Before we get to the body of today’s post, I wanted to let you know that I’ve decided to remove the appeal for contributions to the running of the blog. My reasons for trying it were best summed up by a commenter calling herself Tiny Inkling who wrote: “I like to imagine he's using [the contributions] to free himself from projects that don't completely support his values so that he can reach larger groups of people with the "you can do it!" message.”
Nevertheless, this blog is all about the exchange of ideas and enough of you didn’t like the contributions thing that I’m nixing it. I really appreciate the well thought out responses on all sides of the discussion. Those of you who find yourself tempted to be—shall we say—“forceful” in your arguments, may I remind you please to read the guidelines for discussion on this blog, the underlying principles of which are courtesy and respect.
Which brings me to an apology I would like to make to Sharon of Casaubon’s Book and Liz of Pocket Farm. Last week, I responded to their comments in a way that I intended to be lighthearted and joking but which came across as rude and unkind. It wasn’t my intention at all. I really apologize to both of them. Now, onward…
Michelle brought to my attention a piece by M.P. Dunleavey in Saturday’s New York Times about convincing people to give up conspicuous consumption and the earn-and-spend treadmill by showing them they could end up happier:
Tim Kasser, an associate professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., studied 200 people who embraced Voluntary Simplicity, a movement focused “less on materialistic values — like wanting money and possessions and status — and more on what we called intrinsic values or goals,” Professor Kasser said. The three main intrinsic values were being connected to family and friends, exploring one’s interests or skills and “making the world a better place,” he said.
He conducted the study in 2005 with Kirk Brown, an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. The researchers compared the attitudes and behaviors of this group with a matched sample of 200 mainstream Americans.
Although the mainstream group’s income was much higher, an average of about $41,000 a year compared with $26,000 for those aiming to live more simply, “we found the people in the Voluntary Simplicity group were much happier and more satisfied with life,” Professor Kasser said…
… the study found that when people invested more in intrinsic values, like relationships and quality of life, and less in consumption, it seemed to increase their happiness…
...Christopher K. Hsee, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, has observed a similar pattern. He points out that when people use their purchases as a semaphore of status, there is “no natural stopping point;” there will always be a bigger house, a fancier car, a more expensive watch to go after.
When it comes to more basic needs, like food or sleep or friendship, most people naturally reach a point of satisfaction. “Consequently, people who value these types of goods may be financially better off,” Professor Hsee said.
Financially better off, I gather, because they spend less money, which also means the consume fewer resources. One way to reduce our impact, in other words, may be to think of increasing our time for friends and family and meaningful activities rather than to think of depriving ourselves of material things.
I am very fond of this idea that what the planet can freely offer—like the enduring satisfactions of relationships and exploring interests and skills and finding meaning by dedicating oneself to a higher cause—gives much more enduring satisfaction than what it can no longer freely offer—its limited supply of natural resources used to make all the stuff we consume. In other words, leading a green, less consumptive life means not only being kind to the planet but, since it can make us happier, it means being kinder to ourselves too.