Most of us have complicated lives. 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.
Consider how much we work. In a report last August, Gallup found:
“Adults employed full time in the U.S. report working an average of 47 hours per week, almost a full workday longer than what a standard five-day, 9-to-5 schedule entails.” (Gallup, 2014 Aug)And if you’re answering work emails even when you’re at home, you’re really working more than that.
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. “Risk & Insurance” reported earlier this year:
“In a trend that shows no sign of reversing, American workers are reporting higher levels of stress.” (Risk & Insurance, 2015 Jan.)Stress weakens the immune system. It wears down your mood. When we’re living in a rush, we worry more, find more things to get irritated about. We don’t think so clearly, and we make worse decisions.
Is there a way to simplify, slow down? The hectic pace of modern life is driving us nuts. We 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.
So many of us have somehow gotten sucked into a bad trade: we traded in our time for a little more income, when in fact, having more time and less income is more conducive to happiness and well-being. As Juliet Schor writes:
“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.”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.
I had to laugh when I read about a study finding that three activities most likely to elicit a bad mood are: the morning commute to work, being at work, and the evening commute from work.
In the quest for more, what we got was more stress, more clutter, more stuff in our lives. We’ve created a booming storage industry just to stow it all. In the quest for more, so many Americans got less: less time and less enjoyment of life.
Plenitude is about a life attuned to the abundance of grace from simply being alive. Duane Elgin, the author of Voluntary Simplicity, first published back in 1980, wrote:
“To live voluntarily means encountering life more consciously. To live more simply is to encounter life more directly.”And that’s what Thoreau was on about. He went to woods in order to simplify, simplify – and thereby in order to encounter life more consciously and more directly.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”As Thoreau also wrote in Walden:
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”Can we march to a more measured drummer? Is there a way to do that? We’d be happier, less stressed. And some of the work we stop doing can be given to some one else who needs a job.
For the Earth
The call to simplicity is for our own sakes. The call to simplicity is also for the sake of our planet. Longer hours 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.
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This is part 2 of 3 of "The Call to Simplicity"
Part 1: "Are You Temporally Impoverished?"