That title’s not just an attempt to steal web traffic away from everyone’s favorite self-help gospel peddler… though I wouldn’t feel bad if it did. There’s this myth that we’ve all been indoctrinated with. Some call it the greener grass syndrome. Some believe that progress is inevitable. Some are working for the golden age of retirement. Some want a better spouse, kids, house, car, stereo, etc.
Most of our lives are spent thinking about the future. What college should I go to? What job should I get? Who should I marry? Where should I live? What’s next? Our consumerist addiction to the new also translates into how we think about our lives, the decisions we make and our feelings of insecurity and restlessness. There’s always someone else who has a better life, job, family, house, etc.
You would think that once you become an urban, hippie farmer and join some commune or Communist Christian community you no longer care about those things (please note sarcasm). In fact many people who have made radical life changes to be more sustainable look down their noses and make snide remarks about the bourgeois masses that continue to blindly follow their suburban existence. It certainly makes you feel better about yourself and keeps you from looking too closely at your own life. (I may have been that person at times. Lord have mercy.)
Yet, the truth is that we do not leave behind all that Mother Culture has blessed/cursed us with just because we have chickens in our yard, use a composting toilet or even get food out of dumpsters. We continue to carry the guilt, shame and other baggage of our histories and culture with us. The truth is that we have often exchanged one unattainable ideal for another.
Yes, I do believe the infinite growth economy and industrial food system are ideas and constructs whose time is up. It is a worthy thing to live counter to these cultural and social norms. We need people trying to live out an alternate economics. And yet I have come to realize that the ideal of sustainability can also become oppressive.
What makes growing your own food, sharing, living simply, living in community, riding your bike to work and many other practices worthwhile is that they make our lives better. We can be healthier, have more balanced lives, be productive, have lives full of meaning and deep relationships. These are the promises of the dreams we have for the world.
Yet, the truth is that we find ourselves just as worn out, out of balance, busy and stressed out as the suburbanites or hedge fund managers we scorn. This is because we live in a world that makes our ideal of life and sustainability practically impossible. We bring the baggage of our greener grass syndrome into the idealized sustainable lifestyle. We continue to have the same guilt and shame because we don’t have solar panels on our roof, still buy conventional apples covered in pesticides or work at a job that we despise.
There’s always something else we could do to be more sustainable. These days you can buy magazines to make you feel guilty about your unsustainable life instead of making you feel ugly or unpopular or uncool. Those magazines will also sell you all kinds of products to fix your unsustainable lifestyle so you can feel better about yourself. This is the same trap we’ve been in that makes us feel inadequate. More of the same is not going to help us.
So, stop thinking something else is going to fix your problems and make you feel better about your life. (I’m talking to myself here.) The only thing that is going to make you happier and healthier is to start by appreciating what you have and living the life you want now, regardless of circumstances, debt, job or anything else that you wish were different. By all means, make changes. Install rain barrels, compost, grow your own food and raise chickens. You should feel good about the things you are doing to make positive change. BUT we all need to stop feeling bad about the things we’re not doing, because it doesn’t accomplish anything.
I started a small business in some ways to fulfill these unrealistic expectations for myself and a sustainable lifestyle. A year and a half later I am letting go of that dream and passing it on, because it has made me stressed out and overworked. I want to have time with my family, but also have meaningful work and a strong supportive community. All of those things take enormous amounts of time and energy.
It is really only the lucky few who are able to live where they work at a meaningful job and have perfect balance between life work and community. Most of us have pieces of the puzzle and long for more. We already feel bad enough. We don’t need all these sustainability gurus and authors making us feel bad that we can’t make a living on an acre or less. What we really need are other friends who care about the same things walking with us, dreaming with us and living life with us. We can make some of these changes together and we can commiserate about the changes we can’t make yet.
These authors that want you to buy their books and take their online permaculture course sound like part of the solution, but they might also be part of the problem. I’m probably just jealous, but the reason I’m jealous is because I think they are either living the life I wish I was or I’m buying the extra green grass they’re selling me. Well, I’m tired of my life not being good enough.. at least in my own head. So, I’m going to try and slow down, enjoy the process and learn to live my best life now. Take that smiley!