Let me preface the main thoughts of this post by saying it is quite appropriate for me to be writing this on Black Friday (though published a day later), when I hope to shop, but more importantly shop with the intention of spending time with my father, brother, and mother.
Every year for Black Friday, stores pump out more ads, open earlier (into Thanksgiving evening this year), attempting to draw in more customers with exceptional deals on the biggest shopping day in America. Rather poor at this time in my life, and never a big spender, I find the effort and attention put into Black Friday shopping amusing. And sometimes sickening. After living the past year and a half of my life on a subsistence level, and now living in a place where the simple joys of life reign supreme, I must ask, why do we obsessively chase the manufactured ‘needs’ of fashion, high tech gadgets, and the like? How is our humanity being shaped by the need for more stuff? And how can we resist this ever escalating march toward ultimate greed?
If human desires are in fact infinitely expandable, consumption is ultimately incapable of providing fulfillment–a logical consequence ignored by economic theory. Indeed, social scientists have found striking evidence that high consumption societies, just as high-living individuals, consume ever more without achieving satisfaction. The allure of the consumer society is powerful, even irresistible, but it is shallow nonetheless.
Alan Thein Durning, p. 70, “Are We Happy Yet?” from Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, 1995
It is common for ecopsychologists whose work includes long wilderness trips or intense urban restoration projects to report dramatic breakthroughs that shake individuals to their core. When the natural world reawakens in every fiber of our being the primal knowledge of connection and graces us with a few moments of sheer awe, it can shatter the hubris and isolation so necessary to narcissistic defenses. Once this has happened, ongoing contact with nature can keep these insights alive and provide the motivation necessary for continued change. It is these experiences that will ultimately fill the empty self and heal the existential loneliness so endemic to our times.
Allen D. Kanner and Mary E. Gomes, p. 91. “The All-Consuming Self,” from Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, 1995
It is not difficult to explain the trend toward depression, loneliness, and dissatisfaction amongst Americans. As several articles from the book quoted above note, the rat race of consumerism runs Americans ragged, and tears them away from time spent in leisure, social connections, and meaningful work. Deep down, we know this – we are most happy and at peace when we are on holiday, enjoying the company of close friends and family, and satisfied with our jobs. The fix to our problem is easy then: spend more time with the people we love, take some time to ourselves, and find a job we actually enjoy, irregardless of how much money we lose and how our reputation may be affected. All that is needed is the courage to change. Why stay unhappy when most of us have the resources for happiness at our fingertips?
Making the changes to our lifestyles which will truly foster happiness necessitates life at a slower pace. Less work, more hanging out, more leisure. The rhythms and cycles of nature indicate life is meant to be slow, deliberate, simple. Sane. Our deep desire for meaningful relationships proves we are creatures made to be connected and dependent upon one another and our environment. We live more fulfilled and effective lives when we are intimately connected with one another and with the earth which nurtures us. Who among us can enter a beautiful garden, a secluded meadow, a solitary glade, and not emerge from it in a more peaceful state? Who among us, if we are mindful, does not marvel at the marvelous intricacy, grandiosity, and simplicity of the natural world? I will give you an answer – those of us too long buffered from it, and taught to ignore it.
As far back as I can remember, nature has been my place of escape. It enables me to clear my head, to express my emotion and consequently come to a place of calm, to let my anxieties slip away in the presence of vibrant life. Excursions into nature, whether fifteen minutes or days on end, are my personal therapy. Subconsciously, it reminds me that there are great cosmic forces at work in the world, in the patterns of constellations, the movement of the planets, the growth of trees, the flow of the tides. This constancy is…comforting. It brings me back to center.
Nature is a powerful force in bringing inner peace to many. Many Americans, especially the depressed, would do well to re-connect to this source of life. I cannot explain it, but stepping away from our mechanized lives for a time into the simplicity of the natural world is a healing activity. It is a step towards our past, when we recognized our dependence on the earth for life. I think that regular jaunts to re-connect with the natural world, whether on a hike, camping trip, stroll through a park, or time spent in the vegetable garden, are integral to holistic health. Spend some time outdoors – you cannot afford not to!