Superfluous Matter

I've blogged a lot about physical health lately, particularly diet. But I've also been reading a couple of "lifestyle" blogs: Mr. Money Mustache and Raptitude which are more about financial and psychological health respectively. Both are excellent and I encourage everyone to read them.

Mr. Money Mustache is ostensibly about early retirement (for the average middle class working family), but it's a lot deeper than that. It really comes quite close to covering the same ground as Raptitude, but from the angle of personal finance. Early retirement is easy: spend significantly less than you earn. The author of the blog retired with his wife at age 30 in order to concentrate full time on raising their son. They did this by trimming expenses down to about $25,000/year and then saving money until the passive income generated by their investments covered that budget. The interesting stuff comes as he describes where they made cuts and how those cuts actually improved their quality of life. Our society is full of ridiculous ways to spend money and it's pretty easy to argue that most of those ways do not return an appropriate amount of happiness per dollar spent. At no time does Mr. Money Mustache or his family feel "deprived." In fact they feel more free and happy every single day.

Raptitude attacks the quest for personal fulfilment in a more direct way. The author talks a lot about mindfulness -- the attempt to really experience the present moment. It's so easy to spend a whole day worrying about the future or regretting and reliving the past. But the past and present don't really exist. The past is gone and all that remains is a collection of memories in faulty human brains. The future is at best a murky unknown. The present is really the only thing there is and it is our tendency in the western world to waste it. He is not saying that one should forget the past or avoid planning for the future but that those things should not overwhelm the experience of the present.

Both blogs regularly come back to the same theme. The western world is a friggin' wonderland. The things we have access to and the comforts and freedoms we enjoy are unparalleled in human history. And all of this amazing stuff is accessible for very little money. Never has food been cheaper as a percent of income. Access to information and communications is essentially unlimited via the Internet. We can travel anywhere on earth cheaper and faster than ever before. Medical science has extended life expectancies immensely. Go back just one hundred years, a blink of the eye in the history of humanity, and the world offered so much less at a much higher cost.

And yet we take it all for granted constantly. Our sense of perspective is massively broken and we suffer for that. We take on massive amounts of debt requiring us to spend the best years of our life working to service that debt, often in jobs we don't enjoy. Our health suffers when we fail to think about the food we eat when presented with the unlimited smorgasbord that is the modern industrial food complex. The mindless accumulation of possessions has replaced real experiences and human interaction in the pursuit of happiness.

I hope to one day be half as good at life as the authors of these two blogs. In the meantime though I'm starting small. Both authors regularly issue challenges to themselves and in the spirit of that I'm embarking on a small challenge myself. Everytime I think to myself that I "have to" or "need to" do something I intend to mentally change the phase so that I "get to" do that thing.

Instead of "having" to get up early to go to work, I "get" to get up early so that I can go engage my mind and interact with interesting people at my job that pays me money. I "get" to do my morning exercises and revel in the movements of my body. I "get" to pay my taxes which let me enjoy the benefits of a modern collective society. I "get" to collect and take out the smelly compost and use the super cool tri-sorter garbage shoot in my apartment building. I don't own a car, but every time I drive one and have to wait in traffic I'll remember that I'm also getting to pilot a magical wonder box with continental range and a lazy-boy for the captain's chair.

And I "get" to write this blog post and freely express the ideas in my head.

Almost all the chores and annoyances of day-to-day life can be rephrased as privileges. Because for the minor stuff, the alternative one hundred years ago was probably a lot worse. I suspect that the bigger, harder parts of life can benefit from this outlook too but for now I'm starting small.

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