DOWNSIZING - Success is Joy

In January at Keswick Film Club, we watched a delightful film depicting the benefits of downsizing. ‘Papadopoulos and Sons’ featured a brilliant entrepreneur whose business empire collapsed with bad debts leaving him and his family bankrupt. They were stripped of their house, car, possessions and lifestyle leaving them with only 25,000 capital and 1,000 worth of personal possessions each. This is not dire poverty of course but for them it marked a very major shift downwards in wealth.

Fortunately Papadopoulos senior had a younger brother, a charismatic ne'er do well with whom he still owned their original fish and chip shop from where he embarked on his business career. They reopened the shop and slowly gave up their need for wealth and possession and substituted a more cohesive family life, real laughter and a joy in living. Papa Papadopoulos, at the moment he declined to follow a return back to big business, said now he had found a joy in living, previously absent, and he regarded success as finding joy, not wealth.

It was a light-hearted uplifting tale which brought home how little we really need ‘stuff’. That false desire to add the latest gadget to our accumulated possessions only to be convinced of its inferiority to the next 'latest advance' and so a desire for stuff leads to a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. On the other hand if it works and it was good last year why change? Why add to the world’s burden of unnecessary consumer goodies which use up energy, precious metal resources, such as rare earths, and promote further despoilation of the earth through the need to keep mining?

'Stuff' comes after air travel as one of the greatest producers of carbon dioxide and thus the greatest contributors to climate change. We cannot individually do much to change the headlong global rush to global warming. In fact, the only solution for us is to be satisfied with fewer material goodies, less extravagance and move towards finding joy through being satisfied with our lot. Only if we can do our own little bit in ceasing to want so much and create an infection of joy will the lemming-like dash to extreme climate change be slowed down.

We know the Earth is heating up with more of the sun's energy being stored each year, mainly at present in the oceans which are a large but not infinite heat sink. Worse for the oceans than temperature increase, which is slight, is the increasingly acidification of waters, which because carbon dioxide makes the waters acid, is causing a reduction in marine life such as corals. This leads to other changes in ocean life. We know that increasing average temperatures are melting the Arctic ice cap. We know that climate change is moving warm weather pest species such as mosquitoes further north and coffee bean borers further up the Ethiopian mountains. It is expected that climate change will lead to more weather extremes world-wide and in fact we have observed many weather records being broken in recent years.

Global warming has happened before but never as fast as is happening now and never with a world population of Homo not-so-sapiens which is using earth’s food and water supplies very close to their capacity. So perhaps we should all explore the virtues of downsizing like the fictional Papadopoulos family and find joy in a simpler life, and consider that the pinnacle of success.

John Howell

April 2014