated from.

It is quite rare to find people like Altford these days. The simple pleasures of life have become too old-fashioned, and everyone seems to be in a mad rush to gain fame and wealth quickly. The best evidence of that is the endless stream of TikTok videos we are bombarded with constantly. It’s not only the sheer volume, but the increasing level of outrageousness. People have figured out that the wackier something is, the greater the chance that it could go viral, potentially turning whoever made it into an “influencer.” That is where the big money happens to be these days.

I am a big admirer of personal ambition. It is an important driver of innovation and a source of excellence. But ambition should be channeled into things that have meaning. Nowadays, too many of us devote our energies to pursuits that lack purpose.

Our inability to keep life simple is the cause of many of the problems we see in the world currently. The negative impact is particularly pronounced in underdeveloped nations. The vast majority of Ghanaian adults today, whether they live in the country or overseas, grew up poor and should thus know how to survive on modest resources. But we all want to live as if we have always been aristocrats. No one has the time or patience to focus on the things that are actually meaningful in life.

The cumulative effect of that is a nation that doesn’t know how to live within its means. Ghana has gone on a borrowing binge in the last decade, and has become so heavily indebted that it is now struggling to pay its bills. Much of the borrowed money has either been stolen by corrupt officials to fund their lavish lifestyles, or wasted on edifices that only create an illusion of prosperity. The World Bank worries that the combination of high debt burdens and low economic growth rates will severely limit the ability of many underdeveloped countries to fund essential programs like education and healthcare.

Simon Altford may be young, but there is a lot that we, both individuals and nations, can learn from him. His lifestyle clearly shows that simplicity can deliver a happy, fulfilling life.