Being Happier with Less: Liz’s TED Talk

22 Aug

So I’ve been grumbling about Al Gore’s super cheery (but not necessarily factual) TED talks.  And don’t assume my frustration with him is political. I’ve listened to many great TED talks by people I don’t see eye to eye with.  The talks were still good: enlightening, engaging and energetic.  Al Gore…meh…

Being Happier With Less

Whether you are concerned with buzz words like climate change and the carbon tax and sustainability, or you couldn’t care less, I think we all can agree that how we live life is going to have to change in the future.  Some believe it is the near future – that by 2025 or 2050, we could presumably run out of water or natural resources such as copper.  Others think we have more time before the depletion of natural resources, or that the Earth will cyclically renew itself over time.

And most people would agree that the idea of sustainability is good.  We might disagree on who should take the lead: government, business, individual people, global task forces, etc.  But almost no one is going to argue with the definition of sustainability: “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The key word, in my mind, is needs.  What is a need?  And what is a want? And what is a luxury?  How comfortable do people deserve to be?  How comfortable do we want our children and grandchildren to be?  How comfortable do we want those currently in poverty to be?  And are we willing to be slightly less comfortable in order for someone else to achieve basic needs?

Regardless of whether the world changes in 25 years or 100, regardless of whether aliens land or nuclear war happens or genetically modified foods kill us all (if we don’t die from the BPA in our water bottles first), life will have to change.  And I think one of the biggest and hardest changes for us as a society is that we will need to become happier with less.

It is possible.  Studies show that wealth has increased in the past 40 years in America.  The average income has increased.  The longevity rate (doesn’t that sound better than the mortality rate?) has increased.  We have healthier.  But the “Happiness Index” as surveyed by the Happiness People (I made that last part up) hasn’t changed at all. We have more.  We are no happier.

Clearly wealth does not equate to happiness.

Education on sustainability and reducing/reusing/recycling is good.  It should continue.  But what about education on gratitude?  On enjoyment of simple pleasures?  How do we teach our children to be good consumers?  To be happy with less.  To not rely on products and entertainment and things to provide pleasure and enjoyment?  Is visiting Disney World a right? Or a need?  Are special treats really special treats if they are given every day? Or even every time they are requested?

If other people were to observe the way we live our lives, what message would they bring anyway?  One of contentment and enjoyment or one of a futile pursuit for more?

Let’s be happy with less.  Not so our children and their children can be happy with more (although “more” in the form of health and jobs and education is good).  Let’s be happy with less so they can be happy with less. And so they can avoid the Consumption Addicts Anonymous withdrawal symptoms our society would need to suffer through.

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One Response to “Being Happier with Less: Liz’s TED Talk”

  1. Sue Zelie August 22, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

    Well said. I watched a “home organization” guru from Australia, Peter Walsh, say that so many people contact him about managing “toys” — their living spaces are overrun with them. He advises having a very finite number of bins and baskets and when those are full, the child decides (when he’s old enough — parents do this when kiddos are really young) what to give away if he wants to bring a new toy into the mix. Parent takes child to Goodwill where they leave the toy/toys and talks to someone who works there about what will happen to the toy. This way the child learns to be satisfied with less, to value what he has, and to think about sharing his wealth with others. As Walsh also says, “our stuff owns us, not the other way around”.

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