More, more, more is the mantra of today’s culture. Accumulate more things, more money, more social media likes, more food, more career success, more responsibilities, more house, more gadgets and more clothes.
Success in life is often judged by external indicators like luxury items, popularity, salary, or status items. Unfortunately these are, in reality, poor guide posts as they aren’t indicative of true wealth, contentment or positive lifestyles. The reality behind the shiny facade is often debt, money worries, stress, poor health and disfunctional relationships.
I’m firmly of the belief that we’d be better off individually, and as a society, by heading in the other direction. We need to reject this acquisition mindset and the boundless consumerism that everyone is caught up in. Instead, we might just experience greater fulfilment and happiness from a more moderate lifestyle and being less concerned by the opinions of others. Getting to this point may require an initial focus on less in order to restore balance as we pull back from our lifestyles of excess.
Social norms help guide and direct our behaviour. Unfortunately, for many of us, simply looking to the people around us, whether they be family, friends or work colleagues, won’t provide good examples or guidance.
“Normal” often means spending more than you earn, consuming more than you need, relying on debt and living paycheck-to-paycheck. It may be easier to just do what everyone else is doing in the short term, but it isn’t typically the optimal answer in the long run.
In fact, focusing on being normal is likely to set you on the path of mediocrity, the average and ordinary. Mindlessly following the herd is a receipe for drift and a life without direction or purpose.
When you make the decision to avoid “normal” and realize that you don’t have to live up to the expectations of others, or follow the unwritten rules of society, then you can begin living your life on your terms.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition”
In recent months I have been looking at all aspects of my life to assess where I can lighten my ecological footprint and, within my personal sphere of influence, positively encourage global warming mitigation action.
Naturally for someone interested in personal finance, the question arises whether there are ways to invest in companies that have more progressive stances on the environment and, likewise, avoid certain firms or industries which don’t.
One approach that is becoming increasingly popular is ESG investing. ESG refers to Environmental, Social and Governance, three key factors in measuring the sustainability and ethical impact of an investment in a particular company. The concept picks up environmental concerns (eg. climate change and sustainability), social concerns (eg. diversity, human rights, consumer protection and animal welfare) and corporate governance (eg. executive pay, employee relations and compensation). All good things in my mind, and aligned with my values.
Like anything though, it is important to look beyond the surface and unfortunately ESG doesn’t necessarily mean as green, sustainable or ethical as I assumed. Digging a little deeper has me questioning whether ESG funds are materially different from other investment options, especially within an index fund. At a more fundamental level, I’m also questioning whether attempting to invest in sustainable companies makes sense or if there better ways to allocate my money and time.
Maybe I’m getting old, but it feels like many things just aren’t built to last anymore. Planned obsolesence, which is a business strategy to have things fail and encourage consumers to replace them, seems to be real phenomenon. In addition, we have endless items available to us as consumers that are virtually disposable – super low cost, easily accessible and so cheap that you’re happy to buy without thinking, even if only to use once or twice. Sometimes I think things are just too affordable.
Even if something doesn’t break, we feel compelled to replace it in time anyway. Marketers employ sophisticated techniques to convince us that new is good and old is less desirable. “Keeping up with the Joneses” mentality is unfortunately common place and, as consumers, we are conditioned to buy, buy, buy.
What is the true cost of our hyper consumerist, disposable society?
I posted recently about reframing my pursuit of financial independence to capture a more holistic ambition to also lead a sustainable, balanced lifestyle – Financial Independence Live Lightly and Simply (FILLS). With that bit of context, I wanted to write a quick blog post given events this week at the United Nations.
This morning my wife commented that I rarely do things in moderation. I guess she probably has a point, and on reflection I can see many examples where not only have I been overly-enthusiastic (maybe sometimes obsessive) about a hobby, cause or new area of interest but also how I yo-yo between extremes. For example, in my pursuit of Financial Indepence I know that at times I’ve been overly frugal but occasionally I’ll randomly go and spend a ton of money. I can go cold turkey with my Coke Zero (habit/addiction) but then revert to drinking way too much. This see-sawing behaviour often negates my positive intentions.
Perhaps the old saying “everything in moderation” has some merit. Those that read my last post about the concept of FILLS know that I’ve been thinking a lot about balance, sustainability and our place in the world.
Over the last 12 months I’ve been obsessed with the concept of financial independence (FI). Essentially FI allows you to design a life you want without taking money into consideration. For me, embedded in the goal of FI are concepts of freedom, self-reliance, optimism and the sense of endless future possibilities. At its essence, the path to FI is relatively simple – spend less, save more, and optimize the difference. I’ve realized though, it isn’t all about money.
Last night my wife and I watched a fantastic documentary called “The Biggest Little Farm“. The film chronicles the 8 year journey of John and Molly Chester from small LA city apartment to 200 acres of biodiverse farm. They have a dream of coexisting with nature and “traditional” farming, where over time they transform a barren landscape into a lush paradise. The cinematography is beautiful and their story is hopeful, often emotional, and inspiring.
I don’t suddenly want to become a farmer, but The Biggest Little Farm got me thinking about what constitutes sustainability, purpose and a good life.