„She married the prince, lived in a castle and wore pretty dresses every day. And then she lived happily ever after.“
That’s the short version of the fairy tales we used to hear when we were little. Cinderella, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Snow-White and Rose-Red, the Little Mermaid… the list goes on. And it’s always the same idea.
As a child I was wondering, if I really need a castle to be happy.
Do you need a castle to be truly happy?
In today’s life stress, confusion and consumer burnout characterize our new normal. We are overloaded with castles in the form of computers, cars, cloths, food…. We live in comfortocracies that mutated into a stimulus satiation. We have so many choices what to buy, do and even think, that we feel overloaded. It’s all offered on a golden plate. If you believe in fairy tales, you would think that this makes us happier, right? But how come that during the last decade, the amount of antidepressants has doubled?
We might not life in castles, but our life is crammed with products, services, mobility, events and communication technologies. We lack the time to actually „work it off“ so it would create tangible benefits for us.
My first job after I graduated in engineering was a promising career in a big international cooperation. I investigated corruption all over the world. I thought I had what I always dreamed of. A job where I got to travel, a company pregnant with prestige, and earning more money than I ever thought I would make.
But when was I supposed to use it?
We miss the benefits of our consumerism. Because in order to even have feelings of happiness from it or to increase our satisfaction, we have to pay a minimum of attention to it. And this is only possible, if we invest OUR time. Our feelings can not be automated or delegated to someone else.
Time is the scarcest resource at our disposal. You can’t renew or expand it. After using it, it is irretrievably lost.
Trying to outwit shortage of individual time by multitasking is an illusion. Neurologists have long since discovered that the best we can do is to focus on two things at once.
Our day has 24 hours. No more, no less. The amount of things and experiences that we can buy though explodes. They compete for our scarce attention. Consequently, each thing and action is given less and less time. Simultaneously, we have fear breathing down our neck to miss something, if we spend to much time with one object or doing one activity.
What does that lead to?
Our consumer prosperity leads to strain, especially if we confront new options everywhere. Noticing all the options and deciding takes time. Just think about buying cereal. You can easily spend 15 minutes in the cereal isle, given all the choices you have. Even making the decision to not take advantage of the option takes time.
#2 LOSS OF SELF-EFFICACY
A further consequence of our overloaded lifestyles leads to a loss of self-efficacy. In order to integrate as many things in our lives, everything must be retrieved in a convenient, pre-fabricated and consumer-ready form. But if everything comes in handy, you don’t have room for your own design or the feeling of success that you get from developing an object yourself. Even if it’s only from practicing the handling, the hard-earned expertise or the involvement in getting a result.
Have you ever build a shelf by yourself? How did you feel afterwards?
When I was working about 60 hours a week I just bought whatever I wanted to. I shopped almost every week, new iPod, cloths, Yoga equipment. I didn’t have to think about it. But whatever I bought it didn’t give me a feeling of satisfaction. I always felt like there was so much more I could buy. This was not a happily ever after, but a never ending story of purchasing, wanting more, purchasing, wanting more…. The options overstrained me.
The comfort of having everything served whenever we want to and of being able to unceremoniously dropping it again when we are done, without consideration for the disposition, has it’s price.
What’s the price you pay?
The ecological consequences are enormous. We produce 240 million tons of household garbage alone in the US. That’s about 1.760 pounds per person per year. We live beyond our means and the climate change is just one example for it. But would a life of less make you unhappy?
You can’t personalize your acquired objects. For example with traces of maintenance, hand made changes and repairs or wearout. But these personalizations tell a story. They tell your story. Look around in your room. Do any objects tell a story? The antique wardrobe from your grandfather? How much more joy do you get from them? How much more worth are they to you compared with the ready made, new table in your kitchen?
We unlearn how to use acquired objects, in order to fulfill ourselves through practice. This might be using mechanical sewing-machines, riding your bike, fishing, sailing, playing an instrument, painting, crafting, cooking. Isn’t happiness to fully lose yourself in an activity, to concentrate on the essential, instead of drowning in the ocean of endless fleeting possibilities?
I remember buying a reflex camera. I was so excited to use it. The first day, it was a Saturday, I went outside to take some photos, an old man actually came up to me saying “you look so happy”. I was. But after about 2 hours I got frustrated because using it was complex. So I put it aside. And basically never touched it again. I didn’t have the time, nor the energy to engage in it.
What can you do if you don’t want to pay the price?
Here is a recipe to do just that.
#1 INCREASE OF UTILIZATION THROUGH SHARED USAGE
If you share basic commodities with others you replace industrial production with social relationships. Twice the use means half the demand. What if you shared your lawn-mower with your neighbor? Split the costs, have the same benefits. If it breaks repair it together.
#2 EXTENSION OF SERVICE LIFE
If you use your mechanical skills of manual improvisation to increase the service life, you substitute industrial production with your own, productive performance, without sacrificing consuming it. If the service life doubles through maintenance, repairing or alteration, the production of new objects can be cut in half. And your costs can be cut in half as well. If you have no skills whatsoever to repair your car for example, ask a friend. Let your friend repair you car and in return you cook him or her dinner.
#3 OWN PRODUCTION
Home gardens, roof gardens, community gardens and various other forms of urban gardening can help you pay less for food, and eat healthier at the same time. Next time you get the chance try a homegrown tomato compared to an industrialized supermarket tomato. The difference is stunning. Tune your car by using old parts of a different one. Make your own chair from an old table your neighbor doesn’t need anymore. The possibilities are endless. Brand „yourself“.
Well that sounds great, right? The recipe is easy. All you need to do is to substitute industrial goods through your own production, or through single-handed and cooperative activities. Compared to the consumption and progress orgie, the recipe is the intimate love making with your partner that you know and love. But you probably wonder how the heck you would be able to do all that. Well, you need three resources.
RESOURCE #1: MECHANICAL AND ARTISTIC SKILLS
How to get it: It’s a learning process. Unfortunately most of us have unlearned a lot of mechanical skills that our grandparents were good it. But you can use so many ways to learn, even if you don’t have people around you knowing the skills. Have you heard of Google?
RESOURCE #2: TIME
How to get it: This might sound crazy to you, but what if you worked less? You need the money you might say now. BUT: If you focus on the recipe you won’t need as much money as you do now. If you don’t focus on consuming more and more you don’t need more and more money. A well-known study in happiness research found out that if people earn more than 45.000$ they don’t increase their happiness. So if you reach a certain income level you won’t experience a further increase in your happiness anyways.
RESOURCE #3: SOCIAL NETWORK
How to get it: Friends, family, friend’s friends, repair-cafés, neighbors, acquaintance, co-workers….
After two years I quit my job and moved to a different city. I decided to study some more to follow my passion of environmental protection and writing. I got a job as a scientific researcher that I loved. I worked 50 % which got me less money than I would have gotten from the German government, not working. Three months ago I became a full time blogger. My happiness level? Of course, up and down. But overall a lot better than before. And the best thing: I finally know how to use my reflex camera.
What’s your gain?
If you follow the recipe
- you’ll live a more happy and fulfilled life
- you’ll live more autonomous, because you decrease your dependence on money and industrial supply
- you’ll increase your resistance to a crisis (like losing your job)
- you’ll decrease your impact on the environment. What if you decreased your household garbage to 500 pounds per year instead of 1.760 pounds?
How would you feel if you became a co-producer and repairer instead of a helpless consumer? If you become independent from crazy economic changes? Isn’t that where our happiness, that we lost in the midst of excessive consumption orgies, lurks?
MIGHT THAT BE YOUR FAIRYTALE TO LIVING HAPPILY EVER AFTER?
Let me know what you think in the comments below!