Updated: Oct 4, 2021
By Howard Lewis. You’re making progress getting rid of stuff you don’t need or that doesn’t work; you’re maybe mending clothes, re-purposing ornaments and old bikes into plant pots, selling surplus homewares at the car-boot sale and on EBay. You’ve donated clothes and books to your local charity shop and your space is feeling, well, more spacious. There’s more to do, for sure, but congratulations on the progress you’re making.
You are already making a big difference. Now it’s time to think about the next steps in your off-grid journey.
As a Green Gorilla I’ve reflected about how this journey is working for me, and I think it’s first about how I feel about myself. So, for me, the next step is a very personal one – to nurture body and mind.
That means taking special care of both physical and mental health. You won’t get a lecture here, but physical health is about eating a balanced healthy diet, reducing meat and fish consumption and eating vegetables and fruit every day. It’s also about getting some gentle out-door exercise every day, with more vigorous exercise each week. And then taking notice of what your body is telling you – looking after your teeth, your eyesight, your hearing, movement, skin, and hair.
Mental health is just as important, but sometimes it’s the thing that gets pushed aside until a crisis looms. My own cure-all is about simply being content with the person I am, flab and all, and comfortable in my own dull company – really comfortable.
I’d like to talk about the fallacy of being happy. You’ll hear parents say of their children, “I don’t mind what they do with their lives, I just want them to be happy.” It’s well meaning but bonkers. No-one is going to be happy all the time; walking around with a Cheshire Cat grin on their face when they’re soaked to the skin in horizontal driving rain, or when they’ve just missed the last train home and will have to sleep on a station bench. Our lives are a mixture of happy, sad, angry, frustrated, calm, stressed and emotional, and a plethora of other feelings. That’s just what life is, so to hope someone will be ‘happy’ most of the time is not really very helpful.
I prefer the idea that lives can be meaningful and that it’s worth striving to have meaning in our lives. So how would we define meaning as it relates to the lives we are living? I love a TED talk given by Emily Esfahani Smith – it’s 12 minutes out your day, really worth watching and you can find it here:
Emily asserts that feelings of pure happiness may come and go with the wind, whereas a more fulfilling, sustainable path is for life to be meaningful. What she’s saying, I think, is that happiness isn’t just a state of mind, or an object that you can pluck off a shelf, or something where you can get out of bed and say “today I’m going to be happy”. You can (and maybe should) create a life that is meaningful to you and as a consequence you will be a happier, more fulfilled person.
The lesson I went through was that off-grid living doesn’t automatically give your life meaning. You could start with Emily’s four pillars to build a meaningful life – belonging, purpose, transcendence and story telling – and then see how your move into off-grid living might further reinforce the meaning you’ve already built.
So, here they are:
A Sense of Belonging – a strong sense that you a part of a family or a group, or a community. That your contributions to your community are valued and that you work hard to ensure the group thrives. A community isn’t virtual, it’s got to be real; you can’t just like someone on social media and be part of their community, or they part of yours. In fact liking people in that way may well detract from your own meaning.
A Sense of Purpose – this is more about what you give, not what you receive – using your strengths to serve others. That can happen through work, where we contribute and feel needed, but it also happens in our personal lives where we may look after an aging parent or our children or others who need a helping hand. People who give also tend to be the biggest recipients and achieve a sense of purpose.
Transcendence – this is also about stepping beyond yourself but in a very different way. These are the moments when you’re lifted above the ‘hustle and bustle’ of everyday life, where you feel connected to a higher reality. It can come from seeing art, reading a stimulating book, learning a new language, connecting with your God. You lose sense of time and space as your mind takes you to another place where you consider things in a different way. For me it’s photography – when I need a lift I take my camera out for a few hours and take photos, particularly of the local wildlife.
Story Telling – this is the story you tell yourself about yourself, creating a narrative that helps you understand how you became you. We are the authors of our own life stories and we can change and edit them as we go along with the events that happen in our lives. People leading more meaningful lives are found to have stories containing redemption, personal (rather than economic) growth and love.
Leading a meaning life isn’t about winning the lottery, driving a Mercedes or wearing Armani clothes. It has nothing to do with stuff.
I’m also not saying you have to live off-grid to live a meaningful life; I’m certain there are estate agents, nurses, farmers and lawyers who live meaningfully. You just have to figure out where you are with the four pillars and whether moving off-grid is going to add or subtract from that position.
So, I encourage you to take a piece of paper and write down four headings – belonging, purpose, transcendence and stories – then fill it in and see if there are any gaps.
What you find out will help save the planet.
The Green Gorillas run workshops in tiny house building and sustainable living. Find out more at www.greengorillas.eco