When More is Less

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This past weekend I took a wonderful break at a resort spa. The most exciting and fulfilling thing I did? I sipped coffee from exquisite china, while seated by the wall of plantation shutters, reclining in my white spa robe on the exceptionally comfortable loveseat with ottoman at the perfect height and reading the Boston Globe that was delivered to my door.

And despite the indoor waterfall, superb spa treatments and amenities, and top-notch service, the thing I will remember most is that moment above, when I didn’t have to feel guilty about all the other things that I was not doing that moment, and I wasn’t making a mental list of things I had to do.

I came across an article in the Boston Globe, which discussed “Entertainment Overload” by Joseph P Kahn. He discusses the phenomenon of having so many ways to self-entertain, from digital music streaming from your computer, IPod, several different ways to view movies (TiVo, pay-per-view, video-on-demand movies, NetFlix, Internet, etc), and the overall saturation making for less satisfaction.

Barry Schwartz, a Swarthmore College psychology professor and author of “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less” was quoted in the article – “what these devices allow you to do is experience almost infinite variety of cultural events.” But having more choices than ever “means you get less satisfaction out of whatever you choose.”  And the best quote of all, “You can smell it all, taste it all, feel it all, but not experience it all.”

Of course, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about this phenomenon in relation to too much advice about “health” and the “obesity crisis” and “dieting” has made us less satisfied with our bodies and our lives. Many contend that our lifestyles – madding pace, feeling constantly harried, “simple” solutions that really steal the joy of simplicity – are really the traits of a culture that is “obesogenic,” a newly created word that describes conditions that generate obesity. Holding food and those that eat responsible for overweight bodies is not the idea – it’s about the entire lifestyle and culture of western industrialized nations.

The following essay, The Paradox of Our Age, was written by a pastor of a church in Seattle over 10 years ago. It’s been circulated through the internet in many different incantations, but is a great description of an obesogenic culture.

I thank the essay for helping me realize that relaxing and enjoying the moment is about stepping outside the obesogenic lifestyle, and is more helpful than 30 minutes of high-kicks in an aerobics studio.

The Paradox of Our Age

We have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider freeways but narrower viewpoints; we spend more but have less; we buy more but enjoy it less; we have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, yet less time; we have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgment; more experts, yet more problems; we have more gadgets but less satisfaction; more medicine, yet less wellness; we take more vitamins but see fewer results.

We drink too much; smoke too much; spend too recklessly; laugh too little; drive too fast; get too angry quickly; stay up too late; get up too tired; read too seldom; watch TV too much and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values; we fly in faster planes to arrive there quicker, to do less and return sooner; we sign more contracts only to realize fewer profits; we talk too much; love too seldom and lie too often. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life; we’ve added years to life, not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor.

We’ve conquered outer space, but not inner space; we’ve done larger things, but not better things; we’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we’ve split the atom, but not our prejudice; we write more, but learn less; plan more, but accomplish less; we make faster planes, but longer lines; we learned to rush, but not to wait; we have more weapons, but less peace; higher incomes, but lower morals; more parties, but less fun; more food, but less appeasement; more acquaintances, but fewer friends; more effort, but less success.

We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication; drive smaller cars that have bigger problems; build larger factories that produce less. We’ve become long on quantity, but short on quality.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men, but short character; steep in profits, but shallow relationships. These are times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure and less fun; higher postage, but slower mail; more kinds of food, but less nutrition.

These are days of two incomes, but more divorces; these are times of fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, cartridge living, throw-away morality, one-night stands and pills that do everything from cheer, to prevent, quiet or kill. It is a time when there is much in the show window and nothing in the stock room. Indeed, these are the times!


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