An Alternative Lifestyle
So, I’ve been recently asked by a friend in India to write a little tidbit for an article she’s doing on living an alternative lifestyle, naturally I assumed that I might as well write a bit more and turn it into a post.
What’s Normal Anyway?
Of course, you can only live an alternative lifestyle, if it is in fact alternative to something that is considered the norm. So let’s look at the norm. My 30th birthday, mid way through last year, brought about a fair amount of reflection; thoughts on what I have, and what I don’t; what I’ve sacrificed and what I’ve gained in order to live the life that I’m living.
I was raised in Canada and, though not rich by any means, I certainly come from enough privilege that a secure and easy life was within reach. There’s no doubt that I was given the opportunity to take a decent job, start saving for retirement, and go through the natural progression of life, namely a career, car, house, wife, kids, retirement.
I was lucky enough to know that I wouldn’t have to worry about finding shelter, or where to get my next meal unlike so many people in the world. And, although I’ve kept these latter two concerns at bay, I’ve basically walked away from what we imagine to be a natural life progression… WTF?!
It’s All About the Benjamins.
The biggest question for me comes down to happiness. While all those aspects mentioned above are fairly elemental, there’s one major underlying theme in western society these days… money brings happiness.
It’s funny, because as I write it, you know it’s not true and yet talking about it is immediately thrown into the ‘hippie jargon’ category. Before anyone gets defensive about this, let’s lay down the facts, up to a certain point, financial well-being and happiness are directly correlated…. That is, if you can’t get your hands on clean water, if you are scrounging for your next meal, if you work endless hours just to make ends meet, or if you don’t know where you’ll sleep tonight, then yes, more bucks will equal more smiles.
But guess what, beyond that, the relationship between the two is incredibly inconsistent. We are proving this all over the place in the west these days. Top businesses are realizing that money can only be used as a motivator up to a point, after that it actually has the opposite effect, it’s better to give your employees a sense of meaning, sense of autonomy and sense of belonging.
And yet, our entire society is still warped around the fact that if you have a little more cash, you’ll be happier. Did you know that the majority of Americans say that they need about $90,000 more dollars to be free of financial issues? Doesn’t seem that bad, or even that illogical, until you realize that that is REGARDLESS of their current financial situation… it doesn’t matter how much you have, when money is the motivator, you always need more.
So… Who Cares?!
The thing is, in the west we’ve focused so much on the economy, so much on productivity that we’ve lost the very core of what it was supposed to achieve. We use GDP to measure quality of life, and it couldn’t be further from the truth.
We are stuck on the idea of creating jobs, on growing the economy, that we have forgotten that jobs should have meaning, and the economy can not experience eternal growth in a finite world.
Then add the television and you realized just how out-of-whack our world has become. We are raised to think that having a proper progression in life means waking up everyday to go to a job, to earn money, to pay off a house, to have a place to put a T.V. to relax from work.
Where’s the sense of meaning in that? The sense of fulfillment?
There’s many different ways of living that people seem to ignore… many different ways to experience what it means to be human.
I was lucky enough to get a taste for travel while I was young… and realized that other countries just don’t operate the same way we do. Places that are seemingly dirt poor are still full of kids playing and having fun. Countries that we’re taught are undeveloped have somehow developed a sense of humanity that we have not, a sense of brotherly love, a sense of caring for others, and sharing… It’s like our entire society skipped out on Kindergarten.
What Makes you Happy
I could tell you that adventure, stories, diversity, water, wind, earth and fire make me happy, but if I were to nutshell it, I would say that my happiness is based around one simple and primal word, life.
Plants, animals, people… that’s where my happiness lies. Travel is incredible for me because it provides this great diversity, this new understanding, these new opportunities to learn, to teach, to grow.
The other thing that gives me a huge sense of meaning is helping others. When we have knowledge, the best thing to do with it is not use it as a bargaining chip to make more money, the best thing to do is share it. And you’ll find the craziest thing, when you share your knowledge, your abilities, it will actually make you happier… and it won’t even remotely decrease your value, rather it will increase greatly how valuable you are perceived.
Though I do believe that everyone gets value from helping others, I’m not saying everyone needs to travel, far from it. Really, a sense of place, sense of belonging is key to our happiness. What I am saying is this, if you are privileged enough to have access to food when you’re hungry, water when you’re thirsty and a bed when you’re tired, then you have the freedom to pursue your happiness… and it doesn’t lay in material wealth.
It’s scary. There’s no doubt about it. Stopping to think of how you actually want to spend your life takes time, having the courage to pursue it, well that just takes pure guts! You will feel vulnerable, and exposed. But remember, you can always fail at something that you don’t want to do, so where’s the risk in striving for what you truly desire?!
Just imagine what it would be like if everyone you knew were pursuing their true happiness, and helping others achieve theirs.
We definitely have the knowledge, the capabilities to become a happier and more meaningful society. A society that is more connected, more just, more equal. All we have to do is have the gull to say that our system is broken and then have the courage to do something about it. These are changes that need to start at the personal level, and they will reverberate into the family, society, country, and global levels.
There’s no problem with pursuing what makes you happy, as long as you aren’t impeding others from doing the same.
The problem is going to be trying to relate to the people you hold dear. You’re going to meet with resistance… big time. There’s nothing scarier and more threatening to someone who’s accepted the system, as the person who dares to question it.
The unsolicited advice that you’ll receive the moment you choose an alternative lifestyle is incredible. If you live in a different manner, the people in the system won’t recognize this as a choice, or admirable, or brave… but rather they’ll think that this means you need help making it in the system, that you can’t negotiate your way through society on your own.
When I was 24 I spent about 8 months at home, and have never questioned my life more. Everyone, it seemed, was willing to offer me a free golden nugget to help me make it in this world, because clearly I didn’t know what I was doing. But they were always the same things, ‘how can you be better than the next guy’, ‘how to get a good career’, ‘when to buy a house’… It was insane… No one ever mentioned ‘how to be happy’… that just didn’t seem to matter, and ‘how to help others’?!?!?! Hell no!
4 years later, I was in town for my high school reunion. I was all prepared for all the same conversations, though much stronger in my conviction of pursuing my own dreams, my own life. Much to my surprise, instead of offering me unsolicited life advice, people had changed tactics completely, and were now soliciting life advice from me. The common question was regarding how I had achieved so much already… Traveled so much, learned a few languages, and how I could afford it?!
I’ve decided that my friends might never get over the idea of thinking that I have a secret trust fund somewhere. I hope they see my life as the possibility of living life in a different way, and maybe even as an inspiration. Unfortunately, for most of them, they are still in a society where money determines their value. If they save now, they can live free later. Money is their motivation in order to have a free and happy life.
For me… well, I’ve found the opposite… With money as my motivator, I know I could never live free or happy.