Book Excerpts Part 7: Focus on Happiness

Following on from my last blog post, I am continuing the series of offcuts from my forthcoming book, “Stop Drifting, Start Rowing: One Woman’s Search for Happiness and Meaning Alone on the Pacific”, due to be published on October 15th this year. Please drop me a message if you would like an email reminder when the book becomes available.

Part 7…..

 

Real happiness

There is a widespread belief that economic growth is a good thing. But is that really true? If we are not sure whether or not it is true, let’s take a different tack; does this belief serve us well? Does economic growth make us happy? Does it make the world a better place? If not, then would a different belief serve us better?

Look at the United States and its prevailing faith that bigger is better in all things, including the economy. It is the most affluent society in the world, yet is rife with disease, addictions and unhappiness. It would be easier to understand our obsession with consumerism – or at least forgive it – if it was making us happier, but in most cases it isn’t. It has been demonstrated scientifically that beyond a certain level of income where our basic needs are taken care of, further income delivers very little additional happiness, but can have a major effect on levels of consumption, and hence on our environment.

I would like to see a world where we move the emphasis away from material wealth and conspicuous consumption, to an era where appreciating nature, living a healthy life, and nurturing our relationships matter more than having the latest model car or flat screen TV. I would like to see us focus less on standard of living and more on quality of life.

I find it a tragedy that we are trashing the Earth in the mistaken belief that happiness can be found in things, whereas in reality the only true riches in life are to be found between our ears. Happiness is a state of mind, not the state of our bank balance.

Being environmentally responsible does not have to be self-sacrificing. Doing the right thing feels good, because it should. A species that felt good about putting itself on a path to destruction would die out very quickly. Our instincts tell us that we are doing the right thing when we act in harmony with nature. This is our natural reward that encourages the preservation of the species.

Busy, busy – but why?

Looking at contemporary society from the outside, I see consumerism, obesity, excessive busy-ness, hiding from the big questions like; why are we here? What is our life purpose? What makes us happy? The computer revolution was supposed to give us more leisure time, but we seem busier than ever, caught up in a whirlwind of largely pointless activity. Do we all know, on some level, that we are on an unsustainable path, that we are doomed if we carry on as we are, and all this busy-ness serves to distract us from the uncomfortable truth?

Fear makes people do strange things. It can push people into denial. When faced with incontrovertible evidence of our past mistakes, we feel ashamed and guilty. Rather than admit that we screwed up and try to rectify the problem, we deny that the problem exists, or that it was our fault.

We can try to hide from this knowledge, as I used to – numbing ourselves with TV, over-indulging in food, or burying ourselves in the constant busy-ness of twenty-first century adult life, most of which revolves around stuff – buying stuff, selling stuff, maintaining stuff, fixing stuff, earning the money to buy yet more stuff, all for the greater good of the economy, which is based on our growing demand for stuff. If we ignore the problem for long enough, maybe it will go away. We have become enslaved by stuff rather than liberated by it. But it is our choice. We can choose to own the stuff, instead of it owning us.

 

Next blog post: Conclusion.

  • Caroline

    “I would like to see a world where we move the emphasis away from
    material wealth and conspicuous consumption, to an era where
    appreciating nature, living a healthy life, and nurturing our
    relationships matter more than having the latest model car or flat
    screen TV. I would like to see us focus less on standard of living and
    more on quality of life.”

    Spot on Roz! Looking forward to the book.

  • rozsavage

    Thanks, Caroline – glad you approve.

    I’m supposedly based back in the UK now, although in practice I am only around for a handful of days between now and June. But I hope we can catch up sometime soon!

  • Stan M

    The consumer economy is made doubly damaging by our failure to act on unbridled human population growth. For every new person, we need to create a new job for that person. If the only jobs we have involve using resources, we take a step backwards. The advance in technology similarly makes providing work for an expanding population more difficult. Mechanization makes it possible for fewer people to accomplish a given amount of work, while shifts in energy sources due to increased cost for carbon based fuels increases, may result in more manual labor jobs, but the wages for these jobs must generate enough income for the worker to “live on.”

    Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s 1968 “Population Bomb” did not explode primarily because of the “green revolution” in agriculture; the development of high yield grains, use of chemical fertilizers, and the implementation of irrigated farming in developing nations, allowed food production to keep pace with population. It is doubtful that we can accomplish the same kind of increase in ag productivity we saw in the decade of the 1970’s in the next decade.

    Food could be an answer to many problems. Increasing manual labor in food production can employ many people, cut fossil fuel use in this currently energy intense enterprise, and possibly increase food production by making it possible to farm smaller plots like urban gardens. As these new ag jobs would need to pay more than present farm labor jobs. The only way this can happen is for the actual cost of food and the proportion of our budget spent on food must increase.

    Moving away from a “thing” based consumer society toward one where food is a major part of our expenditures will take a major mind shift for most of the western world, but it can be a first step toward a better quality of life.

  • UncaDoug

    Stan, this good food for thought (pun not intended) for a new paradigm … that’s what I love about this blog … it brings new ideas that break from tradition.

  • UncaDoug

    I love this “out take” and wish it could be on the inside of the dust jacket of
    “Stop Drifting, Start Rowing,” Roz! I am on the road to DC at the moment, and have a short story to share that might provide an unexpected example to support your point:

    As I drove across Nebraska yesterday, my travel companion and I were chatting about the beauty of the land and desire to spend more time seeing it slowly and closely — rolling planes and rising Sand Hills, a lone swooping eagle, hawks perched on fences, geese in their “V” formations, lakes and ponds covered with thousands upon thousands of birds, rivers and creeks meandering through shallow valleys, new growth on native cottonwood trees, expansive prairie (devoid of the millions of bison and prairie dogs), surprises and unexpected beauty around every corner if one travels slowly. It reminded me of the slogan I adopted when I retired last spring: “GO SLOW QUICKLY” which has guided my activities and adventures ever since that vernal equinox when I stopped going to the office.

    While there is a general schedule and way-points and visits with family and friends to schedule while progressing to our specific destination and events next week in DC , we stop to stretch our legs frequently, keeping our daily objectives in mind.

    Yesterday, at an historical “rest stop” there were informative signs describing the route taken by — perhaps — my great grand parents in “covered wagons” from the east. Just over a hundred years ago, our pace of life and technical achievements have “elevated” our chances of survival, but the grit and resolve of those pioneers is astonishing.

    Taking in all the sights and thoughts from yesterday while reading your blog (again), it occurred to me that another aspect of improving our “quality of life” while reducing our “quantity of stuff” could include more experiences and intentional connecting with our roots instead of acquiring physical possessions — experiences and the relationships that are enriched through those experiences. I have spent most of my life earning a living while taking brief vacations to this national park or that attraction and some ski slope or mountain lake or ocean beach, but now wish that I had taken more time to do so.

    So, now that I have the time, I am striving to go slow, quickly! Srsly!

  • rozsavage

    Very interesting thoughts, Stan. I can see a lot of sense in this. I’d be interested to hear what other people think.

  • rozsavage

    Thanks for this suggestion, Doug. There are so many wonderful ways to enhance our daily lives without needing to spend money or cause environmental damage. Here’s a good place to start: http://www.actionforhappiness.org/

  • Steve

    I just spent the day trying to rid my barn of the larger items of “detritus” that accumulates. Stuff that I thought I would like to keep for someday do some fun project with, problem is that you can hit a tipping point where too much stuff just starts to weigh you down and getting rid of it frees up a bit of your mind like when you clear out your cache your computer, it doesn’t seem to do much on the outside of your computer but if you do a good enough job of it you suddenly realize that your computer is working faster and better. Stuff does the same to the human mind. Get rid of that junk you don’t need. You somehow managed to get it the first time so it is likely you would be able to find it again.

    Just sold an old lawn mower today for $80. Good enough to buy some healthy food and rid myself of that thing that is just sitting there. Besides the guy who bought it claims he is going to turn it into a racing lawn mower and should be able to get upto 50-65 mph. More power to him! I had to laugh, he brought his two brothers with him to pick it up, he looked at his brother and said “Won’t my girl be happy to see I bought this!?!” His brothers laughed knowingly.

    Steve
    PMdJ.com

  • rozsavage

    Thanks for this great story!!

  • Common Sense Dad

    Hi Roz, A Google search for images of Happiness led me to your blog. Your work and story are captivating, inspiring, and for me, new – which is really the most fun part about this. In any event, I loved the image of the boy being swung around from the swinger’s point of view and I have taken the liberty of posting it on my blog in a story related to trading anxiety for happiness. My blog is commonsensedad.com and if you object to my use of the image please let me know. I’m fairly new to this, so please pardon me if this is a major faux pas.

  • rozsavage

    Welcome to my blog! I don’t have any objection to you using the photo… but it’s not mine, I’m afraid. I pulled it off the internet, not having any convenient children of my own. :-)