Optimism In Trying Times

I’ve been feeling discouraged lately – there are so many people trying to alert the rest of the world to the dangerous and suicidal course that we are on with our addiction to fossil fuels, and yet so very many powerful and loud voices are trying to drown out the voices of sanity and science.  And addiction is a difficult thing to change, whether it’s heroin or fossil fuels.  Will we be able to wean ourselves before our addiction kills us?  The next twenty years will tell.

Oh, right, I was going to write about optimism.  Sorry. As I mentioned a few days ago, I just read “No Impact Man” by Colin Beavan, and would highly recommend it (and I should thank my daughter’s boyfriend, Krystofer, who bought the book and then graciously allowed me to read it before he did). Marion Nestle, author of “What to Eat” describes the book as:

A riveting account of the year in which Colin Beavan and his wife attempt what most of us would consider impossible. What might seem inconvenient to the point of absurdity instead teaches lessons that all of us need to learn. We as individuals can take action to address important social problems. One person can make a difference.”

At the beginning of his year of living no-impact, Beavan examined the work of psychologists who study happy people and what makes them happier than the rest of us.

What the positive psychologists had learned was that, while getting a new cell phone or a new car or a new house did give us a burst of pleasure, the pleasure did not last. If we wanted to feel the same spike of happiness, we would have to get another fix – yet another phone, yet another car. They called that mode of pleasure-seeking the “hedonic treadmill”.

The happiest people, the shrinks discovered, did not live their lives in this perpetual loop. Rather, these folks had raised their baseline mood in ways that did not require repeated doses of new stuff. The people most satisfied with life, it turned out, had strong social connections, found meaning in their work, got to exercise what they considered to be their highest talents, and had a sense of some higher purpose.

The positive psychologists confirmed scientifically, in other words, what simple-living advocates have been asserting for so long anecdotally: a life lived with less emphasis on acquisition might have the effect of leaving more time for richer, less resource-intensive life awards, making both the planet and the people happier.

So, it turns out that all of this consuming and working long hours to make money so we can consume even more isn’t making us any happier – less so, actually!  Some voices in the climate change debate encourage passivity and inaction by  saying things like  “there might be global warming or cooling but the important issue is whether we, as a human race, can do anything about it.” These voices are trying to send us the message that the choices that we make aren’t important, and that we should just carry on in our usual way. It turns out, as Beavan’s story demonstrates, one person’s choices can make a difference at the same time as that person becomes happier, healthier (with a better sex life, too, according to Beavan:).

Here’s a video from the folks at The Fun Theory.com, a site dedicated to the thought that human behavior can be changed for the better by making the change fun.  The video shows how 66% more people ended up taking the stairs rather than the escalator by making climbing the stairs more fun that usual:


Have a fun, planet-loving kind of Friday!

0 thoughts on “Optimism In Trying Times”

  1. Good post. We’ve been talking and thinking quite a bit here about the effects that down-sizing and simplifying might have on our lives here. A house that is too big for us just takes more time and energy to maintain and more of the earth’s resources to heat and cool. We’re looking at other options, though it may take a while to implement. In our braver moments we consider something as extreme as micro-housing. There’s some great stuff out there: http://www.tinytexashouses.com or http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com. Fun to look at. I think in a warmer climate like NM, it can be more doable, since you can be outside more. Keep up the good work! Even though the ranting of the numbskulls out there can be discouraging, you ARE making an impact with your blog.

  2. A friend was telling me only a week ago that she’d been reading up on, and thinking about this very same subject. She’s come to the conclusion that too much choice just simply causes too much dilemma which goes towards making one unhappy. An example was a family member living abroad where there was very little choice of cheese (specifically, one), but whenever he travelled abroad and found a cheese shop he’d come out with nothing at all, ranting about how he couldn’t make his mind up and….. unhappier than before he went in 🙂

    Great post, I have to say.

    • I can relate to your friend and the cheese. When we first moved to a remote town in northern Ontario 10 years ago, we resisted getting satellite tv for years (cable wasn’t an option for us). We had one and a half channels to chose from (one was too fuzzy to see half the time!), and it was easy to decide if we wanted to watch. We finally broke down 5 years ago, and got the “dish”, and life became much more complicated. Even though leaving the tv off was just as possible to do as before, it became more irresistible and yet unsatisfying at the same time. Just last month it became possible to get our internet through DSL rather than by satellite, so maybe it’s time to rethink the tv situation again:).


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