Take your time and be aware


How can we live more sustainable? Are we forced to ‘live with less’? No, to live more sustainable is to do more. Indra Adnan is a psycho-social therapist, writer and soft power consultant. Normally, she blogs on The Guardian and The Huffington Post. In this text, she tells us what we should do more of to move closer to a sustainable lifestyle. 


More, more and more

To become sustainable, any entity – the planet, a business, You – has to be efficient: in good health and able to use any resources it can find to meet its needs directly. We are generally unsustainable when we are out of kilter: depleted, exhausted with such deep, unmet needs that we grab for short term, superficial fixes that addict us.

But whether we are talking about the economy or our family, the sustainability that is being achieved in this way is always emotional. Growth in the markets has not been able to answer poverty, conflict or homelessness – all of which are increasing the world over: it only offers a feeling of confidence, buoyancy, distraction, not only to the politicians but to their electorate. How extraordinary that elections can be won by promises of pennies in the pound while our planet burns.

How do we get out of this trance? Not by going cold turkey and denying ourselves emotional equilibrium – but by going for more in three ways. Firstly, more awareness: what are your emotional needs? We’re not talking about desires and wants here, but the needs that are essential to our survival. The Human Givens institute identifies them (in no order) as:

  • Security: physical and existential
  • Status: not necessarily high, but having a recognisable role to play
  • Belonging: a way to forge identity
  • Meaning and purpose: your drive for life
  • Connectivity: confirming your presence
  • Privacy: the ability to reflect
  • Autonomy: freedom to act
  • Attention (giving and receiving): the way to develop consciousness
  • Control: essential for confidence
  • Achievement: social currency

When these are not met, we begin to become mentally and then physically unstable. Understanding how these operate in our psyche explains the consumer society entirely: think of how it has been explicitly designed to answer each one. But only as long as we remain ignorant. More awareness of our emotional needs offers us the opportunity to get them met in new ways – without the quick, temporary and often destructive fix of excessive shopping. Needs are not weakness: they are clues to our fulfilment. Answering them gives us life.

Perhaps the most difficult need to get met in our modern world is for meaning and purpose. Children driven through school with only grades as their goal. Adults working stressful jobs the whole of their lives, just to pay the bills and accumulate goods they have no time to enjoy. The steep increase in depression amongst youth and women in particular throughout the developed world is fuelled by the emptiness of modern life: all are causing a crisis of meaning and purpose in our society. When examining the attraction of Daesh, scholars have shown that, more than power, it is the offer of meaning and purpose that attracts the converts from around the world.

There is no easy answer. It’s tempting to think that the answer to the stresses of modern life is more leisure but it hasn’t proven to be so: instead we need more agency, involvement, achievement. For that we need more time. While there is undoubtedly a section of society that has well paid, fulfilling jobs, the vast majority are either bored or underpaid, many both. Why not distribute the jobs better: give more people less work and create the opportunity for more citizenship: now more than ever, we need people to be active in a meaningful way – paying attention to the needs of their local community and having the time to work together to address them.

Isn’t there a fit between what we need and what the planet needs from us? With more time, we can live more fulfilled lives, get our own emotional needs met with less reliance on consuming and destructive addictions. If we are free to step up to more citizenship, we can be more energy efficient, more collaborative and co-creative in our communities, free our imaginations for more meaningful lives. More fun. More, more, more.