American habits

Slow down. That’s a phrase not often heard in the US. At least not among the people I know. But it’s a notion that’s slowly starting to make more sense.

Americans love to think big and spend big. They want progress on every front, no matter what the cost. In the 20th century, that sort of thinking worked well. It carried us through to the 21st century, where, however reluctantly, I think we’ve got to change the way we operate.

There’s a newspaper article I’ve been saving since June of 2007. It’s about people who overextended themselves in order to keep up with the Joneses, and were paying the price. It’s called “Breaking free of suburbia’s stranglehold“. Even before the real estate bubble burst, sensible people were finding out they couldn’t sustain their lifestyle and stay sane, so they downsized. Each found their own impetus, but they were acting on it. That was smart. I wonder how many people had to downsize the hard way since last year…

How about a more pallatable reference, one for the ADD crowd? There’s a Daft Punk video called “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger“. The lesson to be drawn from it is found at the end of the video, but to get it, you have to watch it from the start. I’ll summarize it for you here. Don’t be fooled by glitter and glamour. There’s a price to pay for everything.

Paying for it isn’t a new notion. It’s been around for ages. Take “pay the piper“, for example. You look at almost any language, and the idea of everything having a price can be found embodied in certain evocative phrases.

Let’s look at a few more concrete examples:

  • You want a bigger house? There will be a cost for that, as seen above.
  • You want the house of your choice AND the job of your choice? You might have to do some really nasty commuting, and now that gas costs a lot more, you’ll not only pay with your time, but with your wallet as well.
  • You persist in wanting to drive an SUV? There’s a price to pay for that too, and it’s not just in gas.
  • You want a house that looks like a mansion, but you don’t want to think about how things get built? That’s okay, you’ll get a plywood box with fake brick cladding that will look like a mansion and will only last you 20-30 years at most (not to mention that your HVAC bills will go through the roof, literally).
  • You want your meat, particularly your pork? There’s a big cost for that, and it’s measured in incredible amounts of environmental damage and in chronic and deadly health problems for the people who work on the pig farms.
  • You want to keep your computers and lights on all the time at work? You want to keep the temperature at 65 degrees Fahrenheit all the time? Do you want to keep all of your employees on site instead of letting them work from home? As a company, you’ll see increased costs because of your wasteful habits.

These are all hard lessons to learn. It seems the only way to get people and companies to learn to act responsibly is to increase costs. When your actions have a direct and immediate impact on your bottom line, you tend to change your ways in order to stop the bleeding.

It’s a shame it has to be that way, and perhaps at some point in the future, the new way of thinking will be more ingrained in people’s minds, and they’ll think about slowing down, conservation, sustainability and efficiency on a daily basis. Perhaps they’ll realize having a more meaningful life is more important than having a busy life filled with material nothingness.

I’m grateful that at least some are already seeing things the right way. I myself have already started to cut out unnecessary expenses and time commitments, and will continue to do so. I have several more important changes still planned.

If you’d like to do the same, one place to start is a book entitled “Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America“. It’ll get you thinking along the right lines, but it’ll be up to you afterwards to make the needed changes in your life.


3 thoughts on “American habits”

  1. hey Rauol
    Decent post,
    yeah not many people take the time and mellow out. Canada is not faring economically as well
    We all have our own crosses to bear.
    Technically it takes just one greedy individual in a corporate world to ruin everything for everyone. What affects one, affects another. Well actually it would take one decision to muck things up.

    enough about that one. Anyways economy varies from one place to the next.
    You wouldn’t believe how much a can of soda cost here, 1.50 for 2% milk three plastic bags 17.34, a small can of coffee 11.98 and so forth.
    A bit expensive in my little corner aka middle of nowhere, in north western Ontario – Canada where goods and perishables are shipped via barge or seasonal temporary winter road.
    Gas here cost 2.31 a litre – 11.35 a gallon.
    being an avid coffee freak, I had to cut back to save my mad money. /:)
    No more two pots of coffee
    It’s not surprising that people in Hawaii and Alaska are being squeezed for every penny.
    Savings are non-existent, which is why its prudent to use only one credit card, paying off debt whenever you can.
    I use a small memo book, to write down in keeping track of amounts I spend or withdrew.

    1. It’s unfortunate that the places where natural beauty abounds, high prices and difficulties also abound. Thanks for your comment, Barry!

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