‘Living sustainably’ – it’s a phrase that is usually discussed as an environmental matter. We understand it to mean ‘living within the Earth’s limits’, particularly with respect to non-renewable resources and climate change. I believe this interpretation is too shallow.
Sustainable living, in my opinion, means living that is sustainable in every meaningful way. It means living that is not only sustainable environmentally, but also in terms of culture, community, relationships and our physical health. It means living a life which is truly flourishing.
One of the many reasons I’m passionate about ‘simple’ living is due to what I’ve seen in my work as a medical doctor. In any developed nation the most common problems confronting a doctor are diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiac disease, and peripheral vascular disease – all illnesses which are significantly contributed to by lifestyle.
Simple or sustainable living admittedly has a wide range of expressions, but almost all of them result in healthier lifestyles.
Whether your grow your own food, eat less meat, or simply eat out less to save money – it results in a healthier diet. Whether you walk to work, cycle to the store or work in the backyard building a chicken coup – it results in healthier activity levels.
Simple living is, quite simply, good for you.
One of the best illustrations of sustainable living is a town called ‘Roseto’ in Pennsylvania. Malcolm Gladwell wrote an entire chapter on this town in his book ‘Oultliers’ – a book on individuals and groups that has achieved extraordinary success in one sense or another. ‘Extraordinary’ is certainly an appropriate term for this town.
In the 1960′s researchers noticed that the inhabitants of this town had very low rates of heart attacks – around 50% of the national average. This generated some interest, and people began to take a closer look. What they found was even more astonishing than they’d previously thought. John Bruhn, a sociologist who was studying the town noted, “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t even have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were dying of old age. That’s it.”
“There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t even have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were dying of old age. That’s it.”
But wait – it gets even more astonishing…
When the researches went looking for answers all the usual avenues proved fruitless. Analysis of the genetics of the town found nothing favorable, their diet was worse than the average American’s, and there was nothing in the local area to account for the changes. The answer? The only thing the researchers could find that distinguished the Rosetans from other towns was the way they lived.
The Rosetans looked after each other. They lived in smaller houses, often with multiple generations under one roof. They kept vegetable gardens and shared their produce. They participated in civic groups such as churches at much higher rates than usual. They stopped and talked on the street. They were, in short, a flourishing community.
Yet another area that simple living helps us to flourish is our relationships. It takes little imagination to see how living beyond our means, working too hard, and the individualism encouraged by modern consumerism hurt our relationships. Simple living, or rather ‘sustainable living’, puts those things that matter firmly back in the center of focus, and for most of us this includes our relationships.
Although I doubt we need proof, it’s nice to know that the science backs common sense. According to a 1999 study conducted by the University of North Carolina couples in which one partner is a workaholic divorce at twice the average rate. “In workaholic marriages, there’s more marital estrangement; couples are emotionally distant from each other; and there are often thoughts of separation and divorce” says study author Bryan Robinson.
Sustainable Living All Round
Sustainable living, simple living – whatever you want to call it, it is simply a better match to the human condition. Freed of the constraints of consumerism, simple living gives us the space to flourish and encourages the rest of the world to do the same.