How To Live Like A [Little] Prince

Eight Truths From Saint-Exupéry

A movie came out last year called The Little Prince. It’s an adaptation of the 1943 novel of the same name by aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. News of this movie reminded me of the book, which lead me to reread it last April. I’m glad I did. This work of fiction was pure gold when the book was first published and it’s even more precious now for a society that wants everything but values nothing.

About The Book

The Little Prince is about a stranded aviator who befriends a boy, a little prince who fell to earth from the stars. The boy soon becomes the aviator’s mentor of sorts, using stories and questions to make him think about what matters most. The prince speaks of taking care of his home—a miniature “planet” among the stars (asteroid B-612), of the one rose he cared for and treasured thereafter, of the ridiculous adults he met during his travels prior to reaching earth and of the fox he managed to tame during his stay on our planet.  

Eight Truths We Once Knew

I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

The power of the book lies in reviving our ability to see the world through the eyes of a child, the way we all used to look at it, prior to learning how to look at things and people in a distorted fashion. He reestablishes wonder by making us understand the world as we once did:

What matters most are the simple pleasures so abundant that we can all enjoy them...Happiness doesn’t lie in the objects we gather around us. To find it, all we need to do is open our eyes.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
  1. Noticing small wonders in our daily lives
  2. Paying attention to other living things
  3. Loving the comfort of small places
  4. Building our lives around a few treasured people and things
  5. Following our curiosity and asking a lot of open questions
  6. Appreciating the moment
  7. Using our imagination and seeing possibilities instead of limitations
  8. Being puzzled by the strange behaviour of grown ups and societal constructs

(Re)Learning How To Live Like A Prince

Grown-ups love figures... When you tell them you’ve made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you ‘What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?’ Instead they demand ‘How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?’ Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Living like a prince means living a rich, plentiful life, but not in the way we’ve been raised to believe is rich and plentiful. A rich life is rich in experience and attention, unencumbered by the distraction of too much stuff. 

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Building a rich life involves being clear about seeking and creating uniqueness by investing our time and attention on select things: purposeful pursuit(s), a pet project, a hobby or two—only as many as we can tend to regularly, a living space we can maintain, individual personal items that are meaningful and that we take good care of. 

‘Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me...’ says the fox to the little prince
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

It’s about quieting the noise and reducing the amount of complexity we surround ourselves with, the baggage we carry with us in our daily lives. In essence, it’s about shedding the stuff—the visual, auditory and mental noise—that clouds our common sense and our understanding of self.

We know that feeling of clarity. Some of us experience it when we leave our complicated lives to go on holiday to basic accommodations and the beautiful simplicity of nature. I’ve heard some people suggest that such a setting helps them refocus, regroup, rediscover what matters, at least for a little while…until they go back to the real world.

Why does it have to be for just a while? 

Why can’t that be the real world?

‘Where are the people?’ resumed the little prince at last. ‘It’s a little lonely in the desert…’ ‘It is lonely when you’re among people, too,” said the snake.’
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Shedding obligations of all sorts leaves more room for what’s essential in our lives: everything we create that is unique. That includes:

It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Our creation is what and who we connect with and influence on a regular basis. That which is materially affected by our attention.

Here’s the rub: 

There can be no meaningful connection when there’s too much of any one thing. 
‘People where you live,’ the little prince said, ‘grow five thousand roses in one garden... yet they don’t find what they’re looking for...
They don’t find it,’ I answered.
And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water...’
Of course,’ I answered.
And the little prince added, ‘But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.’
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world....
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

When we deal with too many people, the connections are no longer real, meaningful. Same goes with objects. How can you have a connection with twenty pairs of shoes or whatever else you might tend to hoard? If I were to ask you to list every item in one of your personal collections, would you remember them all and when you wore/sorted/touched them last? If not, you know you have too many.

When we have less, we notice what we have because we can focus on it. We actually see it as opposed to gloss over it in a sort of blur. Cherished possessions become a bigger part of our lives and end up contributing to it in a meaningful way. Each one grows in importance for no reason other than our increased ability to focus on it.

Accumulating moves us further away from living a rich life. It clouds our judgement and it prevents us from expressing our truest self to both ourselves and others. Removing the noise can help us clear our minds, listen to what we feel is really important to us, and pursue what it is we want out of life.