Ever since the Industrial Revolution, constant improvements of workers’ rights have driven down the amount of working hours, and to these days we still see a consistent pattern of having less working hours a year. Moreover, at the same time the productivity has greatly risen, coverage by public services has in general increased and death by infectious diseases has been constantly going down, at least until 2020. If there have been so many improvements, then why does everyone look like they are so stressed out? What are we doing wrong?
Well, there are many, many factors that may be hampering our enjoyment, and all of these can be summarised as trading emotional wellbeing with material abundance:
- An unmanageably fast pace in life.
- Information overload. In social media there are great amounts of showing off and fake appearances, but while we are very, very connected, levels of loneliness only appear to be rising.
- Nowadays, doing stuff mindlessly is very usual. However, we are then also being confronted with a lot of decisions, many of which give no choice but to choose only one outcome. In many places we have more civil liberties than ever before, but the feeling of being constricted by those in power and by our lifestyles only seems to be growing.
- Society is not at its best time, and to make matters worse the media increase awareness of the injustice, thus creating some kind of feedback loop of dissatisfaction, anger and impotence.
- Jobs nowadays are precarious, and the roles have become less clearly defined. This rapid advance is making us feel insecure about many things and quite disoriented.
How can we solve this? These are two options:
Living in a constant state of delirious addiction and carefree instant gratification, the denier is bound to not last long in that state before they confront reality in one way or another. As such, there are many negative outcomes out of this: overdose, arrest for drug consumption or for any anti-social activity while being high, accidents and basically destroying your life.
The paradox of hedonism is clear: the most straightforward and intense gratification may not always be the one which yields you the most happiness.
Going back to a simpler lifestyle:
This approach is in fact a combination of several measures, but all of them follow one specific premise: if you have achieved a position where you have enough resources to live comfortably, then stop having economic growth as your main priority and instead switch to focus on improving your wellbeing, which is a different kind of growth.
This approach still allows for responsibility, civic behaviour and fulfilment of obligations, but at the same time takes into account that we are human beings with needs that go beyond just survival.
I believe in this way of life for several reasons: firstly, the fact that planet Earth is finite and so are its natural resources means that it can only accommodate ever so many humans, and the humans living there can only consume a certain amount of resources before they deplete them.
Therefore, I believe that once we have achieved the “enough for everyone” scenario, we should immediately focus on more long-term solutions to making our existence more sustainable and enjoyable:
- We need a circular economy so that we can be sure that we can go on existing on Earth without further damaging the already devastated environment. What is even better is that by reducing waste to a minimum, we can make sure we are not working for nothing.
- We need to feel like we are more in control of our future. Unfortunately, I have no clue as to how this is going to be achieved, because this entails convincing “the powers that be” of only taking decisions that are beneficial for the whole of the society they rule over (that rarely happens unless there is great pressure in the form of protests). Establishing a democracy is very hard, and then making “the system” within a democracy fairer is equally hard. Making wars and conflicts stop is even harder. That is why I would prefer to combine this with other measures which you do have in your hands:
- Dedicate some time to disconnecting from technology. I believe that it is healthy to seek some time away from screens and mass media. This time can be dedicated to unwind, socialise in person or doing other constructive activities such as hobbies, doing sports, developing creativity or travelling.
The activities do not need to be overly complex; here are some examples: going cycling, painting a still life, reading a novel, having a walk with a friend of yours or visiting a relative. In fact, I guess that for coffee enthusiasts just sipping some good coffee is enough. Easy.
- Make your life feel meaningful. It seems like we do most of our things mindlessly, and that habit is not healthy because it makes us feel like we do not know why we are doing what we do. The way to solve it is by means of fulfilling these three requisites:
- Feeling like we have a purpose in life, or in other words, having a set of (realistic) goals which provide you with motivation.
- Feeling like you understand what has been going on in your life, or in other words, feeling like it has not been for nothing, and that you have some control over that result.
- Feeling like you are helping others with your existence even if it is just to a small extent. Remember that you should feel proud of yourself for small things like talking to a friend or relative who is having a bad time or perhaps contributing to a community project or for adults teaching your child something valuable. There are a lot of easy things you can do which really make a difference! Never think that the people around you would not be worse off without you, for that is the recipe for depression and suicide. Your live matters, and those measures I have put forward hopefully will reinforce that feeling of mattering.
- Related to disconnection from technology: going back to things which are being lost. Examples of this are going to clubs instead of doing everything individually online, or establishing long-lasting rituals such as going on a picnic with your close friends every spring at a certain place (idk, that was just an example), or taking part in an event with a larger scale like festivals or celebrations done once a year.
Rituals like those make you feel “in charted waters”, in other words, in a situation you know very well. This set of recommendations regarding the preservation of certain traditions has the aim of making you feel like you have enough control over your life that you can repeat something you like over and over periodically.
- Ideally, quality time over large quantities of poorly-managed time. This is very simple: you might have to dedicate a bit more time one day to finish something from your job or from school, but by making that extra effort that day you can be able to free yourself from that worry the following day. In order to achieve this you need to curb procrastination, which in my case is a major problem. I believe that the best way of tackling procrastination is related to meaningfulness: we need to feel like what we are doing has some meaning, and that after doing it we can be sure we will be able to reward ourselves with at least a little bit of quality time. In short, motivation.
All in all, though, I believe that it is you who should get to choose what is better for your wellbeing, and this is just intended as some advice or guidance regarding this topic. Remember: if the sense of human existence cannot be found, give your own existence a meaning and you will be able to live a happier life with that newly found determination to have a legacy, even if it’s tiny. In conclusion, enjoy the perks of being human.