A consuming interest

At the start of the financial year[1] I set myself a challenging goal.

Not to buy anything NEW for a whole year. There are a few caveats around the goal:

  1. It does not include consumables such as food and cleaning products.
  2. If something essential breaks or wears out I can replace it, preferably with something second hand.
  3. It does not include experiences.

After six months in I am doing OK, I have not brought anything new into my home.

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I tried to argue with my accountability partner that magazines and books were experiences and not stuff, but she said they were stuff because I could borrow them from the library or read them online, so I cancelled the subscriptions I had.

Have I missed buying stuff? So far –  no. I have made do with what I have. The hardest thing so far was what to do about gifts. With the holiday season looming I was not sure what to do. For the most part, I bought experiences or perishables or gave second-hand stuff. As a last resort, I decided that since it was not coming into my home, a new book and essentials like socks were OK. (This may be cheating a little bit I think!)

Over these last six months, people have asked me why?  Why would I set out not to buy anything new for a year? “That’s crazy” they’d say.

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It wasn’t about saving money – although I have. It’s not because I am a hoarder, although I do sometimes feel crowded in my little home. The real why emerges out of several interlocking events and ideas that have been with me for a few years and which all came together in a flash of realisation.

The interlocking events included

  • Growth coaching
  • Some workshops on mental health first aid and positive psychology
  • My discovery of the Minimalist podcast[2]
  • My only daughter’s conversion to Orthodox Judaism
  • The ABC TV show War on Waste[3].
  • The Story of Stuff[4].
  • Having lots of time to think and reflect

The interlocking events led to my quest for a richer, more meaningful life. In this post, I will only elaborate on one aspect of the jigsaw. Positive mental health.

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I previously talked about[5] the foundations for wellbeing.  These being

  • to give,
  • to connect,
  • to be active,
  • to take notice and
  • to keep learning.

I discovered these foundations when I attended some workshops about student and teacher wellbeing as part of my day job and much of it began to resonate with me personally.

Some other workshops suggested that there was a very strong connection between positive mental health, diet and exercise. While I initially began the research to help students and teachers at my school, I was able to apply what I found out to myself.

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A small part of one Christmas’ horde

I started investigating my diet and the link between gut microflora and mental health. I had already read some books about positive psychology such as Flourish by Martin Seligman. I disappeared down the google-search-vortex as one thing led to another. I eventually found a paper[6] called A Wonderful Life:  Experiential consumption and the pursuit of happiness.

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The abstract to this article states:

This research indicates that experiential purchases provide greater satisfaction and happiness because:

(1) Experiential purchases enhance social relations more readily and effectively than material goods;

(2) Experiential purchases form a bigger part of a person’s identity; and

(3) Experiential purchases are evaluated more on their own terms and evoke fewer social comparisons than material purchases.

It all boils down to the fact that money can buy happiness, as long as you buy experiences and not things (material goods) . Things give you short-lived happiness. You quickly tire of them and want something else. Something bigger. Something brighter. Something that needs to be stored when you grow tired of it. Experiences, on the other hand, give you memories. You can reflect back on them. They give you something to talk about. They put you in a social space with social beings that you can form connections with. They help you learn about yourself and other people. They help you learn about the world.  They hit on at least four of the five pillars of positive mental health. If you choose to experience the world by helping others you can hit on all five.

If you are waking up from a “stuff-hangover” now that Christmas is over maybe next year you can think of buying the things that make memories. The only place you need to store them, is in your (digital) photo album and your brain.

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[1] July 1 in Australia

[2]https://www.theminimalists.com/

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/ourfocus/waronwaste

[4] https://www.google.com.au/search?q=the+story+of+stuff+youtube&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b&gfe_rd=cr&dcr=0&ei=oQExWp7jOePDXpuwpJAF

[5] https://oldchookenterprises.com/2017/09/09/wellbeing-an-introduction/

[6] A proper peer reviewed one! Gilovich T, Kumar A and Jampol L Journal of Consumer Psychology 2014) available at: https://www.scribd.com/document/280715372/Gilovich-Kumar-Jampol-in-press-A-Wonderful-Life-JCP

Team Earth

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Photo Credit: A nice man in the crowd took our photo

Last Saturday I was the one half of Wonder Woman and my younger sister, Tracy, the other half. We were each wearing one half of a Wonder Woman outfit for a Tough Mudder event.

Tough Mudder is not a race. The event is not timed. A full Mudder is a 16 – 20 km course with 20 obstacles. The Sydney Mudder in November 2017 was enhanced by heavy rain the night before so the course was even muddier than it was designed to be. We waded, walked and slurped our way through knee-deep mud that varied in viscosity from milk to partially melted ice cream. It sucked the shoes off many. It filled our orifices, both private and public.

The mud was a smelly, dank, black ooze with grassy inclusions. It was better not the think about the amount of horse shit that was mixed with the velvety clay. We threw ourselves over and into trenches filled with slime. We dragged ourselves up walls with knotted ropes. We stood on the shoulders of others to climb over obstacles and we cheered those who made it. We laughed and smiled as some fell face first into the muck and we wiped each other off.

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

Tracy and I made it through with a couple of bruises and scrapes, our pride boosted by the encounters with friendly and helpful people along the way. Our feeling of accomplishment heightened by the collective knowledge that you can’t complete a Tough Mudder on your own. To finish, you need help. You need to co-operate, either with your own team or enlist the help of strangers. You need someone to help you up and over the mud walls in the Mud Mile; you need people to haul you up the Everest obstacle. You just can’t do it on your own, no matter how fit and fabulous you are.

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Not so clean but enjoying a beer! Photo credit: another nice person from the crowd!

Why is it that at an event like this we can cast aside our differences and reserved natures and help with an open heart and a spirit of untapped, immeasurable generosity?  I finished because total strangers gave me a leg up, literally. If I met these people on the street on Monday, they probably wouldn’t even say hello.

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Let me give you a hand buddy! (Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page)

Why? Because on Saturday we had a common goal. Because we had all been banded into one team. The Tough Mudder Team. We had an initial idea that this would be fun. We paid our money and we joined the team – willingly. We signed a waiver that basically said – this is dangerous – you could die – but that’s your choice. On Saturday we arrived at the one place at the one time. We were corralled together for the warm up and listened to the playful banter of the “coach”.  We joined the chant.

“When I say tough YOU say Mudder”

“TOUGH”

“MUDDER”

“TOUGH”

“MUDDER”

The warm-up guy at the start line invoked the spirit of shared purpose even further when we all got down on one knee and pledged to think of others before we thought of ourselves. We learnt how to signal to indicate a fallen Mudder. We knew if we found someone hurt, we crossed our arms above our heads and first aid would arrive.

We bonded.  We were a family. We were TOUGH MUDDERS!

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

There was plenty of swearing going on that day but none of it was in anger. The f’ing and blinding was targeted at our common enemy – the mud. All the elements of team building were right there:  collective action to successfully  overcome a series of challenges that took us outside our comfort zone to achieve a common purpose.

By the 12 kilometre mark, our tired bodies were seeking distraction despite the fun, and as we jogged from one obstacle to the next, my sister commented

“Wouldn’t it be good if it was like this all the time. If we could be friendly and kind all the time.”

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

Indeed, it would!

In the real world, we divide ourselves into teams based on religion, ethnicity, colour and gender. We subdivide that into even smaller teams based on sexual preference, political affiliation and citizenship. We endlessly divide ourselves into smaller and smaller teams and privilege those who belong to the same team and cast the outsiders well away. We don’t trust the “others” and we choose not to share with them. We walk past the homeless. We demonise those whose faith is different to our own, even though the scriptures we follow all include love and peace as their central tenets.

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

With the black mud covering our bodies, it was almost impossible to tell who was who. The lumps and bumps that showed through the active wear defined gender, but that was all. The act of helping a fellow Mudder over the wall was offered to and by men and women equally, so gender became insignificant. You helped; regardless.

After all we were the same tribe! The Saturday Mudders!

Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

Driving home, I turned on the news and discovered that the world had not become a loving festival of generosity. Those who hated others who were not in the same tribe still outnumbered the generous. I heard that our Parliament was considering the Same Sex Marriage Bill and might vote to permit active discrimination by allowing those who “felt uncomfortable” in baking a wedding cake etc. to refuse service to a gay couple seeking to formalise their love. I sighed – the bubble burst.

How can we join all the humans of the world into one big team? By expanding our horizons. After all, when you pull the focus back far enough it is easy to see we already do belong to only one team.

Team Earth.

Let’s hope it does not take until the arrival of the Aliens before we all sign up for membership to the team that seeks to maintain a habitable planet.

Today, as I nurse my aching muscles I feel like one tough grand-mudder! I urge you to  pay the membership to join Team Earth. Let’s play together! All 7.6 billion of us. That’s one awesome human pyramid we could build!

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page
(Unfortunately the GoPro I was wearing malfunctioned. The 100% waterproof cover was in fact 0% waterproof!! As a result I have no original pictures to post except the two with Tracy and I at the start and finish)