At times, like most I guess, I question whether my life has any real meaning or purpose. I get up, go to work, come home, pursue some vicarious pleasure then go to bed, only to repeat it all the next day. Sure I earn money, more than enough to live on, eat well and to buy some baubles and trinkets that give me momentary pleasure, but it doesn’t seem to add up to much of an even trade.
I read a book just recently, ‘The Money-Less Man‘ (not an affilate link) by Mark Boyle, (founder of the Freeconomy community in the UK) which might help me realign my goals, even if only temporarily. It certainly gave me food for thought.
The book itself details the year that Mark decided to live entirely without money and contains some interesting details about how we consume the world’s resources. For instance:
- Two thirds of all electricity generated by power stations in the UK is lost before it gets to your power sockets.
- Water used in a flush toilet per person – 70 litres per day (American Water Work Association Research). That’s the same water that you fill your kettle up with.
- NuRelm, a US organisation, estimates that a 12 foot high wall, running from California to New York, could be erected using waste paper from American offices. I’m guilty of it myself, but most people only print on one side of paper.
- According to Food Aware, 18 million tonnes of edible food ends up in landfill, and that’s just in the UK.
There’s no panacea contained in the book though, but it does challenge the role money (and the pursuit of it), capitalism and consumerism contributes to a general feeling of disconnection in society. Where once were local communities, buying local produce from local shops, we are now so busy striving that we leave home early, get home late normally after a wretched commute that we’re so tired we barely have time for ourselves, let alone community.
One of my favourite bits in the book is a summary of how the Sioux Indian, John Lame Deer, felt about ‘civilisation’.
Before our white brothers came to civilise us we had no jails. Therefor we had no criminals. You can’t have criminals without a jail. We had no locks or keys and so we had no thieves. If a man was so poor that he had no horse, tipi or blanket, someone gave him these things. We were too uncivilised to set much value on personal belongings. We wanted to have things only in order to give them away. We had no money and therefore a man’s worth couldn’t be measured by it. We had no written law, no attorney or politicians, therefore we couldn’t cheat, We were really in a bad way before the white man came and I don’t know how we managed to get along without the basic things which, we are told, are absolutely necessary to make a civilised society.
There is a debate about whether the relentless pursuit of economic growth is sustainable or even desirable in the developed nations of the world. In his book, Tim Jackson, a top sustainability adviser to the UK government, makes a compelling case against continued economic growth in developed nations.
He suggests that there is mounting evidence that ever-increasing consumption adds little to human happiness and may even impede it. More urgently, it is now clear that the ecosystems that sustain our economies are collapsing under the impacts of rising consumption.
Those views and Mark Boyle’s book haven’t changed my life dramatically, but they have helped remind me what I already instinctively knew.
Money doesn’t bring you happiness, I know that. Debt does certainly make you unhappy, I can testify to that.
Love, laughter, friendship. Those are the things that bring you happiness. I know that too, just sometimes I lose sight of that. I think we all do.