They line up patiently on my shelves. They collect in topographically significant piles around my home and office. They crash off the seats in my car whenever I have to come to a quick stop.
Sometimes I look at the teetering stacks and I think: How on earth am I going to get to all of these? Right now I’m making my way through Daniel Imhoff’s Food Fight (a book on the Farm Bill), Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy (a book on building sustainable economic systems) and Benjamin Barber’s Consumed (a book on how our culture’s rampant consumerism is undermining our citizenship and society).
Meanwhile, as I’ve had these three books in active rotation, I’ve had six new and enticing books show up on my desk. I want to read them all — and to read them in a leisurely, thoughtful, pleasure-seeking way. But I can’t. And so I satisfy myself with sneaking chapters here, chapters there. I skim while I’m on hold. I speed-read while I’m making coffee.
I do what I can to fit it all in, to absorb what’s essential. The rest falls by the wayside, a victim of my chronic too-much-to-do-itis — a malady from which I believe a great many of us suffer. And I somehow wind up feeling like the more I try to squeeze in, the more I’m missing out.
Ironically, all three books I’m currently reading (and many others standing by in my to-be-read piles) actively challenge a variety of culturally entrenched “more is better” assumptions. Each of them questions, in very different and thought-provoking ways, whether unbridled growth, productivity, output and consumption are really getting us anywhere worth going. And each of them offers extremely convincing evidence that no, for the most part, they are not.
It turns out that in our quest for more — more wealth, more efficiency, more power, more progress, more pleasure — we often produce a great deal of waste, destruction and misery. The more we try to pack in from the top, the more pressure holes form and begin leaking out the sides. The more we race toward what we think we want, the less we are able to appreciate and sustain what we have and most value.
There’s a great quote by the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard:
“Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.”
On any given day of the week, don’t most of us (men and women) prove Kierkegaard right? In our near-asthmatic pursuit of more, aren’t we all longing mostly for the deep sigh of a decent nap — or the simple pleasure of being still a moment and noticing the wonderful experiences right in front of us?
We devote this issue of Experience Life to examining some of the ways we might enjoy more energy, vitality and pleasure in living — not necessarily by accumulating or accomplishing or achieving more, but simply by being willing to more fully perceive and experience what’s already there and available for the enjoying.
Many of the articles in this issue explore one underlying challenge: How might we be able to experience more joy in living — simply being better stewards of the resources available to us now? How might we enjoy more benefits without depleting or undermining ourselves and the people, places and things that support us?
You might think of it as the difference between gobbling down a mega-meal so fast you barely taste it — and savoring a small, beautifully prepared plate of nutritious morsels, one delicious bite at a time. It might be the difference between dashing off a mass email — and speaking face to face, meaningfully, with a single person. Or in my case, I suppose, it might be the difference between speed-reading a thousand pages — and contemplating a single, two-line quote from Kierkegaard for a good, long time.