TABLE OF CONTENTSPreface: A Generation’s Journey Back to Health
Introduction1. Taking Stock: How Foresight Can Cut Our Losses
2. Evolutionary Income: An Instinct for Happiness
3. Personal Growth: Creating a Rich Life Story
4. Mindful Money: More Value from Better Stuff
5. The Bonds of Social Capital: The More We Spend, the More We Have
6. Time Affluence: How to Save It and Savor It
7. Stocks of Wellness: Preventive Pathways to Health
8. The Currency of Nature: Balancing the Biological Budget
9. Precious Work and Play: Going With the Flow
Public and Cultural Assets
10. The Real Wealth of Neighborhoods: Designing for People, Not Cars
11. Higher Returns on Investment: Twice the Satisfaction for Half the Resources
12. Energy Savings: Finessing the Carbon Conundrum
13. The Benefits of Right-Sizing: Better Than Better Homes and Gardens
14 Trimming the Fat: Farewell to Fossil Food
15. Infinite Information: How to Channel the Flow
16. Historical Dividends: New Rules for An Old Game17. Cultural Prosperity: The Earth as a Sacred Garden
A Generation’s Journey Back to Health
This is a book about how to recover from the debilitating disease of over-consumption. Although the origins of “affluenza” go back at least to the birth of free-market capitalism several centuries ago, the disease has only become a full-fledged pandemic in the last fifty years. But like other pandemics, it will inevitably run its course, and we’ll create a more sustainable, healthier culture – either by design or by default. The suggestions in this book, including 17 powerful assets to beat affluenza, can help bring the fever down, get our strength back, and build up our immune systems.
Back when I was a teenager in the 1960s, I felt queasiness lurking in the euphoria of the American lifestyle. Gandhi once said, Speed is irrelevant if you’re traveling in the wrong direction, and it was obvious to me that the accelerating pace of life in the U.S. didn’t have a real direction. Everything was becoming automatic, comfortable, and “convenient,” yet other than going to the moon, banishing germs from our kitchens, and scrapping with the communists, we seemed to be floating up and away from reality like soap bubbles. We each wanted to expend as little effort as possible but still get paid handsomely for it so we could live the good life, before we… popped.
But somehow the cost and dimensions of the good life kept morphing, first into a “new, improved life,” then a “better” life. (There was always a better life). Americans began to send all household hands into the workplace, and soon we were working longer hours than employees of any other country in the world. In fact, we worked longer hours per year than medieval peasants did! A few politicians in the 1950s and 1960s proposed federally mandated, shorter workweeks, because technology had doubled our productivity and we could have the same standard of living for less work. But instead of choosing the door marked life/time, we chose the one marked money/stuff.
I began to notice that people whose lifestyles didn’t center on money were often healthier and more interesting. They seemed more caring and unselfish, and they were passionate about doing celebratory things like playing music, dancing, playing chess or bridge, embroidering, fly fishing, cooking delicious meals, studying history, gardening, and staying current with political issues. TV wasn’t a central part of their lives; they were less distracted by commercial hype and less detoured by all the products. What they earned seemed less important than what they learned. I watched how they focused directly on the tasks at hand and accomplished them with finesse and artistry. I was fascinated that in many cases, the ordinary, American Dream-life was much more expensive than the extraordinary lives of these unique, self-creating people who lived their lives rather than trying to buy them. They had real wealth, or you might say, the right stuff.
Still, it was confusing to see most individuals stretching and contorting to climb beyond the good life to the stylish better life. Was the better life any better, really, or was it just a variation on a theme: creativity as a commodity purchased from various technicians and persuaders who brought us Twinkies, air conditioners, and a Technicolor® way of thinking? It seemed like all that was new or improved were the colors and shapes of the products, the increasing number of cars on our streets, and okay, the introduction of breakthrough technologies, some of which were brilliant. (As a guy who first experimented with writing on an Underwood typewriter and compiled research data on index cards with rubber bands around them, I thank the gods for computers and the Internet!)
But despite the technological miracles, it felt strange and threatening that our world was being shaped by corporate returns on investment rather than by passionate political leaders who listened carefully to us, the people who live here. I wondered how companies and industries could possibly provide a humane, integrated vision of the future and a strategy for getting there, since their focus was both narrow and vested. Yet federal government, increasingly on the leash of big business, seemed to be forbidden to do it.
And I wondered if this economy that kept accelerating was equipped with brakes…?
It boggled my mind to think of the 75 million people who hurried to work at roughly the same time each morning, clogging highways, trains, and buses -- somewhat like the cholesterol in our arteries. Very few of us had any real sense of what we were building – and more ominously, what we were tearing apart. It felt like we were converting the planet’s richest and finest resources into products of dubious quality, busily drilling holes in the environment and living systems to do it. What was the point of all the commuting and consuming? What was the economy for? We were burning up our time and our lives pursuing happiness but it seemed like we were happier before the pursuit began. For example, the more successful my father was in his work, the less time he had for Boy Scout weekend activities with me or even walks in the nearby forest with the dog, like before – and the same story unfolded in millions of other households. Once we were proud and hardy producers, living by our instincts and skills, but in my generation we’d become passive consumers, living in 115 million over-stuffed households that some federal agencies now refer to as “consumer units.”
I saw so many people pour their energy into making and spending money while other important aspects of life were neglected! Because the better life required so much of their attention, they stopped learning about the way other cultures and other species live; they stopped eating fresh food and cooking traditional family recipes; stopped going to national parks and even neighborhood parks; stopped learning about political candidates; stopped voting. They stopped saving, and they stopped learning how to fix things. They just threw everything away that needed repair and got replacements at discount chain stores.
Tickling the Bear
Beginning when I was about four and continuing for several decades beyond that, a lumbering grizzly bear invaded my dreams whenever my life felt out of control -- at least a few times a year. The bear was a thousand pounds of snarling, razor-clawed mammal, blundering up the dark stairway toward my bedroom. I told my parents about the bear but they assured me he wasn’t real. (Why then, I wondered, did he have so much power?)
Thankfully, somewhere in my late twenties, I began to get a grip. One very significant night, I leaped onto the stage of my own nightmare – a lucid dream they call it – and decided to try tickling the bear, of all things. Miraculously, it worked; the bear chuckled like a huge, shy, department store teddy bear! My unconscious mind had staged a coup, asserting my right and power to come out of the shadows and live fearlessly in the light -- never mind the horror of rejection slips or credit card interest rates that jump fivefold if you miss a payment by two and a half hours. The confused and defused bear plodded, mumbling, out of my life forever.
Tickling the bear became a life strategy (and I believe it can be a cultural strategy too, for taking back our power). It seemed like the bear’s ghostly mission was to terrorize we humans who inhabit a harried, self-destructive Dream of too many choices, too many competitors, and too much to know. I wondered, even then, why didn’t we just start out content and let that be more than enough? Why didn’t we unplug from the fear and the fantasy-based expectations, rather than chasing a Dream all our lives? Many remember how the Bomb hung over our lives in those days, but I suspect it really was the chasing that was making the country so nervous.
How had we become so preoccupied with the quantity of life and so little concerned about preserving our towns, traditions, rivers and forests? How could we be so distracted that we didn’t notice the menace that was creeping into our lives? We let the free market make our decisions, unaware or unconcerned that this abstract mechanism has no compassion and very little foresight. I remember reading a thick, academic book called Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth in the early 1970s, a collection of essays about the effects of human activity throughout history. It made me realize that cutting down all the trees on a mountainside left fish in the streams below choking on sediment; that building a house here required a cumulative house-sized hole there and there; that the materials that went into a TV came from 20 or 30 different countries, and that the workers in some of those countries were essentially slaves.
I began to write earnest letters to the editor and guest editorials about our brakeless economy, to which editors sometimes gave titles like “We’re Being Swallowed by the Growth Machine,” or even -- true story -- “Chicken Little Says Sky is Falling.”
An equation I came across, I = PAT, made our dilemma alarmingly simple. The Impact of human activities on the environment and people equals Population times the level of Affluence (consumption) times the scale and power of Technology. It was ominously clear that P, A, and T were all expanding like hot air balloons, with support and subsidy from governments, corporations, churches, and consumers. What had been a stream-sized flow of economic activity had become a flood; Impact would inevitably keep growing, too, but few people seemed interested. After all, our “friends” on TV didn’t seem concerned -- in fact, their purpose was to help us escape from being concerned. The myths – that “good” would always prevail, God would always protect us, and technology would always provide -- seemed to be stronger than the reality. We had learned to hear only what we wanted to hear.
(The Affluence or consumption variable in the above equation is the focus of this book. It’s quite possible and quite necessary to shrink that variable as if it were a tumor -- and lead more satisfying lives! My aim here is to give shape to that proposition.)
Waking Up from the American Dream
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about a “conspiracy theory” (let others discuss that), just a command and control mentality that has prevailed because of largely uncontested assumptions such as “all growth is good.” My question as a teenager was growth of what? Good for whom, for how long? Everyone was chasing a vision of success, but I kept wondering, mostly to myself in those early days, “Successfully what?” It felt to me like we were only successful enough to bring down the civilization, if we stayed on the same path. When I sensed what an unrestricted free market would ultimately do to our health, the economically disadvantaged, and the environment, I began to swim against the current, confident there would be many others swimming with me, and there are! (Now, we’ll see what we can create together. We’ll see what we’ve learned.)
With a keen sense of hope and purpose, I watched public concern for the environment slowly build. We started with the “Keep America Beautiful” days of litter busting and moved on to citizen crusades that would result in cleaner air and water. We recovered from the Love Canal days of industrial wastes and came to the realization that only by changing production and consumption systems could we really prevent pollution. As each new environmental problem had its media moment, the public gained an increasingly wider understanding of the implications of our way of life. “Oh, I see… the toxic pesticides that are sprayed from airplanes wash off the fields into the rivers, into the bodies of fish, then get into our bodies…”
At EPA where I worked, I studied America’s response to the alarming issues that reverberated one after another, like undead zombies in some grade C movie. Now, as the American mind continues to piece the concepts of ecology together, the stakes have gotten so much higher. The “I” variable in the I = PAT equation has become a hulking, feverish monster in a sequel movie, and the public is beginning to comprehend very complex, disturbing concepts at high school Earth Science levels. Our children learn how major planetary cycles are being disrupted by human activities. They begin to understand (we hope) that life-essential nutrients like nitrogen, sulfur, carbon, and phosphorus have all gone hyperactive, far surpassing the natural cycle-rates familiar to life on Earth for eons. And of course, we’ve all learned the lessons of global warming: too many carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels too fast and the world’s glaciers begin to melt.
The point is, in a single booming generation, environmental challenges have grown from the nuisance of McDonald’s wrappers on the street to the potential loss of real estate like Florida, Bangladesh and Holland due to rising sea levels. Now, we begin to see clearly how over-consumption of resources has resulted in strip mines the size of counties, played-out oil wells too depleted to pump economically; aquifers that are reduced to dry, echoing caverns, and amber fields of grain whose nutrients were “refined,” reassembled into Hot Pockets and Doritos, and exported to all shores on the planet.
To my own amusement and horror, I became a salesperson for sustainability -- a product not exactly in high demand in the 1980s. It was the perfect get-rich-quick scheme, in slow motion. But really, money wasn’t the game I was playing, or I suppose I could have struck a more convincing pose. I constantly thought, talked, and wrote about how we can deliberately slow down and focus our attention on qualities like fairness in the market and durability in our products; on health and wellness rather than just wealth and “hellness.” I wanted to help create a world where people pay attention to how things are really going, and where we have time to take care of living things like children and Bristlecone pine trees that sprouted even before superheroes like Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad walked their dusty paths. If we changed the direction of our economy, from extraction/disposal to preservation/restoration, we’d have the same number of jobs (or more, because many of the new jobs will require more direct human involvement) and they’d be better jobs because they’d be part of a new, purposeful national mission to meet needs without endless detours and side effects.
I realized that the fatal flaw in our culture (as in so many before ours) was to assume that everything was going fine on the farms, grasslands and construction sites; that everything was fine in the fisheries, factories, and mines. We assumed everything was growing back; that mine tailings were tucked neatly back into the ground and re-seeded; that synthetic fertilizers somehow replaced all the nutrients extracted when crops are harvested; that pop cans and newspapers were all migrating back to the factories as raw material. Pollution and resource depletion were okay within certain limits because we were making so much money. We could see the GDP rising and the smiles on each other’s faces; and we just assumed that what was good for the economy was good for life on Earth. Whenever scientists or economists cautioned that we were drawing down the principle (nature’s abundance and stability) rather than wisely spending just the interest, they were either ignored or lampooned as “party poopers.” We left it to the experts, unaware of how little they actually knew about biology, systems thinking, or human needs.
Swimming Against a Virtual Current
I got stung, professionally, by America’s naïve optimism. I’d chosen to write books and make films about environmental and social solutions, mostly for the general public. For eight books, twenty videos and TV programs, and hundreds of articles, I traveled to America’s best farms, factories, and sustainable communities, examining intelligent ways of living, growing, eating, and buying. But if the public took refuge in optimism, they wouldn’t be receptive to solutions that in their opinion “rocked the boat.” What they wanted was quick and easy “tips” that would let them continue the pursuit of happiness-by-consumption with just a few little twists. I was frustrated that many people didn’t seem to realize that many environmental and economic problems originate in our minds, designs, economic assumptions, and value systems -- the way we view and interact with the world. These huge challenges can’t just be tweaked with tips, because the paradigm of over-production and over-consumption just keeps pumping.
We’re living a Catch-22 lifestyle: we aren’t sure we can make fundamental changes in our personal lives because the mainstream American lifestyle eats up our time, focus, and human energy. Yet, we can’t create more time until we make adjustments in our lifestyle. And we won’t do that until we collectively grasp the benefits of changing; until we see that we have far more to gain than lose by adopting a more moderate way of life.
In a career focused on change, I’ve tiptoed through many a book or video, trying to present information in a way that doesn’t overwhelm or estrange readers and viewers: “Excuse me, I’m not trying to alarm you or make you feel bad, I just want to tell you about many great ideas and innovations that are out there. Choices we can make based on what people value and what nature actually needs.” It felt like I was sitting in the reader’s living room asking -- as if casually -- if they’d noticed that bear hibernating behind the sofa, which could kill the baby?
Being a risk-taker, I decided to parachute from the mainstream a decade ago and focus on what really matters -- what life is really about at its core -- to see if my observations might be satisfying to me and useful to others. In 1996, at the age of 47, I left the 40-hour workweek, the world of people-with-paychecks, to try my luck as a freelancer. By surviving, even thriving, on about half the income I’d made before, and giving myself more discretionary time, I found some of the treasure I was looking for -- in the kindness, art and energy of remarkable people; the richness of organic garden soil; and the realization that life, after all, is not for sale. That’s what brought me to this book.
I hope you enjoy reading about all the tools and talents we have -- as individuals and as a culture -- to help us change the course of history. We are a very clever species, and right about now is when we’ll begin to come back into blossom. May it be so.
The central premise of this book is that significant changes are now occurring in the way we live our lives, with many more changes on the way. As in a huge game of gin rummy, we are deciding which cards are not worth keeping and which ones would make a great hand. We’re reevaluating many aspects of daily life, including what we eat; where we live; how well we take care of each other; how much and how far we travel; what kind of work we do, and how much free time we have. We’re starting to imagine what a more moderate, efficient, compassionate lifestyle will look like, and feel like.
Frankly, the main impetus for these changes is not enlightenment but discomfort; there are greener pastures elsewhere. Our current way of life is not meeting our needs, and is destroying the place we call home. Although mainstream America has resisted change (as mainstreams usually do), it’s become apparent to many people that a decrease in the flow of fossil fuel energy and consumer products is not only inevitable but actually desirable, if other aspects of our lives become richer. That’s what this book is about – the deliberate substitution of “real wealth” for over-consumption. The fact that our excessive lifestyle can’t and won’t continue is not just a moralistic guilt trip or the opinion of a pack of nature nuts; it’s the scientific conclusion of some of the world’s most brilliant minds. The global economy is moving too fast for natural systems (including us) to keep up. Current rates of consumption are impossible with so many people consuming so much energy and so many products, so fast.
It’s time for a new way of valuing the world and our place in it. The good news is that curing the pandemic of over-consumption at both the personal and cultural scale is not about giving up the good life but getting it back. If the U.S. and other wayward nations are wise enough to substitute moderation for excess, our world can come back into balance, maybe just in time. What will we give up? Mostly unwanted side effects like rising sea levels, debt, depression, waste, war, and inflation. Which would you rather have -- a moderate, joyful lifestyle with fewer of these side effects, or the same old blowout with an even more miserable hangover?
Despite a quadrupling of average income since 1960, surveys show that Americans are no happier now than we were back then. We live on a huge life support system, passively dependent on the economy for our survival needs; sometimes this feels more like insanity than convenience. Furthermore, if we examine the way our needs are actually being met, we see that profits are the typical priority while needs are really only secondary. In fact, sometimes needs are deliberately unmet to ensure future sales. For example, American carmakers have rarely given priority to vital qualities like durability, safety, and efficiency, instead going with features that move cars off the lot, like size, speed, and sexiness. Meanwhile, Swedish and Japanese manufacturers are meeting and surpassing one socially valuable benchmark after another. For example, a 1989 Saab 900 recently crossed the million-mile marker before being retired to a museum. The super-efficient Toyota Prius is steadily moving toward its millionth sale, and Toyota’s prototype plug-in hybrids already get more than 100 miles per gallon.
Supply and Demand: Double Trouble
It’s easy enough to point the finger at companies whose CEOs make more in a hour than we make in a year, yet we consumers are far from innocent, since we’ve been more than willing to let consumption be the centerpiece of our lives. Shell-shocked by the shrapnel of advertising and bloated from way too much sitting, we can still regain our sense of pride if we look at value in a different way, and begin to meet our needs more directly. For example, is it really huge houses that we need, or a sense that we’ve accomplished something; that our lives are large enough to include the people we love? Is it a string of exotic vacations we need, or the realization that life is an adventure no matter where we are? We don’t all have to be millionaires, but we do need creative challenges and a sense of purpose.
Inconceivable amounts of money and effort are spent to fill every consumer moment with a product, leaving little time for healthy food, great relationships, or learning new skills. Because the real wealth makes us feel content, the marketers have learned how to ridicule it and portray it as “boring.” You don’t see a lot of ads for small, well-designed houses, backpacking adventures, potluck dinners, or other experiences and products that reduce the GDP yet elevate our gladness to be alive.
Humans need a sense of autonomy, but the scale and power of big industry often strips that away. The health care industry, for example, has become the arbiter of life and death; the final court of appeals. It feels like the only choice we have is to fork over the money to institutions that often pay more attention to graphs of profits than electronic graphs of vital signs. Yet, how many Americans are negligent about diet, exercise, strong relationships, and stress control – all factors that can prevent illness? A potential tidal wave of interest in preventive approaches is just over the horizon. Whole foods, yoga, herbal remedies, meditation, acupuncture, and exercise are coming into the mainstream, along with an empowering realization that we can meet many of our own health needs, for far less money. (See Chapter 7 for sage advice from the centenarians.)
Nutrition is another fundamental need that the U.S. food industry doesn’t even begin to meet, as discussed in Chapters 7 and 14. But again, the responsibility lies on both the supply and demand sides of the plate. For example, consumers can just say no to soft drinks that are now the nation’s most widely consumed "food" in a society where obesity and diabetes are epidemic. The average American slurps 53 gallons of soda a year – equivalent in more ways than one to a drum of hazardous waste. Trans-fat, for many years a standard ingredient in baked goods and fried foods, has recently been outlawed from all New York City restaurants because of its potentially lethal effects. (One out of every eight NYC residents now has diabetes.) Even wild monkeys have healthier diets than most Americans, according to anthropologist Katharine Milton. Again, in our money-mad world, the focus is on snackability, convenience and shelf life rather than human life. Fossil food, it seems, is good for everyone except the eater; and though the word “companion” literally means “with bread,” today’s processed foods are perhaps better eaten alone.
You Just Might Find You Get What You Need
Humans need connections with other people, as the data in Chapter 5 demonstrate. For example, cancer patients with social support have a much higher rate of survival than those without. Yet, a recent study by the National Science Foundation concluded that one-fourth of all Americans have no one to confide in. So, why have we just spent sixty years and trillions of dollars constructing a car-dependent, suburban universe that physically and socially isolates us from each other? Mostly because it was extremely profitable. Two-thirds of Americans would choose a small town over a large suburb but there aren’t enough small towns to accommodate them. We also need to be refreshed and renewed by daily contact with nature. In research studies discussed in Chapter 8, when people view slides of nature, their blood pressure falls. Hospital patients go home much sooner if they have a view of trees and sky. But there are fewer and fewer places to access nature in a landscape so littered with instant, would-be castles made of dry wall, and chain stores made of money.
Environmental protection is also crippled by affluenza. We look the other way when it comes to environmental impacts -- toward the money. As in health care (and crime control) prevention receives much less emphasis than after-the-fact containment and treatment. For example, prevention of pollution is less appealing to the marketers of products like pesticides. Organic growers may buy a single truckload of beneficial insects, but once the insects begin to reproduce, no further purchases are necessary -- a great example of how nature and knowledge can replace the use of resources. Ingenious though it may be, some economists don’t like organic farming because it doesn’t boost the GDP the way conventional, soil-mining agribusiness does.
At this turning point in history, U.S. policy continues to heavily subsidize oil and gas extraction, and every year, the average U.S. taxpayer contributes about $2,000 in support of automobile use, (even if he doesn’t drive), according to the non-profit group Redefining Progress. An average-salaried American also shoulders about $700 annually in advertising expenditures, payable at the cash register, and is subject to land use, wage, worker benefit and other policies that are often in synch with big business: more focused on economic growth than human welfare. Once again, consumers are partly to blame for the fact that the U.S. is five percent of the world’s population yet consumes a fourth of its energy. Until w take advantage of efficient lighting, appliances, and windows, and live in well-insulated homes with at least some natural lighting and passive solar heating, we can’t really chastise the power companies. Chapter 12 offers ideas on how to meet some of your own energy needs and finesse your utility bill.
Many human needs are hard to see – they are in our psyches and our social interactions. Corporations don’t and can’t do a very good job meeting needs like freedom of expression, creativity, beauty, autonomy, acceptance, respect, a sense of meaning and purpose, so we, the people, have to take charge of these needs ourselves. In fact, if we don’t meet these needs fully, we become victims of affluenza, hoping that somehow, what we buy can heal our wounds.
The Renewable Resources of Real Wealth
When Dr. Dean Ornish encouraged one of his patients to adopt a healthier lifestyle, the patient’s response was, “I have twenty friends in this pack of cigarettes that I can always depend on -- what can you offer me that’s any better?” Similarly, if we make a heroic effort to break our widespread addiction to over-consumption, what will take its place? This book proposes that when we change a few key priorities, many of our material wants will cease to be obsessions. It’s not just that we won’t need the next generation of gadgets and clothes; we truly won’t even want them. Instead of fidgety, addictive consumption, our lives will be filled with the real wealth of sanity, health, hope, caring, connection, participation, and purpose. All we have to do is unplug, and change our priorities.
We try to buy real wealth with money, often unsuccessfully. There’s no price tag for some of life’s most essential values, for example, an abundance of memorable moments completely free of stress. Real wealth is the calmness and contentedness that comes with feeling good, physically; the sense of well being that makes anything seem like an event. Real wealth is finding the rhythm of natural cycles, and jumping in. It’s understanding how the world works and substituting information and brilliant design for resources.
Consider the bonds between people – what some call “social capital.” This kind of wealth never runs out; in fact, the more we spend, the more we have! Similarly, the stocks of natural capital are the best investment we can make because they are based on a very reliable source of income – the sun. If nature is rich on a continuing basis, we don’t have to be. Many other assets are also self-perpetuating, like curiosity, which stimulates more curiosity. When we’re surfing the web or completing a Master’s degree in a field we love, curiosity pulls us along like a large puppy on a leash. Similarly, the more creativity and inspiration we spend, the more we seem to generate; one developing skill often leads to another; cultural traditions constantly build on and perfect themselves. Sexual desire keeps coming back; delivering “interest” that has nothing to do with corporate profits. And democracy is an empowering, self-fulfilling prophecy, a source of real wealth, if we just join in.
When we choose real wealth, we can have things like healthy, great-tasting food; exciting hobbies and adventures; work that challenges and stimulates us; and spiritual connection with a universe that’s so much larger than we are. Instead of more stuff in our already-stuffed lives, we can have fewer things of higher quality; fewer visits to the doctor and more visits to museums and to see neighbors. More joyful intimacy, more restful sleep, and more brilliantly sunny mornings in campsites on the beach – bacon & eggs sizzling in the skillet and coffee brewing in the pot. Greater use of our hands and minds in creative activities like playing a flute, building a table, or harvesting the season’s first juicy, heirloom tomato. These are the things that matter, and we can choose them, if we spend less time, money, and energy being such conscientious consumers.
How many people do you know who convey the message, “I am enough. I have enough. I’m content.” When people reach this stage of self-acceptance, they often make very poor consumers, because if they are enough they may not need or want more. I believe this is where America’s collective psyche gets scrambled; too few of us feel that we’re good enough, and that life is intrinsically abundant. However, in this group therapy session called America, many do move beyond personal doubts and insecurities by being less absorbed in their own fortunes and more involved with the real wealth of the world.
Imagine how much lighter we’ll feel if we work together to meet the huge challenges that lie ahead. Why carry mountains of stuff when our needs can be met more precisely with great design, ingenious efficiency and a few basic changes in our priorities? Why settle for confusion when we’re well equipped with human strengths like community, creativity, and compassion? Why permit our minds to be filled with useless static when clarity and purpose feel so much better?
The new, emerging lifestyle described here is not about guilt, judgment, or sacrifice – it’s about a strategic, enlightened reduction in our use of resources, and a corresponding, deliberate increase in quality, care giving, trust, and teamwork. Using tools like these, it’s quite possible for each American to gracefully reduce her or his resource consumption by half, along with all the stress, anger, and dysfunction that goes with it. This book offers many ideas for how to do that, showing that by reducing our reliance on energy hogs like aluminum cans, airplane travel, feedlot meat, and suburbs-without-stores, we can each reduce our “footprints.” By meeting basic physical and psychological needs better we can and will make the transition to a lifestyle that feels better in the present and doesn’t clear-cut the future. As a special bonus, we can also ensure that the planet we call home doesn’t ultimately resemble a fried egg, sunny side up.
How to Prepare a More Delicious Lifestyle
Flexibility, foresight, instinct for happiness, self-knowledge, pride, quality, equality, connection, health, vitality, sensuality, natural abundance, useful skills, durability, purposeful work, passionate play, exploration, adventure, experience, delight, efficiency, precision, sufficiency, appropriate scale, information, knowledge, ingenuity, curiosity, design, compassion, respect, grace, gratitude hindsight, cooperation, community, generosity, aesthetic brilliance, democracy, courage, vision, tradition, moderation, trust, loyalty, wisdom, spirituality, grace, humility, mutuality, contentment.
Mix ingredients together in the workplace, political arena, home, neighborhood, media,
marketplace and natural world to create cultural prosperity. Don’t overcook!
While the material in this book is mostly very good news – how we can make a few fundamental changes to live life rather than trying to buy it -- we can’t just ignore the not-so-good news if we want to permanently rid the world of the affluenza virus. As I organized the book, it didn’t make sense to put that not-so-good news at the end, so it’s up front with the findings, forecasts, and suggestions of dozens of biologists, psychologists, economists, geologists, (and unicyclists). Together, we conclude that continuing to consume excessively as a way of life is neither desirable nor possible. The epidemic has nearly depleted our resources as well as stripped away our resolve and passion. It’s time to create a more moderate, more enjoyable, less frantic American lifestyle.