Practice of the Week
“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed at such desperate enterprises?” (Henry David Thoreau)
“Millions of Americans have lost control over the basic rhythm of their daily lives. They work too much, eat too quickly, socialize too little, drive and sit in traffic for too many hours, don’t get enough sleep, and feel harried too much of the time. The details of time scarcity are different across socioeconomic groups, but as a culture we have a shared experience of temporal impoverishment.” (Juliet Schor)
“Evidence that longer hours of work are associated with lower happiness is accumulating, as is the more general point that how people spend their time is strongly related to well-being. In a series of studies, the psychologists Tim Kasser and Kennon Sheldon found that being time-affluent is positively associated with well-being, even controlling for income. In some of their studies, time trumped material goods in importance. Kasser and Kirk Brown found that working hours are negatively correlated with life satisfaction.” (Juliet Schor)
“To live voluntarily means encountering life more consciously. To live more simply is to encounter life more directly.” (Duane Elgin)
“In a trend that shows no sign of reversing, American workers are reporting higher levels of stress.” (Risk & Insurance, 2015 Jan.)
“Maybe we could give up saving the world and start to live savingly on it.” (Wendell Berry)
Modern society affords us more and more devices and "conveniences." Robotics and automation do more and more of our manufacturing for us – and, indeed, more and more of our farming. Restaurants and prepared packaged food items do more and more of our cooking for us. And somehow we are busier than ever. Freed from what we used to do, the labor force shifted away from industry and agriculture and into the service sector. We work frenetically in order to pay for our conveniences and each other’s services.
Our lives are complicated. E-mails, phone calls, working long hours. Carrying the kids to music lessons, soccer practice, play dates or scouts – church. It’s a fast culture and just trying to match the velocity of others makes life hectic.
Do you sometimes feel like a short-order cook at the lunch rush? It’s fine to rev up every once in a while, but constant rushing is stressful. Stress weakens the immune system. It wears down your mood. When you’re living in a rush, you worry more, find more things to get irritated about. You don’t think so clearly, and make worse decisions. Americans are the most stressed people in history, and since stress can trigger depression, it’s no coincidence that we’re the most depressed people in history.
Economist Richard Layard found that across the globe, the average happiness score of a country stops rising when its per capita income reaches $26,000 in today’s dollars.
Longer hours also increase your environmental impact “both because of more production and because time-stressed households have higher-impact lifestyles.” (Schor) Time-stressed households don’t cook as often. On average, they rely more on pre-prepared packaged food, and eat at restaurants. Ready-made packaged foods involve a lot more CO2 production than foods you prepare yourself. And restaurants? One study found that an hour of restaurant eating uses 11 kilowatt-hours of energy, while an hour of eating at home (including all travel for food purchasing, gas or electricity for cooking, and so forth) uses only 7.4.That means, eating out uses just shy of 50 percent more energy than eating at home.
People report that do-it-yourself activity is highly satisfying: they learn new skills, and it’s an outlet for creativity. Sometimes these newfound skills and passions lead to start-up businesses that are small, local, and green. Or they lead to trading and sharing through local networks that strengthen community ties and social capital – which enhances well-being and security. Less paid work, less stress, and less consumption means more time for family, friends, community, and rewarding labor of crafts or garden or do-it-yourself activity – and a more satisfying life.
"Simplicity" has a number of overlapping aspects:
(a) Reducing the hectic pace of life. Slowing down. Working less and reducing the demands on our time. Taking time for family, friends, sunsets, etc.
(b) Reducing consumption and the reliance on exploited labor, resource depletion, and environmental harm to support our lifestyle.
(c) Reducing the clutter of stuff. Making our home and workplace surroundings neat and spare.
(d) Paring away things that are merely distractions from the kind of life that we want to live. Avoiding technological "conveniences" that mostly make convenient activities that disconnect us from family, community, or the Earth.
(e) Enhancing self-reliance and reduced consumption through self-provisioning activities. Examples of self-provisioning include doing our own cooking, gardening, canning, sewing or knitting clothes, taking the time to hang clothes on the line instead of using the dryer.
This week: Reflect on the five overlapping aspects of simplicity. Select two of the five, and make a plan to implement them in your life.
* * *
Reflect on: what could you do to slow down the pace of your life? How could you reduce consumption? What de-cluttering would be possible for you? What devices do you have that you could do without? (What things do they allow you to do that you'd be better off not doing?) What self-provisioning activities could you take up?
* * *
For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"