Nick Denis retired from the UFC at the age of 28 because he was worried about the consequences of fighting on his brain. I knew that behind an unusually strong decision would probably lie an unusually strong man.
In this part of the interview we spoke about the little things in life and his aspirations for a minimalist lifestyle.
In one of your blog posts, you said that your dad taught you that happiness is in the little things, the little h's. What would you consider a big H?
When I was eighteen, my dad found rolling papers and a bit of weed on the living room table. He was concerned that I was searching for happiness in things that don’t really give you happiness. But his real point was that people look for happiness in the wrong places.
If I focused solely on becoming a UFC star, my dad would call that focusing on a big H. I wanted to get to the UFC to accomplish a goal, to prove it to myself, and I enjoyed the competition. But I didn’t do it because I wanted to be a millionaire or drive fancy cars.
What are the little h’s for training?
These guys just sitting around chatting right now, having a good time. [We were talking at his gym, and there was a group of guys chatting after a workout.] If you’re working on a technique that you’ve been practicing and you finally get it, that’s a little h.
It’s those little moments that you should really relish.
What about relationships?
People think that this person will make me happy. But you won't get happiness from them. You'll get it from little things that come from a relationship.
So it’s more a question of perspective. You think that the only way you can be happy is with this person rather than just enjoying your time with them.
You build this thing up in your head, and then in reality it’s not what you pictured.
It’s a very dangerous way of thinking.
"I believe that a lot of mental illnesses come from suppressing our animal side."
I heard you bought a vacant piece of land that you want to build a cabin on.
It'll be a home, very minimalist.
Is that to get out of the city?
There are a lot of reasons.
One, I don’t like the idea of working. There’s 24 hours a day. Let’s say you sleep 8 hours a day. If you’re working 8 or 9 hours a day, plus the commute. How much of your time is dedicated to actually doing what you want to do?
Part of not working is not needing money. Part of not needing money is lowering your bills. And with a cabin, I don't have a mortgage. So minimizing your bills means having to work less.
Two, I just love it. My sister has property in the country, and it’s just beautiful.
Another reason is that I really care what I eat and what I put into my body. I think it’s very irresponsible not to take of yourself. You need food to survive. It literally makes up the molecules in your body. You literally are what you eat.
So if you’re not taking care of what you eat, you’re not taking care of yourself at the most basic level. I like the idea of having some goat, some chickens, my own fruits, veggies, and herbs.
When I was living in Montreal, as cool as it is, it’s just a big block of concrete.
I think that a lot of problems that people have is their denial and lack of knowledge that they’re animals. So many people think that being human is separate from being an animal.
We’re not meant to be sitting in front of a computer eight hours a day. It’s just physically detrimental.
I believe that a lot of mental illnesses come from suppressing our animal side.
What does it mean to acknowledge that we're animals?
I think people should be extremely active all of the time.
I would go extreme and say that almost all of technology is working against our happiness. I’ve come to the conclusion that aside from their religion that the Amish and the Mennonites have it right. They’re living simple and true lives. They’re self-sufficient. They have everything they need. They don’t take part in anything that is extraneous and that can be damaging.
Have you ever seen the movie I Heart Huckabees?
It’s one of my favourite movies.
Huckabees is like Walmart. And the main character is a woman who is their spokesperson. She’s in all of their ads, and she’s beautiful by any Western standard. But she’s really depressed. It’s crazy because she’s attractive and successful. You’d think she’d be happy, but because of the mental strains she puts on herself, she's not.
Her lifestyle is not natural to any animal kingdom, and it's causing her mental strain. It’s so unnecessary.
What do people need? They need security, food, water, shelter, and love from other people.
Does watching the next zombie movie that comes out--and I love zombie movies--make me happy? Briefly. But I realized what I’m looking for is not actually the movie. I’m looking for the joy that the movie gives me.
I can be happy playing cards with my family, having a conversation with them, playing with my dog, or going for long walks in nature. I feel happy during those activities, but it’s totally non-destructive, and it's productive for my relationships.
If I were to buy an iPhone, there’s always the next one coming out. It’s not a sustainable way to get happiness. In order to continually get this level of joy, I have to have this level of money. And in order to have this level of money, I need to work.
It seems very destructive.
How do you balance that? You want to go back to being a hunter-gatherer, but live in a world where it’s completely the opposite.
It’s hard because things cost a lot more money.
Let’s say I lived without electricity. I had an outhouse, and I got my water from a harvesting system. I'd still have to pay property tax. So I still need money. You can’t be completely separate from society unless you want to break laws.
There's a group in Canada called the Freemen on the Land. They have this point of view that they don’t want to be governed.
They believe that the act of governing someone is actually a social contract. I’m letting you govern me and in return I give you taxes and I obey your laws. From the time you’re born, you’re not free to do whatever you want because there are laws. But all they want to do is to live off the land.
I really value freedom. If you’re not free, you’re a slave to something.
If you enjoyed this part of the Nick Denis interview, you should check out the second part of the Sam Sheridan interview, author of A Fighter's Heart, where we spoke about how martial arts can teach you humility, can you help you understand yourself better, and how losing can sometimes teach your more than winning.