The following is a transcript of my introduction to an interview with Lillian Cauldwell on her Internet Voices Talk Radio. The actual podcast is no longer available, so I thought I’d reproduce this intro here.
Looking after the future is not a sacrifice. Instead, you can save huge amounts of money. What’s more, doing so has a wonderful byproduct: I am going to share with you the secret of happiness.
35 years ago, my electricity bill was a quarter that of my neighbours’. Think about that. Would you like to cut the costs of living way down?
You can, by using less.
And in the process, you can change your life so you feel a great deal of satisfaction.
For the last 28 years, my wife and I have deliberately lived below the poverty line — and we have lived like royalty. We have raised three children to be fine adults. We are healthy, all our needs are met — and yet we spend very little money.
Sound impossible? When you get a moment, go and read my essay How to change the world. You could also read Save money and save the future. That one has a second page associated with it, one that lists a whole lot of practical suggestions.
But lists of suggestions are not that useful. If you merely take on new habits because you ought to, they feel unnatural and take effort. All too soon, you slip back into old ways of doing things. But if you change the way you see the world, then the new ways of doing things become natural, and will stay for life.
So, philosophy first, practical measures as a result.
Basically, the secret is to separate happiness from the possession of things.
Every day, we are bombarded with messages: ‘Buy our product and you’ll be happy!’ Of course it’s not worded quite like that, but the idea is there, all the time.
Even people who are not trying to sell you things keep giving you versions of the same message. It underlies much of everyday conversation, what you see on the news, read in books, newspapers and magazines.
Now, just suppose for a moment that you could become happy and satisfied by buying some collection of products. I give you a million dollars, you spend it, and then you can be happy for the rest of your life, right?
If that was true, the economy would soon grind to a halt. Say I am unhappy because my car is an old rust heap. I buy a new car, and now I am happy. If that car keeps working with just maintenance and care for the next 30 years, then the car industry can’t sell me another one. So, it’s necessary for me to become unhappy with my new car, as soon as possible.
How to do this? They bring out new models with wonderful new features, change fashions, make cars so they fall to pieces in a few years.
The way to make the economy flourish is for people to be dissatisfied with their lives. Satisfied people don’t buy new stuff. If you like the way you look, you won’t spend on cosmetics, new fashions, weight loss programs, creams and treatments.
If you love to be where you are, and home is the best place in the world, you won’t spend on expensive holidays.
If you love what you do, you won’t need to blot out reality with alcohol and other drugs, won’t need to escape into gambling, or the products of the entertainment industry.
So, it’s necessary for you to be dissatisfied with as many aspects of your life as possible. And everything in the culture works at making you so.
How to fight this?
Realise that life is a journey, not a destination. We are not in this game to accumulate tokens, but to gain wisdom, and learn lessons.
Life is worth living if you give and receive love. By this I don’t mean romantic love alone, but that of doing things to make life better for others.
This is a wonderful purpose to give you meaning.
Of course, one way, a vital way, is to work toward a sustainable world.
Also, to work toward social justice, peace, cooperation, caring.
All these things go together, and are actually the message Jesus gave humanity. So did the Buddha.
Once you don’t need things to make you happy because you have purpose and meaning in your life, you will look for practical ways of working toward a sustainable life. Implementing them will be natural, rather than habits imposed on a self-destructive lifestyle.
Perhaps the first practical change you can make is to get rid of your TV.
If you had no TV, you’d be forced into spending time with people: spouse, kids, other relations, friends. You’d have time to fill, and you could fill it with worthwhile projects like renovating the house, growing your own vegetables (which is possible even in an inner city), cooking your own food, learning new skills, playing music, doing art, playing games like chess or scrabble, engaging in sport or amateur theatre — the list is endless. You would return to a style of life that people lived before they had TV, and it was a lot more healthy.
Change your inner life first. The outer life will follow.