Monday, September 7, 2009

Green Options - Book Review: LESS IS MORE (Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet)

This post is brought to you as part of our content partnership with the Green Options. It was originally posted on Sustainablog by John Ivanko on September 2.

As millions of Americans are finding themselves waking up with less disposable income, fewer job prospects, less income thanks for forced furloughs or lost value in their 401(k)s, some are rediscovering the joys of growing our own food, sharing picnics with others in our community, going for hikes in the woods, or spending more time with our family. Instead of working at a job they hate, they're starting their own enterprise that makes the world a better place.

As it turns out, a new version of happiness is emerging based on relationships and connections to each other and nature, not all the goods found at the Mall. Many of us are choosing to live and work in a world where the economists (who presently dominate the national economy and national discourse) don't matter.

The authoritative new book from Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska, Less is More: Embracing simplicity for a healthy planet, a caring economy and lasting happiness (New Society, 2009), is just the right tonic for these topsy-turvy times. Side-step stress, don't give into your fear, and thrive, instead, in a world of abundance where freedom and cooperation still reign.

My wife and I had a chance to peek at the advance galley of Less is More before it went to print and found Andrews and Urbanska masterful both in their prose and their ability to bring together an eclectic array of writers, thinkers and sustainability advocates who live in ways that echo what they write about.

Less is More is divided into three parts -- simplicity defined, solutions, and policies -- each containing short essays, analysis and inspiration from some of the leading sustainability, simplicity and community thinkers and doers. From Sarah Susanka discussing clutter and Robyn Griggs Lawrence' tome on wabi-sabi time to Juliet Schor's exploration of a carbon-friendly economy and David Korten's treatise on caring and connecting, a diverse array of perspectives woven throughout Less is More illuminate why there's greater freedom in having enough rather than always striving to have more and more. Writes essayist David Wann: "According to surveys taken by the US National Science Foundation for the past 30 years, even with the steady increases in income, our level of overall happiness has actually tapered off." So what's the economy for anyway, to support a bigger government or make a few really rich people richer?

As Andrews and Urbanska set out in the Introduction of Less is More, "Simplicity is asking yourself: 'How do I really want to live? What truly makes me happy? What are my actions doing to the planet? How does my lifestyle contribute to the greater good?'" These are questions I reflect upon daily as I operate Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast with my wife and son. The questions overlap with those that help distinguish ecopreneurship from entrepreneurship that I write about in ECOpreneuring.

Even if you're no stranger to the sustainability or environmental movement, there's plenty of hard-hitting research and provocative insights from Less is More contributors. For example, David Wann writes: "If so many of us are willing to die for our country, why are we afraid to live for it, moderately and unselfishly? Why do we place a higher value on convenience, size and speed than the well-being of living things (including ourselves)?" He calls for a change in the patterns of how and where we live, work and eat. It's exactly these kinds of changes that will contribute to a more sustainable tomorrow in a restoration economy, if only the politicians would pay closer attention. Maybe we can live richly on a budget.

Until then, we can do what we must in our life, our work and our community. We all know you can't buy happiness, great friends or a healthy community. By rediscovering the joy and satisfaction that comes from simplicity, frugality, and community, we can remake the world where everyone gets to share. Let Less is More inspire your journey.