Ice Cube and the Eastern Art of Simplicity



"Today was a good day."

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

During the era of emotional grunge and flashy hip hop, came a song from Ice Cube about simply having a good day. The rock scene was full of sensitive male screamers lamenting over life never living up to their expectations. On the other end was hip hop and living a life of excess — anything else was failure. It's to be expected, the haves and the have-nots. One hand regretting never having enough, the other hand aspiring to have everything they ever dreamed of.

Cubism: Expectations

On why he wrote "It Was a Good Day," Ice Cube in 1992 said, "I rap all this gangsta stuff — what about all the good days I had?" Where other songs were pretentious, Ice Cube reminded us how we don't notice all the good days because they seem ordinary. We discount them because they don't stand out. We pretend they never happened because they don't stand out in our memories. Then there is an art to living the good life, for a good life is subtle and takes practice to master.

Ice Cube begins from the moment he wakes:

Just waking up in the morning gotta thank God
I don’t know, but today seems kinda odd
No barking from the dogs, no smog
And momma cooked a breakfast with no hog

We follow Ice Cube to the park:

Called up the homies and I’m askin’ y’all
Which park, are y’all playin’ basketball?
Get me on the court and I’m trouble
Last week fucked around and got a triple-double
Freaking brothers every way like M.J.
I can’t believe, today was a good day

Ice Cube reflects on his day in the language of hip hop:

Then we played bones, and I’m yelling domino
Plus nobody I know got killed in South Central L.A.
Today was a good day

For a rich and famous rapper, this is a pretty mundane day. Expectations of what is considered "good," what to be grateful for, and what is worth rapping about have been elevated. And for the majority of his songs they were, except for this one. This is his most famous song.

"Nobody I know got killed in South Central L.A. Today was a good day," this iconic line summarizes the song's theme. As long as he's alive and everyone else he knows is alive, it's a pretty good day. The expectations are simple. The song is within reason. The elements mentioned are attainable. We enjoy living in fantasy yet somehow that escape only worsens the thoughtlessness we feel for daily reality. Manage expectations but also have grit if things don't go your way. Be "gangsta."

Admiral Yi Sun-Sin: Simplicity

In the living aspect of martial arts, you are taught to maintain daily attainable rituals that make each day successful. Make it simple and consistent. Legendary Admiral Yi Sun-Sin said:

My life is simple, my food is plain, and my quarters are uncluttered. In all things, I have sought clarity. I face the troubles and problems of life and death willingly. Virtue, integrity, and courage are my priorities. I can be approached, but never pushed; befriended but never coerced; killed but never shamed.


Admiral Yi Sun-Sin defeated 333 ships with only a fleet of 13. He had no room for clutter. Clutter, excess wants, and complexities make us obsessive, neurotic, and busy. In the case of the admiral, it would get his men killed. Simplicity affords us clarity. Perhaps the life worth saving is our own.

What We Shouldn't Do

  • Keep it complicated
  • Worry about things that aren't actionable
  • Try to control things that aren't attainable
  • Set high expectations
  • Maintain low resilience

What We Should Do

  • Keep it simple
  • Make it actionable
  • Make it attainable
  • Keep expectations realistic
  • Keep resilience high

Babe-isms: Like Fine Wine, Be Understated

Babe, a film about a clever talking pig and his farmer, was nominated for Best Picture. James Cromwell, the farmer, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. In the climax of the film, Babe finally gains the approval of the farmer, who simply says:

That’ll do pig, that’ll do.

That will do. Something we need to hear more often. Something we should tell ourselves more often. Something we forget and dismiss in the era of achievement. Yet no matter the era, if living a pleasant life is the ambition, then it's not about having the "best" life, it's about having a full life. Like food with too much sauce, when things are overstated, when we desire happiness to be over-the-top, the flavor of life is lost. Fine acting or fine wine is understated. So too is life.



The Japanese Art of Decluttering: Spark-Joy

We fear simplicity. We fear it won't be enough. Some things are complicated, some things demand high aspirations. But if we can be modest in even a few more areas, the effects can be transformative. It will make the areas of importance more productive. And life, dare I say, even magical. There is a charm to the simple and the real. A good day like a fresh breeze can give one goosebumps and what Japanese declutter expert Marie Kondo calls, "spark-joy."

In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo writes:

‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.

On minimalism, Kondo writes:

Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.

The art of living is the art of organizing. Kondo writes:

The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.

New York: How Is Life Beautiful?

While on a martial arts training trip to New York, I happened to be changing next to a local resident who was having a terrible day. He griped for a bit then he stopped and looked around. He smiled and said to me:

I get to train at one of the best dojos in the world with some of my closest friends. What am I talking about? Fuggedaboutit, life is beautiful.

"Life is beautiful" — this is ubiquitous in New York. The question we must ask ourselves is, how is life beautiful? It isn't just beautiful, or should I say, it's not so obvious to most of us. How it is beautiful is in the moment of spark-joy my New York friend experienced before our productive training session. That it's in the things he already has. It's in all the things to notice. If we notice. Clutter obstructs our eyes. If we can simplify enough, under the layers of muck, is the beauty that is now.


Live not to be perfect. Be alive and find the spark-joy of living. Keep it real.

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