Weekend Ramblings: Consumption vs. Happiness

>> Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sometimes on the weekends, I ramble about thoughts I've been having that week. Feel free to comment, add to my thoughts, or disagree with anything I say. But please remember that I don't like being called an idiot, even if I'm being one. So keep your comments respectful.

This week I've been thinking about consumption and environmentalism and how they relate to our level of happiness. Mostly, I've been thinking about this because I've been reading No Impact Man's book, and that is one of his big things: we're consuming, and our consumption is destroying the planet, but it's not making us happy.

But I've also been thinking about it because my family does a lot of walking, and because the house we're renting is in an interesting location in Raleigh.

We live in a part of town that is being revitalized - some builders bought up all the run down or abandoned houses on a couple of streets and knocked them down to build new houses or restored them if they weren't in too bad of shape. What that means for us is that two blocks in one direction is a historical neighborhood filled with beautifully restored old houses running half a million dollars and up, and two blocks in the other direction are really run down (sometimes crumbling apart) houses and apartments.

We walk through the rich neighborhood to get downtown, to my husband's work, and to my son's school, and I love to admire the big old mansions, manicured landscapes, and (because we live in the South) furnished front porches. I love the idea of a porch where you can sip tea and swing and admire your flowers and call out to your neighbors as they pass.

But in the four months that we've lived in this house, I've never once seen anyone sitting on the porches of those big beautiful houses. Sometimes I pass people jogging on the sidewalk, sometimes there are other families with kids at the playground. I know they must hang out in their yards sometimes because they've got to put in some effort to make their yards so beautiful, right?

But I've never once seen anyone swinging on a porch, sipping tea, admiring their flowers, and calling out to their neighbors as they pass.

You know where I always see people out on their porches? Going the other direction, through the poorer part of town. They don't have lovely wicker furniture (sometimes just some folding chairs), they don't have beautiful yards (usually just a few overgrown shrubs). But they're always out there on their porches, calling out to us as we pass: "How ya'll doin' today? On your way to the library?"

I think most of those people on the poorer side of town would happily trade away those leisurely front porch chats for nice houses, nice yards, nice stuff, nice jobs. But what I wish is that we as a society could find a way to have both. To have beautiful houses with covered porches and swings and flowers, but also to enjoy our houses and porches and swings and flowers.

What do you all think? Is it possible to have both? Or do we have to work so hard to be able to have the nice houses and stuff that there's no time left to enjoy what we have? What do you think is the solution?

Photo by gailf548

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Green Bean October 18, 2009 at 1:43 AM  

I don't know the answer but I've been having similar thoughts. My husband has not been working these past three months and its been wonderful. To have free time, the time to go on a walk, play with the kids, share the chores, cook from scratch and go camping on the spur of a moment. When he is working, it's the exact opposite. Home late, busy on weekends. Why can't we have both the leisure and the place to enjoy it?

Karen Moser-Booth October 18, 2009 at 12:23 PM  

I don't know the answer, either, but I think about it a lot, too and I'm glad you brought it up. I do notice the same in my neighborhood. I live in an urban area right by Boston, and the houses, though fairly expensive, are built closely to each other, often as duplexes. Many neighbors gather in their gardens, walk down the sidewalks, or sit outside talking to each other. In the next town over, where the houses are a little more expensive and the lawns are larger, there is no one outside. It's like a ghost town, the cover of a house magazine but deserted. It's worth noting that New Urbanism neighborhoods build houses close together with full porches. I feel like if we can get back to the porches, we can get back to community.

Nice post.

Maren Hansen October 18, 2009 at 10:42 PM  

I agree w/the previous poster. A lack of community was something I feared when I left Family Housing at U of Michigan. There's something about the "we're all in this together" thing that transcended our demographics and pulled us together. The one thing we did have in common was that none of us were even close to rich. I wonder how we can gain that sense of community as we live so isolated in our houses and single-driver cars.

Eco Yogini October 19, 2009 at 7:26 AM  

so true! While living in Vernon BC, we rented a basement suite in the 'rich' part of town. We used to walk along and stare at the HUGE mansions in our tiny neighbourhood... and did we EVER see anybody outside enjoying their property? Nope. Once we saw a pale face in the window, peeking out of the blinds, but when they saw we were looking they scooted back pretty quickly.

Happiness isn't material things... even though money does help ease some financial strain.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper October 20, 2009 at 2:18 PM  

Thanks everyone for the comments. I was worried that this was my Southern sensibility coming out, but I really think if we could get back to a sense if community, it would help solve so many of our problems. Glad you all agree!

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