People fascinate me. I’m fascinated by the way we live. I spend a great deal of time thinking about how modern civilization is impacting us as a species. After all, we’ve come a long way from our hunter and gathering days.
We’ve made crazy technological advancements over the last 100 years and significantly increased our standard of living. Yet even with all this prosperity, I find that the health of our species is deteriorating. More and more of my friends, colleagues and peers are battling with depression, anxiety, panic attacks and other forms of mental illness.
When I travel to developing countries, I’m shocked to see how happy people can be. I know people back home who have 100 times more and don’t radiate such joyful energy or smile so wide. It makes me wonder, if they have so little how can they be so happy?
I’ve read in many places that once we attain a certain level of income our happiness no longer increases. What is that certain level? Well it varies depending what you read and when you read it. The latest study out of Princeton says the magic number is $75,000. Other books and studies will say somewhere around middle class income.
Essentially, once you have enough to cover your basic needs and a little more, your happiness is no longer correlated to your pay check. If you’re doubtful of this I highly recommend reading The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, this book is definitely worth every penny and will speak to this plus much more.
So how is it that when I travel to developing countries and meet people who barely have their basic needs, do they appear happier than my western counterparts? It got me thinking, that maybe there is something valuable to be learned from living with less and from the days where we farmed our land.
Appreciation for the Land
Living on farms forced us to be directly connected to and interact with the physical earth. We saw firsthand the chickens that gave us our eggs, the cows that gave us milk and harvested the crops to feed our family over the cold, long winter months. We worked the land and interacted with the plants and animals that allowed us to survive.
By raising livestock from infancy, it gave us a greater appreciation for killing a chicken or a cow. Imagine raising a cow for 10 years and then one day killing it to eat it. It would be a completely different feeling than walking into your produce section and grabbing the richest sirloin steak you can find. Today, we take for granted the grocery stores packed with fresh meats and produce from invisible sources across the globe.
Living on farms forced us to have appreciation for the livestock and the land that produced our food. Next time you see a shipping truck parked behind a grocery store, think twice about where its come from and what its bringing for you.
Gratitude aka Pray
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we all sign up at the closet church, mosque or temple. But the reality is that back in our farming days, humans were significantly more religious than today. If you distill prayer to its fundamental essence, you find it’s an exercise in gratitude to a spiritual being.
A common day on the farm began with working the land from sunrise, and ended with a family dinner around sunset. One of the most common practices of farm life was saying a prayer around the dinner table. This was an exercise where one would say “thank you” to the Lord for all his blessings, the food that you were about to eat, and the family you would share it with.
This is no different to a gratitude exercise. It was a simple moment instilled in our day where we took some time to be thankful for the things we do have.
I’m not sure about you, but I rarely give thanks for the food that is in front of me. The reality is we rarely practice this value anymore.
Tony Robbins says the fastest way to change your life is to go from expectation to appreciation.
We live in a day and age where temptation, desire and instant satisfaction is everywhere around us. We have so many choices, maybe even too many options. We need to get back to our roots and start being thankful for the all the things present in our lives. In the words of my home boy T.I., “Stop looking at what you ain’t got and start looking at what you do got.”
The scientific benefits of exercise are inarguable. Exercise stimulates brain chemicals and releases endorphins to help you feel more relaxed.
When we lived on farms there was no way to get out of physical exercise. If you didn’t work the land or take care of the animals, you risked your livelihood. Everyone in the family had a role on the farm and there was no arguing about it.
Today most of us live very monotonous lives. We drive or take public transit to work. Sit at desks all day long, and take the same form of transportation back home. We earnestly plant ourselves on the couch upon our arrival to burn through the next two seasons of the Walking Dead on Netflix. We’re lucky if we burn 1200 calories. On top of this, throw in some shit food and you have a recipe that leaves you without any physical exercise or motivation to do it.
One thing I’ve noticed is that when I exercise, my body craves more exercise; when I don’t exercise, my body doesn’t crave exercise. Our bodies are designed to move and be active. We need physical exercise. Get out, take a walk, do something. We need exercise.
When we lived on farms, we didn’t travel as far, and lived in significantly smaller communities. Ironically, living in smaller communities forced us to have greater relationships with one another. Family structures were more important and we had more people to lean on.
Today, we have all these digital and cyber communities, but many of them lack the one thing human beings need most – authentic human connection (except if you’re Chasing Sunrise, these guys are crushing building an online community that creates more genuine human interactions).
During our farming days, communities would gather for local events, farmers markets and dances. These events would bring the community closer together and provide us with the human interaction that we long for on a daily basis.
Today we plug into Facebook and Instagram, but rarely get that emotional connection we’re seeking. Tuning into your favourite social media platform and liking some shit doesn’t substitute for your need of human connection. If anything, it makes you long for the things you’re missing out. It creates FOMO, fear of missing out.
The reality is, when we lived simpler lives, we didn’t have as many worries or concerns to deal with. We had routines and community instilled in our daily lives that enabled us to have the things we need most in life: human connection, being outdoors and appreciation of the earth.
Our problems and stress factors have grown with the progression of modern society. And our brains have yet to evolve to keep up with the pace of life we’ve established. Understanding this certainly makes it easier to explain the growing amount of mental illness.
We tend to complicate things and under estimate the value of getting outside to absorb vitamin D, engaging in authentic emotionally rich interactions and having gratitude for the world around us. Though the aforementioned lifestyle factors may seem simple, they kept us happy. If you don’t believe me, travel to a developing country and see for yourself.