Resolving to exercise more and eat healthier? Unfortunately, most of us will give up on our yearly New Year weight loss resolution well before year end. Before long, we’ll blame ourselves and our lack of will power. Not to let anyone off the hook but maybe it’s not a will power issue, maybe there is systemic problem with our modern way of living.
Few of us Manage to Live Healthy
One study found that only 2.7% of Americans managed to not smoke, consume a healthy diet, exercise regularly and maintain a normal bodyweight. Historically, prior to the industrial revolution, consuming a healthy diet was always a challenge since food was scarce. On the other hand, nearly every got adequate exercise and did not smoke. Our bodyweight never made it to the overweight range (if in part due to the real threat of starvation). The point is not that we should go back to living as we did in the past, but that since we’ve largely solved the problem of food scarcity in America, we ought to be doing so much better. S what happened? In a word, consumerism. Consumerism, or the preoccupation with the acquisition of goods and services, beyond a certain point has become toxic not only for our environment, but also for our health.
Consumerism is the Reason for our Health Problems
For 95% of our existence as a species we lived the nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle. In terms of the pursuit of happiness, we only lacked for food and security. Today while home sizes are more than twice as large as they were only a century ago and packed with more possessions than ever, levels of happiness have actually declined in the US in the last few decades. It’s not that there is anything wrong with having these luxuries but it shouldn’t come at the expense of our health and happiness.
3 Ways Consumerism Impacts Health
Consumerism ties us down to hazardous modern working conditions predominantly characterized by long sedentary hours often in front of a computer along with rush hour traffic to and from work for decades on end. It is compounded by our dependence on fast convenient food, poor sleep and stress on account of our busy lifestyle which again is a result of the need to acquire more and more over time.
Second, mindless overconsumption leads to the purchasing of conveniences whereby we have engineered out the need for exercise in our daily living. The garage for example necessitates the existence of roads to every single household. We have thereby engineered out the need for meaningful use of our legs for ambulation.
Third, consumerism leads to environmental degradation which adversely affects health in a number of ways. Climate change is only one part of that story. We now live in increasingly artificial environments that replace the natural environments best suited for our bodies. Whereas our pre-industrial ancestors spent the large majority of their days outdoors in natural environments, we spend 90% of our time indoors. This undoubtedly contributes to a range of mental and physical health problems.
A New Prescription
The good news is that the diagnosis is the hard part, the prescription is simple. This new year by resolving to become more mindful consumers and investing the saved income most people are likely to eventually become financially independent of their employer for their necessary expenses. Not only are they likely to be healthier but they are also likely to be wealthier and that is an easy sell for most. While it is not a guarantee of good health, once financially free, individuals gain the leverage to choose working conditions suitable to a healthier lifestyle. Likewise, as a society, in place of consuming ever more and chasing endless GDP growth, we’re also more likely to optimize the conditions that make healthy living more likely than not for everyone.
BOTTOM LINE: THERE IS A BETTER WAY!
- As John Maynard Keynes said a century ago, people of our time ought to be largely independent of our employers for our income – unfortunately, due to “mindless consumerism”, we are not.
- Mindless consumerism is the underlying reason leading to the rise of chronic disease for 3 major reasons:
- It ties us to dependence on our employers and modern day employment is a health hazard for most (in part due to the sedentary nature of most jobs).
- It has led to environmental changes toxic to our wellbeing:
- (a). We evolved in and are best suited to natural environments and instead we live in increasingly artificial environments.
- (b). Overconsumption has lead us to engineer out the need for meaningful use of our legs for ambulation.
- Finally, it transforms workers to work with blinders on – instead of working for the product or service and receiving money as a side effect, workers focus on making money and the product or service is instead the side effect. The results (with respect to health) is that “food” is no longer food but changed to maximize pleasure and extract profit in spite of the toxicity to our health.
- Based on the science of wellbeing one can derive the philosophy that once basic needs are met, “The best things in life are free” therefore —>
- Most people can live far below their means without sacrificing happiness AND by investing the rest, they can become financially independent of their employers enabling them to be —>
- Happier. Healthier. Wealthier. More engaged. Simply better.