My husband is the bee inspector for two counties. He meets interesting people every time he goes out to another apiary. If he lingers after the heavy work of opening hives, the conversation invariably heads in the direction of self-reliance. People tend to talk about making home and equipment repairs, canning and freezing a garden’s bounty, earth-respecting ways of farming, living on less. It seems everywhere around us people are doing what they can to save. They’re also working harder to connect with others who have experience and talents to offer.
After two years of searching for full-time work my husband is well acquainted with these topics, but also because we’ve spent decades trying (sometimes with slapstick results) to live well on less. We make do, repurpose, and enjoy frugality without making a fuss about it. It’s a work in progress, as we’re still trying to gain reasonable proficiency in skills our great grandparents took for granted.
The times we live in are tossing millions of people in this direction whether they go willingly or scream all the way. It isn’t easy. It probably isn’t fair either. Our current economic downturn came after a long slide of wealth slipping from middle class hands into the tight grip of the wealthy. Nearly 8 million jobs are gone, many possibly for good. Yet the richest among us have actually increased their holdings.
Some of us have lost the illusion of security. Some of us have lost much more—jobs, health care, pension funds, and homes. All of us have been forced to grow a little. That’s part of a larger shift. Insecurity pushes us to pay closer attention to our core values. We’re recognizing that purchases don’t really buy happiness and as a result, saving more than we have in decades. We’re doing more for ourselves and still reaching out to help others. We’re as ingenious, adaptable and happy as we choose to be.
The shift is even more noticeable when we see certain long-established structures around us breaking apart, with more cracks appearing every day. Just look at what’s happening to prescribe-and-placate medical models, inflexible financial institutions, condemning religious frameworks, and rigid corporations.
But these current conditions of breakup, economic chaos, and environmental decline are exactly those which are (slowly) leading to beneficial change. Collectively we’re waking up to the weakness of limited thinking and short-term fixes. Hopefully we’re also waking up to the reality that we’re in this together—rich and poor, developed and developing nations, young and old, left and right.
We see in our own lives that what’s important can’t be measured by dollars alone. Things like good health, supportive relationships, a vital ecosystem as well as economic security. Even the word “wealth” is derived from the Old English term “weal” which means “well-being.”
Less than two months before he was assassinated, RFK said in a speech,
“…America is deep in a malaise of spirit: discouraging initiative, paralyzing will and action, and dividing Americans from one another, by their age, their views and by the color of their skin and I don’t think we have to accept that here in the United States of America.”
He went on to say,
“For too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things… The Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.”
“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Time to clarify what we mean by well-being—for ourselves, our economy and our future.
One with the Universe courtesy of Suvetar
Together courtesy of Morfa9977
8 thoughts on “On Living Happily with Less”
really wonderful message…as usual. thank you so much for sharing. i’m so grateful to hear others acknowledging the shift that is taking place. it feels so right. it makes me happy to know my children might possibly inherit a better world 🙂
I realize now that the post started out about the meaning found in living on less and veered off in its own direction. Damn inspiration….
Our kids and their kids surely will benefit from the chaos we’re in right now. I do see heartening signs everywhere that a shift is happening. It isn’t ushered in by leaders or noticed by the media but it’s occurring. I’m just starting to find wise folks who’ve been talking about it for years. Joanna Macy, who I recall as a deep ecologist, calls it The Great Turning
and a brilliant writer, Charles Eisenstein, wrote a book called The Ascent of Humanity (that I’ve got on order) which seems to approach the same topic from a different angle.
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This is wonderful – I’m sorry it took me so long to find it. After spending the past year wondering where my next paycheck would come from, and this summer with no income at all but wonderful things to do each weekend for free, I’ve learned a lot about living with less and still finding joy and fun. So many people who make a lot of money are still miserable because they don’t have “enough,” or don’t have as much as their neighbor, or don’t have as much as they did last year. I believe it’s time to stop and truly look at what makes us happy, and work to have more of that. It’s what life is all about.
You’re so right. That’s what life is about. In a funny/tragic way, the people who don’t know what it means to struggle and skimp may miss this lesson.