29 December 2007

Generation Less

By Rupert Read

How do we go from being Generation Stressed to what might be termed Generation Blessed? Since the term 'Generation X' was coined, one negative term after another has described the rising generation; how can we break the circle, and create a new generation that is… blessed?

That we are Generation Stressed is scarcely to be denied. To verify this, ask yourself when the last time was that, when you asked someone how they are, they replied, "Yeah, just fine; really relaxed. Totally unstressed." For some of us, I suspect it was sometime in the 1970s…

For, since about the 70s, our rising level of material standard of living has not translated into an improved quality of life. Stresses like job insecurity, an increased pace of life, rising environmental degradation (e.g noise pollution) and threats to our very future as a civilisation have cancelled out any benefit one gets from having more things.

As I write, the Christmas holiday is coming to an end. Isn't Christmas an exception to what I have been saying so far, one might ask? Isn't it a true de-stressor? No. Christmas is no different. For most, now, Christmas is just another stressor. Ask the Samaritans: there is perhaps more distress at Christmas than at any other time of year (just look at Christmas period suicide rates). And: Christmas is the ultimate consumerist binge. The ultimate example of the futility of a more, more, more! culture. Having more things doesn't make one happier.

I propose that the way to start to de-stress, is to see that one can actually be - if one has much less than virtually all of us in a country like contemporary Britain have. We can be rich, while living in every sense within our means; and, if we live with less, we have a chance of turning the tide, and showering blessings on our children and their children. We can create Generation Blessed, only by first becoming Generation Less.

'Generation Less': At first blush, it can sound negative. But being taught that what we need is more more more is what has made us Generation Stressed in the first place. The cult of consumerism is a treadmill – what used to be called the rat-race – that terminally stresses individuals, families, cultures, ecosystems. I stress terminally. The ultimate stress we are under is that cloud hanging over us in the form of a growing greenhouse gas-barrier in the atmosphere. Worse even than the threat of the mushroom cloud, or of the exhaustion of natural resources, the abundance of greenhouse gases is the ultimate stressor, the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. Our endless more is coming back to haunt us. To consume us. With each additional throwaway 'good' that is produced, we add another brick to the CO2 wall that we are throwing up around our planetary home, and bring terminal over-heat one step closer.

It is the rising tide materialism and consumerism that has brought us to this literal rising tide (the gradual increase of sea-levels that threatens us in East Anglia more than most). Generation Stressed is literally a product of 'the affluent society'. The way out of stress is through: less.

But less needn't translate into lack. Because: Less really is more.

Less stuff. Less waste. Less junk. Less impatience. Less marketing. Less competitiveness. Less working hours. Less travelling. Less carbon emissions. Less fear. Less mental illness. And yes: less speed, and less choice. The speed of life and the amount of choice we are faced with (think of absurdly large supermarket shelves) are making us distressed, ill. Just as they make the planet burn.

We're not talking about hairshirts and deprivation. We're talking in fact about a better way to live. The convenient truth is that the very things we need to do in order to stop climate catastrophe are the very things we need to do in order to become happier. Happiness comes not from affluence, not from material goods, but from the recreation of community, true security, and simple human kindness. As we relocalise our society, as we reverse the globalised madness that has brought us to the edge of catastrophe, we will willy-nilly water the seeds of well-being that have been withering since roughly the 70s.

Generation Blessed can come to us. But only if we take the road of Less. We know that, in the true sense of the words, less is more. So, in 2008, let's seize the day: let's be Generation Less.