The good life

By Dinali Devasagayam

Live simply so that others may simply live – Ghandi

The prevailing paradigm in society seems to still be that the best way to be happy and have a successful life or at least appear to be successful, is to buy more and more stuff – a bigger house and all the stuff to fill it with, a newer car and the overseas holiday. This is despite strong scientific evidence that our rapacious consumption of materials to maintain this growth is rapidly depleting non-renewable resources, causing the global destabilisation of our climate and contributing to the greatest rate of extinction of species since the dinosaurs died out. Research also shows that once a certain material standard of living is achieved, increases in personal and/or national income does not contribute to subsequent increases in well-being. Rather other factors like meaningful employment, more leisure time and social engagement become increasingly important.

So then why are we still stuck in this consumptive way of living? One of the problems possibly is the lack of coherent alternatives that not only offer a way to stop the wholesale destruction of the environment but to also improve our wellbeing. The Simplicity Movement is an exciting movement that has emerged in the last few decades offering an alternative view of what a good life constitutes. It is based on the vision of sufficiency instead of endless consumption and seeking satisfaction from non-material pursuits.

The Simpler Way Project initiated by Dr Samuel Alexander in Gippsland, Victoria brought together a group of people who wanted to explore how a simplicity-based community could be set up and function. The documentary A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity follows this group over the first 12 months of the project. It is a fascinating exploration of how to live more lightly on the planet. The group built their own homes, grew their food and learnt what it really means to live in a community where you need to know and rely on your neighbours.

This project is just one of many from groups in the Voluntary Simplicity, Permaculture, Downshifting, De-growth, Eco-village and Transition Towns movements that are now exploring lifestyles that are better for the planet and by extension us. We might not feel called to live such a radical life but we can all learn from these examples. At the core it serves as a powerful reminder that we can’t consume ourselves to a better life. Basic human needs such as social interaction can only be met through aspects of life that are gifted to us from nature and our friends and family. So even by shifting our focus a little from material possessions and pursuing endless growth we can start to create a life that is more fulfilling and healthy for our society and our planet. Things like making time for friends, going for a walk in a park, learning to darn our own clothes and playing with our kids are great ways to make social connections, improve our health and reduce the impact on the planet.

It’s not about saving the planet by depriving ourselves. It’s about switching our focus to things other than shopping – Ted Trainer

The Adelaide Sustainability Centre is screening the film A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity followed by a discussion on 1 June, and is holding a public talk with Dr Robert Crocker, author of Someone Else’s Problem: Consumerism: Sustainability & Design on 7 June. Join us on these nights to begin, or continue, the conversations that need to be happening about living better together.

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