The New Good Life

In thinking about how to live a more sustainable lifestyle, many of us are drawn to a simpler lifestyle.  It is thought that some of the happiest people are those that live with less, like the story of the Mexican fisherman.  In this story, an American tourist coaches a the Mexican on how he could turn his small-time fishing operation into a huge empire, and after 25 years of industrious work, could retire with his fortune – living exactly what the Mexican described as his current lifestyle!

John Robbins, heir to the Baskin-Robbins family, walked away from the family business fortune to seek out his own definition of the “good life.”  After graduating from college, he and his wife used personal savings to buy several acres of land on a remote corner of an island off the coast of British Columbia.  They built a small one-room cabin, grew their own food and lived what many might consider a desolate life.  And yet, in looking back on the experience, Robbins recalls with fondness how the beauty and pristine quality of nature enabled them to grow personally.  They embraced yoga and meditation, and each other, in the silent wilderness for ten years.

While this may be a bit exaggerated for most of us, it may also hold a certain appeal.  In his book, The New Good Life, Robbins makes a compelling argument that financial success and its entrapments do not necessarily lead us to happiness.  While I can hear you saying “yes, but it doesn’t hurt!” I would invite you to consider that the stresses associated with living up to the expectations of others to make more and consume more, can drain us of the time and energy to devote to that which we know truly matters, like family, recreation, health, and personal and spiritual growth.

The new “good life” is, as Robbins puts it, more about conscious consumption than conspicuous consumption.  In the first part of the book, the author shares his own remarkable story, and then invites readers to understand their “money type.”  This is helpful groundwork as you explore your values toward money, and why you spend or save the way you do.  He then offers a set of concrete steps to take to establish greater financial freedom.

In the second part of the book, Robbins offers practical guidance on reducing housing and transportation costs.  He points out how home sizes have ballooned, and offers insights about the true cost of owning cars.  He invites us to make healthier choices about food, with dozens of recipes for simple, healthy dishes.  This enables us to spend less money doing what is better for our bodies and the environment.

Further into the book, the author points out the true costs of raising a family, and offers a rational argument for having fewer children, both from a financial perspective and from an environmental standpoint.  As the world population continues to grow, it puts a strain on natural resources required to support that growth.  He then offers healthier alternatives for home maintenance, describing the disturbing truth about the toxic chemicals we’ve grown up thinking were harmless.  In the final chapter, he offers some insights on the economics of happiness, and how our current metrics do not accurately portray the true health of our economy.

Robbins does not advocate for self-deprivation or denial, but rather self-awareness and respect for ourselves, our neighbors, and our natural surroundings.  This book may challenge you in some ways, but will likely appeal to your desire to simplify your life.  The result will likely be a happier and healthier you as you redefine a new “good life.”

This was published in the Going Green section of the June 2013 issue of Spirit Seeker magazine.

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