From the Publisher
“David Wann makes a compelling case that the current fiscal squeeze is really a good thing in Simple Prosperity. A coauthor of the best selling Affluenza, he covers a lot of solution-oriented ground, from conscientious consumption and cohousinig to building human-scale neighborhoods and dismantling the fossil fuel economy...” Utne Reader
“This book is full of wisdom for real living; and it will help you find a kind of wealth that's woven right within the fabric of everyday life.” Sarah Susanka, author of The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters
“We've reached a point in our planet's history when nothing less than fundamental change is needed. In his book Simple Prosperity, David Wann proposes that we move away from an obsession with material wealth to an abundance of time, relationships, and experiences.” Wendy Priesnitz, editor, Natural Life Magazine
“Simple Prosperity reads like a well-loved novel, engaging and educational. David Wann offers creative solutions to the challenges of over- consumption and makes it a thoroughly enjoyable read.” Jill Cloutier, Producer, Sustainable World Radio, KCSB
“This book can help you reassess your goals. Our overconsumptive lifestyle is out of sync with our real values, says David Wann, and we can find greater contentment by creating vibrant communities, right-sizing our homes, valuing our time, and nurturing our health.” Debra Jones, Sierra Magazine
“Living a life that is outwardly simple while inwardly rich could well be the great challenge of the 21st century. Wann provides an accessible road map.” Rebecca Jones, Rocky Mountain News
“Simple Prosperity outlines a different vision for American society. A society that focuses on wealth in community and health and love instead of monetary wealth. Simple Prosperity gives thought on HOW to take a step back from the massive amounts consuming and advertising and find your own brand of happiness.” A Deeper Green Blog
“I shut the back cover of Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle and slid it into my library bag. It was an interesting read: more affirming than eye opening, more a map than a book. Throughout Simple Prosperity, David Wann directs us along a road toward a more meaningful life - one that we build instead of buy. He points out the pitfalls, jots down directions to the scenic back roads and promises a worthwhile destination - a well-lived life.” Green Bean Dreams blog
“Wann poses a very provocative question: If the lifestyle we've been leading is making a mess of the environment, using up many of the world's resources and leaving us queasy as a culture, why not just move on to something else? The strongest feature of Simple Prosperity is its ability to direct us in understanding who we are and what we want, resulting in a greater sense of clarity and direction.” Bette Erickson, Boulder Daily Camera
“With some economic hard times erupting in addition to the environmental challenges that are beginning to hit the fan, here is a book that looks at the bright side of cutting back. With Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle, David Wann, co-author of Affluenza, wants to turn the American Dream on its head--from a focus on the accumulation of wealth to the dream of investing in things that really matter: communities. "social capital," wellness, and a better way of life. And all this works in tandem with cuttinig energy use, localizing our neighborhoods, and foregoing our dependence on fossil fuels.” Less is More Blog
“The idea that overconsumption is a fundamental problem, not solution, in the maintenance of a healthy economy and planet is not a new idea, but I've never heard it articulated so clearly and succinctly before as in Simple Prosperity - and it is already helping me to think about things in a new light.” Mark Wagner blog
“This is a valuable and concise digest of much that we've figured out in recent years, about health, stress, joy, community. The only thing it won't tell you how to do is make more money; instead, it will let you see that you may already have enough.” Bill McKibben, author Deep Economy
“Perhaps the highest compliment one writer can give another is 'I wish I'd said that!' David Wann has woven together all the right stuff to make a compelling and appealing case for the abundance of enough and the poverty of more. He stands firmly with one foot in the intimate details of daily life and the other in the shocking details of the degradation of healthy ecosystems and communities. Both the appeal of a better personal life and the horror of what will be upon us if we don't act should get us all on the Simple Prosperity bandwagon.” Vicki Robin, coauthor YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE, cofounder CONVERSATION CAFES
“Dave Wann's recipes from his own experience in Simple Prosperity are a breath of fresh air, and just what we need for a saner future. They include ideas, sound research and down-to-earth advice we can all use. This book is also much more: a friendly, personal guidebook for living a more enjoyable, healthy, loving life.” Hazel Henderson, author, Ethical Markets: Growing The Green Economy
“If ever there was a right book at the right time, Simple Prosperity is it. This country needs this book.” Lester R. Brown, President, Earth Policy Institute, author of Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble.
author of The Not So Big Life: Making Room for Sarah Susanka
This book is full of wisdom for real living; and it will help you find a kind of wealth that's woven right within the fabric of everyday life.
Read an Excerpt
Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle
By David Wann
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2007 David Wann
All rights reserved.
How Foresight Can Cut Our Losses
Currently, more money is being spent on breast implants and Viagra than on Alzheimer's research. So in the very near future there should be a large elderly population with impressive breasts and magnificent erections, but no recollection of what to do with them.
— Sally Feldman
We've been born into a cult that has made a god of numbers. We worship rankings, quantities, statistics, profit margins, and polls ... We want to know first, last, biggest, best, most, least, latest, and how much the baby weighs. We've mapped the genome. We've captured the quark. By God or by Newton we will know.
— Marilyn Ferguson
It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.
— Albert Einstein
We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization.
— Al Gore
I have an embarrassing confession to make, right up front: I'm not a "confident consumer." This morning's New York Times may report that consumer confidence has risen to its highest level in more than three years, but as I begin writing this first chapter, I'm not any more confident than I was back then that our mainstream lifestyle can take us where we need to go. I'm confident enough in general, I guess, but I'm very un comfortable being labeled a "consumer." We're far more than consumers, aren't we? We're a brilliant species that creates human-scaled tools and art, works cooperatively, takes care of natural assets, and uses its awesome brainpower to solve both small and large challenges. But we aren't giving ourselves the time, permission, or focus to do these things well.
What's up? We aren't eating like humans who need energy and vitality to feel great. We're not taking care of the children the way humans have always done. We're not designing products that last. And we're overriding many of our most tried and tested instincts, taking direction mostly from the relatively "new," rational side of the human brain that creates assembly lines, profit-and-loss statements, and missiles. We're suppressing the more playful, empathetic, and intuitive side, missing great opportunities for fun and fulfillment.
I have a proposal. Rather than settle for a passive/aggressive, dysfunctional American Dream, let's just recycle it. The people who track "consumer confidence" have their metrics on backward, in my humble opinion. Overconsumption is clearly a fundamental problem, not solution, in the maintenance of a healthy economy and planet. I believe it's not just oil production that's about to peak, but also human satisfaction. If we picture our position on a graph called "The Benefits of Consumption," it appears we're on a slope of diminishing returns. We're consuming more now but enjoying it less, to paraphrase an old cigarette commercial.
Here are what I consider to be the two most critical economic screw-ups: First, our economy is out of alignment with the values that make us feel grateful to be alive. Values such as health, relationships with people, connection with nature, satisfying work, a sense of purpose, abundance of personal time, and freedom of expression are the real wealth, far more valuable than money and mountains of manufactured stuff. If we obtain these values directly, without money as a constant, meddling middleman, we don't need as much money, and we don't need to tear things apart to get it. The whole industrial metabolism of civilization — what some call "throughput" — can slow down to match the rhythms of nature.
Second, although we're trained to think of the environment as a subset of the economy, when we think about it, we see it's just the opposite. Everything is inside the environment. The economy is really just an opportunistic system of ideas and rules we made up, but the environment is reality itself — a wonderful place for our homes, farms, schools, and businesses to locate — as long as we're trustworthy tenants. But without a more grounded, respectful ethic, we'll never get back our damage deposit. In this era of overconsumption, production is allowed to be careless, and, as a result, the faster we produce and consume, the faster natural and cultural assets get trashed. For example, of the roughly five thousand languages now spoken in the world, fewer than 20 percent will still be spoken by the year 2100. The disappearing languages, though rich in tradition, ties to the land, and loyalties to people, simply don't translate in the global economy.
It's important to remember that the economy was invented when world population was ten times smaller but the planet seemed infinitely large and filled to the brim with resources. It seemed foolish not to produce and consume all we wanted, especially since this seemed to liberate the downtrodden individual. But in the guardian economy now being born — that acknowledges how small the world really is and how fragile its web of life — only the interest provided by nature will be consumed, never the principle. In the new "mindful money" lifestyle, there will be more sensible boundaries and constraints, just as there is when an architect begins to design a house on a new site. The lot is only so big, with a certain type of soil, certain solar exposure, and so on. We can be as creative as we want within sustainable parameters, but the limits of the Earth are as tangible and finite as the characteristics of a building lot.
Changing just one idea can change the whole world: the accumulation of money and consumption of manufactured stuff is not why we're here. There are other ways to meet human needs, many of which are not currently being met. When we change the way we think about value, the world will begin to regenerate, almost overnight. We're ready! One piece of evidence is that, according to the World Values Survey, a near majority of Americans (61 percent) believe that protecting the environment should be a higher priority than economic growth; that we should prevent the natural world from coming unraveled even if that were to mean some loss of jobs and a slower-growing economy. The good news is, saving our civilization from collapse will create jobs and help the economy, which can't flourish in a battered, depleted environment.
» Cutting Our Losses and Reinventing the Economy
In the book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, my coauthors and I observe that people in the money-obsessed societies of the world — especially the United Sates — are victims of a disease with crippling impacts on individuals, families, communities, cultural traditions, and the environment. It leaves people feeling disoriented and disconnected — ideal consumer traits from a business perspective! We point out that affluenza is far from being a disease of the rich; the compulsion to purchase and possess happiness has now infected all economic sectors in most countries of the world. Consumer researcher Van Kempen saw farmers in Mali wearing digital watches without batteries, and Tibetan nomads who proudly display their cell phones even though there's no reception. And it's the same in American low-income neighborhoods, where iPods, high-end running shoes, and leased or illicit Porsches are frequently on display. In a full 98 percent of American homes, at least one color TV beams thousands of behavior-defining commercial messages into occupants' jingle-filled brains every week.
Isn't this barrage of media a primary reason why so many people can readily identify one hundred commercial logos but fewer than ten plants? In a recent poll, average Americans were asked to name three Supreme Court Justices, and while only 17 percent could do that, 59 percent knew the names of the Three Stooges. This is America, where we spend more on garbage bags than ninety of the world's countries spend on everything. Where, in 2005, more than two million filed for bankruptcy yet 13 percent of all homes purchased were second or even third homes. As Homer Simpson observed in an episode of The Simpsons, animals at the zoo are "bored, obese, and have lost their sense of meaning. The American Dream."
Many of the symptoms we reported in Affluenza have gotten worse since the revised edition came out in 2005. The world is in effect spinning even faster; the global economy is heating up the new millennium with activities that are often inefficient, unjust, and unnecessary. Americans now fly 750 billion miles every year (an average of 2,200 miles per person, up from 650 in 1970). Even more astonishing, we collectively drive the equivalent of a billion times around the planet's 25,000-mile circumference every year. No wonder we, and the Earth, are tired! We annually throw away more than 2.5 million tons of obsolete computers, TVs, cell phones, and other electronic products. We each burn the equivalent of 2,500 gallons of gasoline annually, when all energy uses are considered. It takes a lot of time and human energy to accomplish all this. The question is, do we deserve an award or a subpoena?
This year's annual "directory of billionaires," compiled by Forbes magazine, lists 15 percent more ultra-rich Americans than last year. The rich get richer, that's nothing new. But what is new is the scope of the problem: the top 1 percent of American households now own 58 percent of all corporate wealth, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Yet, about 50 percent of Americans do not own any stock at all. In 2004, the top one percent of earners, including CEOs, received 11.2 percent of all wage income — up from 8.7 percent a decade earlier and almost twice the 6 percent from three decades ago.
Admittedly, most Americans are fascinated that software magnate Larry Ellison's private yacht, the Rising Sun — 453 feet in length — is as imposing as a luxury cruise liner (or battleship); and that Paul Allen's slightly smaller yacht sports its own, portable submarine. But if we really examine the spectrum of wealth in America, it's easy to see that many can't even afford to float a Wal-Mart rubber ducky in their bathtub, since the price of tap water is rising as steadily as the price of petroleum. (Since 2001, its price has risen an average of 27 percent in the United States, according to the Earth Policy Institute). In fact, many at the very bottom of the economy don't even have a bathtub. (Nearly one in three hundred are homeless and twice as many are in prison.) But while street people manage to fit all worldly belongings into a shopping cart or packing crate, we middle- and upper-class Americans, almost universally infected with affluenza, can't seem to cram our stuff into houses twice the size of a typical 1950s American home.
In recent years American household budgets have skyrocketed for day care, elder care, health care, lawn care, pet care, house care, and hair care — in direct proportion to our often-frustrated quest to be "carefree." Much of U.S. spending is for purchases far beyond subsistence, but there's a growing segment of American society whose boats haven't risen at all in the economic high tide of recent years, as the prices for such essentials as housing, food, health care, education, and transportation continue to creep up. Close to fifty million Americans are without health insurance; hundreds of thousands have had their retirement benefits cut; and tens of thousands have recently waved good-bye to jobs that were shipped overseas. From 1998 to 2005, U.S. consumer debt almost doubled, from about $1.3 trillion to $2.16 trillion, according to Federal Reserve analysts, and in 2006, Americans spent one percent more than they earned, the worst "savings" rate since the Depression. Many homeowners regard home equity as a "savings" account, and collectively they borrowed almost a trillion dollars from their equity in 2006. But experts say that financial well is going dry.
Where will the capital come from to keep consumer spending pumped up? Says Robert J. Samuelson, a columnist for The Washington Post for the last thirty years, "The great workhorse of the U.S. economy — consumer spending — will slow. For six decades, consumer debt and spending have risen faster than income, but we're approaching a turning point."Since consumers are responsible for more than two-thirds of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, what will happen when household debt, lack of savings, an increase in the cost of living and other variables combine to reduce consumer spending?
Answer: The economy will continue to reinvent itself. The average American, and the three hundred million people he represents, will become less wasteful and more conscious of durability, quality, and efficiency. He'll rediscover real wealth — what really matters — as people always do when the game changes. He'll become more conscious of what other people need and less obsessed with his own, often-trivial gratifications. He'll become more active in local politics, and his TV time will shrink from an average of five or six hours a day (!) to thirty-five minutes. The U.S. GDP might possibly be smaller in the future, but it could represent greater real wealth overall if negative values like waste, pollution, climate change, stress, and environmentally related disease decrease while positive values like social relationships, renewable energy, bike trails, preventive health care, and compact communities with town centers increase.
According to the McDonald's Corporation Web site, in 2007 McDonald's has more than thirty thousand local restaurants serving nearly fifty million people in more than 119 countries each day. How many billion burgers (and cows) have been consumed now? Credit: Susan Benton
Here's the bear trap we've caught ourselves in: Our economy is geared up to produce far more than we need to be content, and we've obediently bent ourselves out of shape to accommodate over-production. We do things that are unintelligent and inhumane to keep up with production. And the more goods we buy, consume, and throw away, the more energy we use up, since products and the materials they're made of are filled with energy — for their extraction, transport, manufacture, and use. Since 1900, the U.S. population tripled, but the use of materials went up seventeenfold; annual emissions of carbon dioxide grew by a factor of fifteen. Life in America became an all-you-can-eat cafeteria in which the atmosphere quickly turned from circus-like to sinister. It's now all but illegal to stop eating, since corporate economists and politicians count on tireless consumer spending. One of the greatest, most nagging stresses we feel is, "How can we find the time to consume all this stuff?" But whenever that thought begins to cross our minds, a game show buzzer sounds, instructing us to "just keep eating."
The truth is, maybe we just can't eat anymore. The research firm Yankelovich Partners concluded in a 2004 survey that consumer resistance to marketing is peaking: 65 percent of American consumers feel they are constantly being bombarded, and 61 percent feel that marketers do not treat consumers with respect. Even more telling are the first tinges of green in a grassroots movement to throw advertising in the dumpster. While 65 percent think there should be more limits and regulations imposed on marketers; 69 percent are interested in products and services that would block marketing; and in keeping with the theme of this book, a full 33 percent (and growing) would be willing to have a slightly lower standard of living in order to live in a society with less marketing and advertising!
I think of these various symptoms of affluenza as messages assuring us that our way of life is changing. They are evidence that shoddiness, manic advertising, and excess have just about run their course, and that we are waking up from the Dream — or is it the Nightmare — to invent a new way of thinking ; a new way of appreciating life. If health, happiness, and humility become new American benchmarks of success, we'll no longer need hypergrowth or overconsumption. As a result, we'll generate less stress, environmental destruction, depression, and debt! There doesn't seem to be a downside.
» Looking Behind the Screen
In my ongoing encounters with affluenza, I sometimes compare the Western economy to a huge movie screen positioned right in front of life itself. We want and need to experience life directly and celebrate it with the plants and animals that also live here, but the big screen keeps getting in the way, numbing us down, booming commercials and redundant stories about rags-to-riches entrepreneurs, or heroes who "never said die" but died anyway. Meanwhile, behind that movie screen, the drilling rigs, cranes, draglines, semi trucks, chainsaws, and conveyor belts are hungrily converting materials and energy into products and profits.
Excerpted from Simple Prosperity by David Wann. Copyright © 2007 David Wann. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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