Archive for the 'Jared Diamond' Category

The Inconvenient Truth of the Diamond-Cut Life

Bad news here for the advertising industry, but good news for human beings and all other species. Research from many countries shows that after people’s survival needs and some reasonable pleasure needs are met, consumption piled-higher-and-deeper does NOT create more happiness. Rich is not great. Greed is not cool. Working harder might be moving you backward.

Inconvenient, at least for 20th century notions of economic growth and GDP, but true.

Hence my embracing of the diamond-cut life (partly inspired by Jared Diamond, whose latest book is Collapse). If happiness can be symbolized by a diamond that gets cut from the surrounding cultural rock of over-consumption, which things cut from our lives can best craft the diamond? What are the best uses of our time?

I want to hear from other people about their experiences. What’s true for me is that I am genuinely happy, as my household consumes significantly less than the average U.S. home. The real rock we’ve cut away is the need to impress anyone on material terms. Our house is small and modestly furnished but we host lots of visitors. I buy my clothes at Goodwill and look just fine. Our only car is a 15 year old Nissan Sentra that mostly guards the house while we take the bus to work.

Think of how little control corporations would have over us if we decided to put “time management ” in service to human happiness and conserving the earth’s resources rather than doing more work in less time to make more money to buy more stuff. Which reminds me of a favorite group whose motto is “More fun, less stuff”: Center for New American Dream.

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Seeking A Diamond-Cut Life

I’m back after a break! Pulitzer prize winner Jared Diamond points out in the New York Times today that we in the U.S. are consuming 32 times more than the citizens of developing countries, and that that has to change because the earth’s resources are running out.

A little more surprisingly, he also says something I have been maintaining for years: our quality of life is not directly tied to our consumption. In other words, as research by Juliet Schor and others has shown, more stuff doesn’t make us happier. Much of the time, it’s just waste that doesn’t add value — although it hurts the planet.

All of us want to be happy. And probably we’d like to ‘do the right things’ in the process if we can. So, if you and I are average U.S. citizens, what’s the best route to consuming less? If happiness can be symbolized by a diamond that gets cut from surrounding rock, which things cut from our lives can best craft the diamond?

Here are my Top Five high-impact suggestions.

  1. Put ourselves on air-travel diets. Flying represents enormous fossil-fuel consumption. Buying carbon offsets for it, while not as good, at least brings us closer to paying the real cost of flying.
  2. Downsize our living space and make better use of what we’ve got. This doesn’t just apply to moving; we can shut off little-used rooms in winter and conserve heating fuel.
  3. Get a smaller vehicle or get rid of one vehicle altogether. Naturally this is only a viable option when public transit or carshare programs are available.
  4. Get a housemate (not necessarily a lover). Single-person households are a new fad in human history, and very resource-consumptive. This is also the best way for many single people to start saving for retirement.
  5. Put ourselves on car-mileage diets. Before grabbing the keys, think: How much is this trip really adding to our well-being?

I plan to write again on the diamond-cut life later this week. FYI, the best website I know of with good practical advice on consuming less is Wa$ted!.


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