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How do I live a life of peace, beauty and serenity, sustainably?
March 11, 2014 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I've been having quite a reflective period in my life of late, with some changes coming up, and one of the things I've come to realise is that I'm not happy with my current work-heavy lifestyle. I want to optimise my life for happiness, peace, community rather than work and money. How do I do that, sustainably? I am open to all sorts of options.

Having been diagnosed with anxiety and given a period of time off work over the past month, I've started to come to the realisation that what I'm doing isn't necessarily what I want out of life on a permanent basis. I'm 28, and I've spent my career so far in and around the radio industry. My current job is at a largely dysfunctional, struggling non-profit, supporting community radio projects. I have an hour-long, pretty unpleasant commute (half drive, half public transport) each way and at the end of each work day, I feel utterly drained. I do nothing at all with my evenings, because I am so zonked from the exertions of the day - I don't go out, meet people, do stuff, I don't even do anything creative at home. I just find myself flopped out in front of the TV or internet. My work is my life, I have no mental space or energy to do anything else. Weekends are a rush of non-stop errands and chores and commitments that I've had no time to do in the day because I'm out at work and commuting from 6am-7pm.

Being off work, and being able to 'stop' for the first time since I finished school at 18, has given me the chance to step back a little and think about what I want to do with the rest of my life. Being at home has made me feel like I'm part of the village community I live in, instead of leaving the house in the dark, coming home in the dark, and never seeing my neighbours, or anyone outside of work. Simple things like being able to open the doors and feel the sunshine coming in, and listen to the birdsong, make me feel so happy, and human. I've been able to cook properly, more slowly, fresher food, rather than just throwing stuff in the oven and setting the timer. I just feel so much better in myself - part of it is the anxiety treatment, I am sure, but a big part of it is just being, at home, in my beautiful little village, with myself and my thoughts and my community.

So, the question I want to ask is - how do I turn these thoughts and feelings into concrete ways to change and improve my life going forward? My current job is likely to be coming to an end within the next couple of months, so there is no need to assume I'll be keeping it in answering. I'm looking for ideas, suggestions, anything really - simple and immediate or radical and life-changing. Have you felt similarly and worked towards a simpler, less materialistic, less consumerist, more community-oriented life focused on peace and happiness rather than work and money? I am not overly interested in continuing my career in radio, or any career - as long as I have a warm, safe place to sleep and enough food to eat and I am clean and not destitute, I am happy. My current income is very modest.

The things that I feel are most important to me, and that make me feel happiest and most fulfilled, are peace, simplicity, serenity, closeness to nature, closeness to those around me. I am a sensitive soul, and sometimes I find the beauty of the world around me quite overwhelming. Just this afternoon, I was sitting and listening to the birds outside on one of the first warm spring days of the year and it got me close to tears. It makes me sad that I spend my days from morning 'til night in a city-centre office just to be able to pay inflated rent and bills, and I don't get to experience the real, peaceful, beautiful world around me nearly enough.

In short, although I'm struggling to phrase it clearly, I want to optimise my life for happiness and peace, rather than my current lifestyle which is way too far on the 'work' side of the work-life balance. I want to be happy and fulfilled rather than rich and surrounded by 'stuff' and I want to be around others who feel the same. I feel like I'm perhaps being a little too idealistic, but this sort of thing must be achievable - life can't just be a cycle of getting a slightly better job, increasing your financial obligations to match, and then needing another better job 'til you retire, can it? I'm in the UK rather than the USA, if that has any bearing on things.

I am aware of the potential for thread-sitting, so if I haven't explained something clearly enough, or you want to talk more, then I am more than happy to receive MeMail. :) Thank you for reading!
posted by winterhill to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
One thing that I did that made a huge difference was to switch to a job that had a much shorter commute. I weighted location/commute time heavily in my job search. I knew it would help, but I didn't realize how much of an improvement it would make. I have more time and less stress.
posted by SJustS at 11:13 AM on March 11 [3 favorites]


You've heard it a thousand times (and maybe you do it already), and I used to roll my eyes too, but regular exercise really does make a world of difference when it comes to your mood and your energy levels. It's one of those paradoxes - giving up an hour of my day to exercise ended up allowing me to get way more personal stuff done in my non-work hours, simply because I felt fresher and more energetic. And when it comes to being close to nature, it's kinda hard to beat a jog in the park or a hike in the woods.
posted by UncleBoomee at 11:24 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


The happiest I've ever been was living and working on a farm. You definitely get the simplicity, peace, serenity, and closeness to nature that you say you love and need in your life. For me, the peace came from an overwhelming sense of purpose, and gratification in the hard work that was being done. But there was also plenty of time to think, reflect, daydream, goof off, make up silly songs, etc. while carrying out very meaningful work. Carrying out this meaningful work with others can create a strong sense of community.
Of course, buying land and starting a business both cost money, which can definitely prove to be prohibitive, but interning or apprenticing on a farm is a great way to find some of the things you seem to be looking for. Usually a small stipend, room/board - and valuable education- are given in exchange for your work. Seriously, I'd suggest this to anyone I meet. You could get a taste for it by volunteering at a local farm during your time off - spring is a busy time getting things going and they would probably love the help! Good luck on your search! Lots of people work miserable jobs their whole lives because they think there's no other option. I think it's awesome that you're realizing that it's not working for you and trying to make a change at such a young age!
posted by lettuce dance at 11:27 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Have you read http://www.amazon.com/The-Simple-Living-Guide-Sourcebook/dp/0553067966
or Your Life or Your Money? I would start there!
Close your eyes...think of something that brings you the most joy, happiness, excitement , peace.
and go towards that- do you love children, being creative, traveling, music, art?
start with your mission, what you love, that connect that will connect you with "what you do".
also random- mac n cheese productions a life of YES out of Chicago-google it :)
posted by TRUELOTUS at 12:14 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


I can't endorse a short commute enough. My commute is 3 miles, each way. That gives me plenty of time to do all the social stuff I like to do, read all the books I want to read and pet my kitties as much as they'll let me.

A lot of idealistic people think that they need to work in the non-profit arena to 'do good.' You know what else does good? Doing a great job for a corporate monolith and taking some of your wages and donating to causes you believe in. Money is an EXCELLENT way to support things!

I have worked primarily in the corporate world my entire career. Sure, I've been frustrated, but the check never bounced and I've loved my work for the most part.

If you can scale back, do that. Take a job close by, for lower wages. Downsize your place if you can. Cook more, get a second, fun job in a bar or coffee shop in your villiage, to meet folks and socialize.

You can pretty much change your mind about EVERYTHING in this life, but you can't ever get back time.

Spend as much of your time, doing as much fun stuff as possible.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:15 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


It's great that you have seen both sides at a relatively young age, and that you want to get more balance.

Waaaay back when I was 28 I had changed careers three times, and was generally trying to figure out where my aptitude, experience (skill), and passion all intersect. (I saw a graphic that illustrated this yesterday but alas I can't remember the source.) So during my second stint at post-graduate education, I read and worked through the exercises of this classic book.

Rearranging the parts I discovered what I liked doing, did well, and could turn into a component of my future work-life. Fast-forward some 20 years later, a friend recommended that I take this survey (it's really an online survey with a book to accompany its interpretation) and I discovered it did help in the self-awareness of what skills / interests / aptitudes had grown over that time.

In today's crazy-competitive workplace you know first-hand that 'work-life balance' really doesn't exist. Here's an interesting thought from an older HBR.org blog post: "Embrace Work-Life Imbalance". A lot has been written about it, a lot of different perspectives, and I think in many ways leveraging technology can actually aid in achieving that careful balance (i.e. flexible work schedules, telecommuting etc.)

I'm thinking about this Ask.me about advice to a 30-year old self, and how much of it revolves around physical, financial and emotional/spiritual health. You really want to make sure these areas are 'covered' in addition to working hard in the earlier years so that later in life your circumstances improve.
posted by scooterdog at 12:19 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Is there a reason you can't "just do it" and move back to your village?
I did... I moved from NYC to my small hometown in rural Minnesota, for about 18 months. Ultimately I decided I actually hated living the simple life and rejoined the rat race.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 1:23 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


In short, although I'm struggling to phrase it clearly, I want to optimise my life for happiness and peace, rather than my current lifestyle which is way too far on the 'work' side of the work-life balance. I want to be happy and fulfilled rather than rich and surrounded by 'stuff' and I want to be around others who feel the same. I feel like I'm perhaps being a little too idealistic, but this sort of thing must be achievable - life can't just be a cycle of getting a slightly better job, increasing your financial obligations to match, and then needing another better job 'til you retire, can it?

There are things you can do to maximize your available time for your personal life, (such as a shorter commute as noted above), and I empathize with many if not most of your goals, as fundamentally, I share them with you.

The issue I have found is that peace and serenity are places I can visit, but never live. Perhaps it's just me, but I went through a spate of about 6 consecutive months, about 4 years ago, where I honestly hit my head to the pillow thinking "I wouldn't have changed anything about today!"

I was working a decent paying entry level job, with a paid off car, a ton of free time and really enjoying a lot of new, peaceful (read: free) things.

However, after 6 months of that, I needed more. The bird songs weren't as bright, the lakeside sit-downs weren't as calming... I think I was getting used to all the peace and serenity, building a tolerance as it were. I changed things up, started driving farther to new locales, and seeing new things, but it became harder and harder to find that spark. I still wanted something different.

It's really difficult to achieve more peace and more serenity, and it's far easier when searching for something more to go out and buy something expensive (and have payments), and find a romantic interest (with ensuing personality conflicts, life changes), and so on.

I did all of the above, and I don't regret any of it, but one thing I've learned is that anything I want has a price. Whether it be time, energy, money, or spirit, there's a cost for everything.

I don't think I would've been happy pursuing total serenity, and honestly, I wouldn't know how to go about doing that short of becoming a monk or something.

By no means do I think I speak for you (or anyone else), or that you should abandon your quest for peace and serenity. I think it's something that I folded into my life, and sometimes it is drowned out by worldly clamors, but now that I've found it, I'll always have a piece of it.
posted by Debaser626 at 2:04 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Thank you for all your lovely answers so far. :) I think something I should probably clarify from the original post (because it did get a bit long!) is that I am not really looking for ways to be OK with having no work-life balance, but I am looking for ways to change my life in such a way that I don't need to work every single hour, and give up every fibre of my being to paid employment and paying for ever-increasing obligations.

I know that sounds hopelessly naive when I actually write it down, as if I'm asking for something for nothing (or 'owt for nowt' as we say!) but what I'm really looking for are ways to reduce those obligations so that I can focus on what I find valuable, whether those are simple or radical ways - and also resources and further reading on the topic. I hope that clears it up and I apologise if it seemed a bit clumsy in the original question.
posted by winterhill at 2:51 PM on March 11


An interesting website (that I first heard about here) , MrMoneyMustache focuses on adjusting your lifestyle and expenses so you don't need nearly as much money to feel like you have what you need in life (with a focus on saving the rest so you can retire early.)
posted by metahawk at 3:42 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


Not to dismiss your request, but I wonder:

a) How much of this sort of stress is just part of the normal noise that goes along with your profession? In other words, could you improve the situation by going to another job? Or would you just wind up in the same place, a year later, after the fun of a new gig wore off?

b) Given you mentioned anxiety, how much of this exhaustion is due to your anxiety? Could you learn to develop better coping strategies to lessen the feeling of being so tired at the end of the day?

Before you make a change, you should figure out where your stress is coming from, and how much of it you can reasonably hope to do away with at this moment.
posted by deathpanels at 6:48 PM on March 11


...Simple things like being able to open the doors and feel the sunshine coming in, and listen to the birdsong, make me feel so happy, and human. I've been able to cook properly, more slowly, fresher food, rather than just throwing stuff in the oven and setting the timer. I just feel so much better in myself - part of it is the anxiety treatment, I am sure, but a big part of it is just being, at home, in my beautiful little village, with myself and my thoughts and my community...

I really resonate with this and your feelings in general so I wanted to say thank you for your question because it is nice to know there are others out there who desire nothing more than to eschew the working culture we toil in.

As someone who spent my twenties working insane hours in a sector of the tv / film industry I sought the same thing: A simpler, measured life...preferably with lots of free time. I eventually found some of what I needed by embracing a freelance life. In the last few years I would work extremely hard for a few weeks or a month...then take a few weeks or a month off. Sometimes the time in between contracts was a little longer than I would have liked...and all in all I made much less money...but boy did I love the time off. My touch-and-go approach has certainly dampened career opportunities...but they are opportunities that would only lead to less of a balance.

Knowing that I would soon get to spend a few weeks free from clock-time just hanging around my apartment, going backpacking, taking a road-trip, sitting in a coffee shop in the middle of a tuesday, exploring parts of the city I was too busy to ever see...or simply visiting friends - made me able to tolerate the periods of intense grinding work that I would deal with when picking up a contract.

Force your balance...because I don't believe a job exists today that actually affords one. My solution was to force one via freelance.

Ironically I am currently working at a staff job as of the beginning of this year....but am already saving to take a full year off in the next two years after quitting my current job once i've had enough.

Also, as a practical measure...savings help a lot. Build up a buffer, and when you do work...save as much as you can to use for your periods of full-living. You'll never keep up with the Joneses...but having free time to look forward to more than makes up for it...
posted by jnnla at 10:45 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


The best solution I have found is to work as few hours as possibly at a job that gives me my highest possible hourly wage. Combining this with reducing living expenses as much as practical means that I am able to save money even though I’m only working 24 hours per week (with a five-mile commute). YMMV depending on what kind of work you can do, and I admittedly lucked into this job. But think about what you could do part-time that pays well, even if it isn’t particularly interesting to you.

Possible ways to reduce expenses: move to a cheaper area, take on a roommate, cook all your own food from scratch, get rid of your car, keep the thermostat below 60F, only shop secondhand. Housing is usually the biggest expense so figuring out how to reduce that cost will go the farthest.
posted by metasarah at 7:06 AM on March 12


Well, if you do get to a point where your basic income is assured, and you can work from home or nearby on a happy schedule, and you're getting plenty of exercise - plan how to avoid boredom. If you enjoy listening to the birds, for example, eventually observe and identify the differences in their plumage and songs; then with luck you will find companions with the same interests, from whom you can learn and with whom you can share. Notice when anxiety creeps back up and what to avoid, to keep that from happening; notice what makes you specially happy, and cultivate that. It's an art, kind of never-ending active art.
posted by mmiddle at 11:06 AM on March 12


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