Thursday, June 7

Low Impact Thursday

Ahhh. There's nothing like reading Barbara Kingsolver on the problem of cheap food over breakfast and Bill McKibbin on the field of Hedonics on my bus ride to get the big questions rolling around in the hopper. Am I happier when I ride the bus?

Of course that's a chicken-and-egg question. This week I've ridden on the three days that I woke up happier. In addition, I know I am happier after exercising. Since I have planned for my commute to include a 1.5 mile walk, I start my work day after half an hour of moderate exercise, and I am happier. I have also observed that as much as I like driving my sound system and arriving at my destination with my favorite tunes filling the air around me... I am actually less stressed when I ride.

I think those things add up to a kind of happiness. There's also the enjoyment of being connected to bigger things -- my goal to use my resources better, my goal to reduce my carbon footprint, my goal to be less of a consumer and more of a citizen.

I have been developing a theory for several years now. It started with an observation about food. A friend of mine spent a few years at a Benedictine monastery and over breakfast one morning she told me about the feasts they would have on St. Benedict's day. It struck me that what she was describing happened several times a year in my life. And then reading about historical food patterns, I realized that I eat (ate) what was traditionally "Sunday Dinner" pretty near every day of the week. So my theory is that in the US we have a trend of making the historically special things completely common.

Daniel Gilbert, in his book Stumbling on Happiness, suggests a biological reason for this. Since our brains have developed to anticipate the future based on past experience, we can fall into repeating the events that led to an emotion in pursuit of the emotion.

When I was young, going to Disneyland was a once-in-a-childhood trip. It was something I dreamt about. I finally went during my Junior year on a youth group trip, and it more than lived up to my dreams... In part because I was with friends who shared my wonder and delight. But now I have a friend who is a single mom who always feels strapped for cash and yet takes her 4-year-old on a Disney trip every year. I wonder whether there will be anything for Emily to feel delighted and surprised and grateful about when she gets to be a Junior in high school.

So I think there's a trick to determining whether I am actually happier. It could be that I am experiencing something unique and new and those feelings are contributing to my happiness. Or it may be that riding the bus and walking every day is a way for me to get in touch with my creativity and passion in a really grounded way, and so it may lead to a fundamental improvement in happiness.

At any rate, I think it's an experiment worth continuing.

It's also the last day of low impact week, so I want to post some final numbers.

Driving: on pace for 90 miles instead of my usual 150. At 22 mpg, that's a 2.77 gallons of gas, which translates to 54.5 fewer lbs of carbon in the air this week (using the factor of 20lbs/gallon given at
Eating: I've had three meals out this week, all around spending time with others and 2 of the 3 at small, family-owned eateries. So no mindless food-grabbing.
Appliances: Washed one load of laundry this week instead of my usual two. Still used the dryer.
Community: I've taken more walks in my community, had more conversations, and met some new neighbors by going to church locally.

When I started this project, all indications were that my impact, according to the calculator, was about "average" at 7.5 tons per year.

Today I am doing "smaller than average" at 5.7 tons, mostly as a result of driving 8,000 miles a year instead of 12,000. If I keep up the bus commuting and the 90 miles per week of driving, that drops to 4680 miles per year and a carbon contribution of 4.25 tons.

1 comment:

P~ said...

Good post, and good observations. I am thinking about looking into the bus for the days when it rains here rather than resorting to the car. Although we don't really have that many here so not too big a concern.
I agree about the commonality of once special events. I am actually going to Disneyland this month with my family, my youngest son is 9 and my oldest 12. This will be their first trip there, and most likely the only one on my dime. I sometimes feel sorry for kids today in that they have so many options available so instantly that they never really have the opportunity to learn paitience or delayed gratification; two very good life lessons. I try to teach these at home, but it is a challenge.

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NotSoBigLiving is the story of a woman inspired by Sarah Susanka, Bill McKibben, Airstreams, Tumbleweed houses, Mennonites, Jimmy Carter, hippies, survivalists, Anasazi, Pema Chodron and Joko Beck, Scott Peck, Buckminster Fuller, and Al Gore to see what she can do to reduce her carbon footprint in her mid-80's suburban townhome. Strategies include roommates, alternative travel, organic eating, planting a victory garden, mindfulness, and a belly full of laughter.