Today’s post is part three of a series I’ve been writing about shaping our lifestyles to fit our values (here are part 1 and part 2). Tearfund’s report Restorative Economy, which was co-authored by my very good friend Rich Gower, boldly proposes that it’s possible for us to have a future “where poverty is eliminated, catastrophic climate change is averted, and where all human beings – indeed, all of the species with which we share this world – have the chance to flourish” (Tearfund, 2015: pg 6).
That is the kind of future I want to work towards. I want to be part of a movement that shifts us from the path we’re on towards a future in which social justice and environmental sustainability are intertwined into the concept of “the good life.” I want my writing, and this blog, to be part of inspiring people to join that movement. I want to belong to the group of people in this generation who shift, shift, shift the direction, until all the incremental changes add up to something momentous.
Which is all inspiring stuff, but you know what? I get tired. I mean, I really believe in it, but I’ve been paying attention over the last year, and I’ve noticed that there are a lot of us who just see this massive chasm between how we would like our lifestyles to be, and how they actually are, and in a way we’ve just felt like we have to make our peace with that in order to get on with the ordinary business of living.
I don’t think this makes us bad people. I think it’s more that we just don’t know how to keep fighting a battle on multiple fronts. I may really believe in living in more environmentally friendly ways, but there’s also “how will I get there without a car?” and “my council doesn’t recycle that” and “can I really afford stylish environmentally-friendly clothing?” and then there are social justice issues, both here and abroad, and aside from that there is eating healthily, and being frugal, and supporting local businesses, and exercising, and spending quality time with your family, and being a great friend, and being ambitious at work, and getting involved with your neighbourhood, and even, occasionally, having fun and who the heck has the time or energy to make all of that happen?!
I sometimes used to feel I just didn’t even have the time to research a particular lifestyle choice, yet alone have the money or energy to change it. Even when I did decide I was going to do things differently, it was often hard to keep up and more than once I bailed and went for the easier, more convenient, cheaper and more socially acceptable alternatives just begging to be taken.
Living in Era really broke that open for me. I learned – no, I experienced (which is a very different thing) – that there are certain ways of living that are not just more environmentally sustainable, not just relationally more connected, not just more aligned with my values but which also make me happier and healthier and stronger and less stressed. I learned that there are ways of living more simply that make me come alive.
This was a slight but profound shift in the way I perceived my alignment with the world. It’s not me OR this person living in poverty, nor is it me OR less destructive ways of consuming. Our self-interestedness is aligned with our other-interestedness and our eco-system-interestedness. We know this, but until we actually experience it, it can be hard to make the shift.
This gets me excited, not because I think that being selfish is a better motivation for change than doing the right thing. I don’t think that. In fact I think that we often have to do the right thing even though it is self-sacrificial. No, this gets me excited because it feels like a way of building lifestyle changes that are sustainable on multiple levels – personal, communal, and environmental. The Restorative Economy report argues that change starts with our lifestyles; I agree, and I think that we can find ways of making changes that feel like normal, life-giving parts of everyday life.
Before, with add-on changes (buy this product instead of that product, do this noble-but-draining thing instead of that very-bad-but-also-very-convenient thing) the frustrating reality was that even when people commit to some of the inconvenient options because of their beliefs, most people eventually hit the limit of their capacity and feel they can’t keep making the difficult, inconvenient choices in every area of life. The reality is that most people cave to convenience, or social acceptability, or ease, and so it was hard to build momentum for change that way.
We still are going to have to build some change that way. However, I do think that if we can really understand “the good life” differently…if we can actually experience the good life differently…if we can find ways of living that make us happier and healthier and more connected and these same ways of living are also more sustainable and more just, then, well, then I think we really can build momentum. We can build a movement.
My natural inclination is towards idealism over pragmatism, but what I’m trying to work towards now is pragmatic, realistic, sustainable lifestyle changes. I think it’s hard to get wide, long-term buy-in to bitty, add-on changes because eventually people run out of time, money, energy, motivation or capacity to add-on another change. I’m looking instead for holistic changes that key into multiple motivations. I think we can change our lifestyles in ways that are “ethical” and that also make us happier. We need to find ways of living that work with how we are designed, and not just as individuals but also as communities and as eco-systems.
One way I’m trying to do that is by seeking out multi-wins. A multi-win is when you discover a way to change one thing which meets multiple goals.
For example, when I go for a walk with Aaron in an area of beautiful wilderness
- I get exercise
- I get to spend quality time investing in my relationship with Aaron
- I get outdoors, which helps me sleep
- I get to feed my soul by being surrounded by beauty
- I get to feed my need for adventure by exploring a new area of wilderness
- I get to process by talking which (as my friends know only too well!) helps my mental wellbeing
- I have fun
- I come back feeling refreshed
Another multi-win, which I touched on in The Groceries Edition, is eating less meat. We have found that eating less meat:
- saves us money
- saves us time by creating fridge and freezer space, meaning we only have to shop once a month
- reduces our carbon footprint
- leads to us eating a more healthy diet
- makes for wonderful, celebratory treat meals when we do have meat
I could go on, but in many ways, multi-wins are personal. After all, exploring an area of beautiful wilderness might be your idea of hell, and your values might also be different than mine. The point is not that we all live the same way; the point, for me at least, is that we think about our lifestyle choices and our values and then ask ourselves whether there is a way they can all align up better. Then, we try it, or at the very least, look into trying it.
Will building a better future mean that those of us living lives of excessive consumption need to make some sacrifices? Yes, I’m sure it will, but honestly I think we’ll find that lots of those so-called sacrifices will also make us happier, healthier and freer! I really believe it is possible to create lifestyles that both make us happier and more fulfilled and also benefit others and protect our environments. I believe it’s not only possible, but imperative that we find ways to do so, so that we can build a sustainable movement for change that really does eliminate poverty, avert catastrophic climate change and contribute to the flourishment of the earth. And yes, flourishment is a real word.
Featured image by Unsplash user Benjamin Faust