Saturday, 11 October 2014

Great Books - The New Good Life by John Robbins

How do you define the good life? This is the question that John Robbins, author of Diet for a New America and son of a very successful ice-cream salesman (yes, Mr Robbins, as in Baskin-Robbins), asks in The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever in an Age of Less. Growing up surrounded by wealth (and ice-cream), John was more inspired by Henry David Thoreau's ideas of being nearer to the earth than his father's ambitions for him to take over the family business. At 21 years old, John walked away from what could have been his dairy destiny and cut himself off from his father's money.

Paying for his studies with part-time jobs and poker games, John found a pretty sizable plot of land on Salt Spring Island, off the coast of British Colombia, for only $2000 (this was in 1969, mind you). Here, he and his wife lived in a tiny one-room log cabin for ten years, growing most of their own food, owning only a single set of clothes, spending no more than $500 a year (doubling when their son, Ocean, was born) and feeling, as he puts it, "alive in a way I never had before". They made enough money from teaching yoga and hosting retreats to save around $1000 a year. While many people may shudder to think of this kind of life, they never felt poor - in fact, John looks back on those years as the richest of his life.

The New Good Life re-examines the old American Dream - the idea of getting rich, gaining power, and defining yourself through your possessions and status. While it may hardly seem original to attack the acquisition of money and power, this book is a great starting point for those who have just started to question their lifestyles. Let's face it - every day we are preseted with evidence that our economies are struggling, the world is full of injustice and our environment is changing in ways that may completely destroy the way of life that we're used to. Put bluntly, it just isn't possible - or sustainable - for everyone to be rich, (or perhaps even for those who are rich now to keep their wealth forever).

If you're not swayed by the argument that a lifestyle of high earning and high spending contributes to the earth and other people's suffering, you might  be interested to know that those who focus more on financial success, looking good to others and gaining social recognition are generally less happy than people who strive for self-acceptance, community feeling and physical health. One of the reasons for this is that many "rich" people work very, very long hours to accumulate that wealth - hours that rob them of social relationships, meaning and pleasant experiences. What's the point of having loads of money if you can't enjoy it? Another is that obsessing over how you appear to others stops you from enjoying the present and forming authentic relationships with others. Here at GreenJoy we're all about achieving happiness in a way that's good for you, other people, the planet and your bank balance - and this is one of those great books that lays it down pretty well.

The book starts by helping you to identify your "money type" - that is, your relationship with money. Are you a careful saver, budgeting every penny and always living within your means, or does the thought of doing your taxes make you break out in a cold sweat? Whether you struggle because you blame others for your financial problems, sacrifice joy to save a few pounds or obsessively seek the approval of others through your possessions, Robbins shows you how you can make the most of your money type - helping you to shine as who you are rather than trying to force yourself to be something you're not.

The rest of the book is full of useful tips, ranging from how to lower the cost of all your bills and save money on getting from place to place to great eating tips (with a few healthy recipes thrown in). What I really like  is that he isn't just full of empty ideas - he gives concrete, practical tips for more natural and affordable living, for example spraying white vinegar on mouldy areas of walls, leaving for a few minutes then wiping (not rinsing) rather than using toxic cleaning products. For good measure, there's also a chapter on making the huge financial (and emotional) decision whether to have children or not (and tips for raising them), and a chapter about the relationship between money and happiness across the world.

If you have been thinking about making changes in your life and you realise that, just maybe, it isn't all about money and status, then this book is a great starting point. Robbins's book acts as a sort of Bible for living in a way that will bring more health, happiness and financial freedom into your life. Let's get this straight - this is not a book on how to get rich and enjoy your free time yachting around the world. This is a book that shows that you don't need a ton of money to have a great life, and that anybody - even those on a very low income - can have a spiritually fulfilling, healthy life with the right resources and knowledge.

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