Economic Sacrifices for Sustainable Living

A while back while hiking in a beautiful forest I came to a realization that there is a parallel between the process our family took to overhaul our lifestyle and what we feel needs to happen to make our society sustainable with respect to the environment.  I hesitated in putting this thought out in a blog because it sounds pretty high and mighty of me to first assume I know what is best for society, and second, to think that the simple formula adopted by one stressed out family will actually work on such a large scale.  I decided to proceed anyway because I thought it was interesting to see how making these types of decisions starts when you really do some searching and decide what is truly important.

A couple years back we were floundering around in our success.  We were not rich by any scale but we had more than we needed to live comfortably and to raise our family.  I had a successful career and there was a path I could take for long term financial stability and further success.  We had a fantastic family and we owned our home; we were successful.  The problem was this was not the type of lifestyle that suited us did not fit our personalities.  We were not as happy as we should be and it was slowly getting worse.  My job was getting repetitive and all the political game-playing that comes with working for a large company was getting more and more frustrating.  We lived in the city where the traffic, hurried pace of the people, and even things like air quality we becoming harder to ignore.  Now with children even our normal suburban street seemed less desirable and even somewhat unsafe and we were starting to question if this was a place where we wanted to raise kids.  For many this life is fantastic but to us, while it was sustainable from a financial point of view, when you factor in all these other issues that were affecting our attitude and mood we recognized that this was not a path we wanted to take.  You can find more details in this transition in the Our Transition section of and learn how we feel these fundamental changes have improved our life even though we have worsened our financial certainty.

After many conversations we realized that our health and overall enjoyment of life were more important than having the biggest house on the block, driving luxury cars, and even owning a high def. TV.  After sorting out our priorities in life we decided that family happiness had to come first.  Everything has not gone exactly how we thought it would but we would not go back even if we could.  Our life is still busy with three young kids but we are healthier, endure less daily stress, and are enjoying the simple things in life.  We are living in a smaller, tighter nit, community with much less traffic and citizens who will pause from their lives to smile and say hello.  We are reconnecting with nature, enjoying quality time with our kids, and doing simple things like growing a garden, and baking bread, which has added quality to our lives.  We recognized that even though we have to maintain a certain level of financial security it was more important to do so while living an enjoyable and less stressful life.

Choosing a life that makes you happy seems like a logical decision to make but in our society these types of decisions are rare.  It was amazing to is just how many people who were far better off financially then we were kept constantly complaining and worrying about money.  It seemed that the more money people made the more pressure it brought with it.  Money can have a factor in happiness but in our society the perception is that wealth greatly out ways all other factors that need to be considered.  When we put a greater focus on some of the other factors it became clear that we need to move and start over.  Lately I cannot help to think that our society as a whole could benefit from this type of analysis.

You can get a good idea of what is important to your society by following politics (not all the time as that can be depressing).  There are many and many political issues that are important in our society but it would come as no surprise that the number one issue by a landslide is the economy.  There are other important issues, like the environment, which get consideration but it is the economy that rules them all.  We would like our politicians to fix a lot of the other problems, like this ‘little’ issue called global warming, but it is career suicide for a politician if they do something that will make a positive impact on the environment if it is perceived to have a negative impact on the economy.  Fix all the other problems but make sure I can still buy all the stuff I want to.  It is almost impossible to make any progress if decision makers fear to harm the economy.

We tried, oh how we tried, to make a lifestyle transition by keeping my job and gradually move to a more happy and sustainable lifestyle.  The problem we had is that it meant we had to either be really patient or work far beyond our capacity.  With a full time career and three young kids at home to try and start a business on the side proved to be just too much of a challenge.  The only choice was to realize that we could not ignore the other important factors in our life for just one factor.  In the three or four years leading up to the eventual change there was many times where we said to each other that there was 10,000 reasons to make a change and only one reason, financial certainty, not to.  Money is important but we cannot let all our decisions be dictated by it.

What would we accomplish if we told our politicians that our society is ready to take a leap of faith and will put up with a little short term economic pain in order to really try and improve the environmental sustainability of the planet?  I know this decision would scare the hell out of me because it would take us down a path that is uncertain.   Terrifying as this would be, if you look into the future at likely outcomes I strongly believe that the likely outcome for action on environmental issues greatly outweighs the long term pain we will have if we continue down our current path.  Before we made our leap towards our new life I tried to look into the future 10, 15, 25 years and tried to imagine what our future would be if we continued down the same path and that thought scared me more than acting now and trying something completely different.  I have the same reaction when it comes to the environment.  I am freaked out about making drastic environmental changes that could affect the economy but that freaks me out much less then what the future would be if we stay inactive and continue down the same path.  What if taking a risk really works?  What would happen if decided to make drastic changes and we worked as hard as we could towards the things that are really important to us and in the end we were successful?  There could be a point in the future where I can say that I am living the lifestyle I want and I made some money in the process.  The good news is that if we are determined enough and are crazy enough to take that first leap we may just create a better life for our families.  History is full of people, and societies, who challenged conventional fears and succeeded.  I’m ready to be added to that list.

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