Sunday, 1 January 2012

Spent it Like the 70s. Revisited

There are clever people who've written books that prove we're no happier now we've got loads of stuff and "freedom of choice" (more loads of stuff). We peaked in the 1970s.
I know I've written about this before, but I want another go at it. And this time, why not put it into practice?
I was alive in the 70s and I wasn't that happy myself, but that was mostly because I was at school, had loads of exams to do, and had to do what other people told me. It's like that when you live in someone else's house (parents) and lived off someone else's income (parents).
So now, with my own house and income, can I make myself happier by living like we did in the 70s?

What did we do then that we don't do now?
I think it was this:
We bought things when the old ones fell to bits, or when we really needed a new thing. We then used them.
We thought it was important to be kind and polite. But I don't think we really understood why.
In the words of Mr. Spock, we believed that the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few, or of the one. But at the time, we didn't know how that was going to work, exactly. It all seemed a bit theoretical when the school bullies had pushed you in the mud and stolen your dinner money. How would being kind to them be a good idea? How about hiding?

It was the 80s when we were taught that being greedy and selfish was a really good idea and that owning more stuff would make us very happy indeed. (The US had had that since the 50s, but it only caught on in the UK when Mrs. Thatcher unleashed her new non-paternalistic form of capitalist conservatism.)

In the 80s there wasn't any good scientific research to support putting the needs of others before yourself; that was one of the things that made Thatcherism so popular. To many people, it seemed obvious that working hard, earning lots and getting stuff was the answer. There was the God Squad telling us that behaving like Jesus was the best way to be, but no-one could see how, not on earth anyway. It's interesting to know that kindness and selflessness really do make people happier. You don't have to be religious, you just have to be lovely.

My family had been brought up (my mum's side) believing that kindness had to work both ways, directly back and forth. You'd be kind to someone if and only if they deserved it. This led to surprising scenes where my mother could turn into an evil, revengeful harpy, but only if they started it.
I think I've learned that it's the consistently kind people who end up happy, not the conditionally kind ones. Karma works in unexpected directions. Kindness with no expectation of a payback works best in the happiness stakes.

Another thing. You've got to be kind to yourself too. There are these constant givers, who often turn up in the caring professions, who tell you they don't expect any thanks for what they do. They think they're being kind, but they're just building up a deficit in their accounts, enumerating and mentally recording every selfless act. There's a worry that it'll all burst out one day and they'll stab someone with a fork 23 times then tell the nice policeman that it just all got a bit much. Don't be one of them. Be kind, but be fair, and that includes being fair to yourself and your own.

So what's the plan.
1) Stuff the stuff
2) Be lovely

I have too much stuff. I was saving it for when I got a bigger house, but we've got a lovely house and I'll probably live here for the rest of my life, so what's the use?
I'm going to take my stuff and do one of four things with it: use it, sell it, give it away, recycle it.
And I'm going to lower my need threshhold. I think I need a constant supply of beautiful new stuff. (And old stuff; I love Arts & Crafts Movement pottery. See picture.) I don't. I just need to play with the stuff I've got.

I'm going to try to be kinder, particularly to the people I know well. Random acts of kindness to complete strangers are all well and good, but they're easy.

I've just put up a load of books to sell on Amazon and next I'm going to get off the computer and make the lad a cup of coffee. And does anyone need a box of fabric paints?

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more with this statement Sarah. I know you know what you're talking about, and I'd like to think I follow the same beliefs when it comes to possessions, kindness and karma. I might just follow suit with you on this one.