Faster & Better.
This is the motto of modern western countries. Entrepreneurs, corporations and governments live by it, and brought many inventions: plastic packaging, engines, planes, frozen meals, fast food, 4K TV, e-commerce, white (refined) flour, hamburgers, coke, antibiotics, genetically-modified food, laptops and VR headsets.
At every iteration, the faster and better products are celebrated. Every year, we get more pixels, more speed, more calories per gram, more fat and sugar per gram, more caffeine in a can, and more social notifications in a day of Facebook than our grandparents would ever get in a lifetime. Amazing, isn’it? And addictive.
Except it’s killing us. The Modern Western Lifestyle brings together a dangerous cocktail of ingredients.
Diet is composed of meat, saturated fat, fried and sweet foods. Alcohol, chips and other processed foods are eaten before and after meals. These foods are inflammatory, increase obesity, clog arteries and increase the risk of depression.
Ideal jobs are sedentary. These do not involve physical activity, only prolonged sitting and typing on a computer 8 hours per day. With a focus on deadlines and financial performance, these jobs also induce chronic stress and anxiety.
Successful solo careers are celebrated and chosen over family, community or life-long friendships. Everyone has to work harder, faster and longer.
The environment is clogged with air and water pollution, with overuse of plastic, bitumen and artificial materials.
The body is a complex system and deals with these poorly. For example, chronic job stress changes digestion and can induce metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome can discourage you to undertake exercise. Cutting exercise might make you favor fat & sweet foods. All these create a hormone imbalance. Add environmental factors and you have all the conditions for chronic diseases: diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease etc.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), half of America suffers from at least one chronic illness; chronic illness causes 70% of deaths in the United States each year; and the percentage of children and adolescents with chronic illness has quadrupled since the 1960s. The same numbers can be found in Canada, Australia and the U.K. and soon in other countries adopting the American and Western lifestyle.
Instead of following the motto “Faster & Better”, I advocate slowing down and looking back. Faster does not necessarily mean better.
Thinking differently is hard. We have traditionally been educated that faster is better.
The first step is to start asking questions. Do we need what the Western society is throwing at us? Maybe we don’t need more sweet foods. Maybe we don’t even need sweet foods. We probably don’t need 700 Facebook friends. And do we really need a high-paced job?
What are the alternatives? Like stated previously, the body is a complex system. Changing a single factor will most likely not reduce the risk of chronic diseases. You can stop eating red meat one day, but if all the other risk factors are present, it just slows down the onset of inevitable chronic diseases. The correct way is to view your life as a whole system, and not separate diet from activity and relationships:
- Choose slow natural food over fast foods. Prefer vegetables & fruits over processed foods. Add olive oil, legumes and nuts, whole grains, tea, and if you like, a glass of red wine. Cook everyday instead of relying on delivery or packaged foods.
- Choose slow, gratifying jobs over “fast” jobs. Pick a job that brings value every day, one that doesn’t push you to sacrifice quality over false constructs such as deadlines or money. If you can, choose a job with physical activity.
- Choose slow and rare relationships over superficial relationships. No matter what Mark Zuckerberg tells you, we are not made to have hundreds or thousands friends. The ones that matter are those that will be there when you move out, when you are depressed, or those you can share adventures with. So stop caring about likes or shares. Care about your friends, their dreams, their fears and what you can share together.
- Choose physical activity over shortcuts. Physical activity is better than multivitamins or dietary supplements. It’s slow and it smells but I can guarantee the benefits will be long-lasting. Also, most of us spend way too much time on computers or watching screens. Slowing down means spending less time on gadgets and do something. Do gardening, cooking, take regular walks in the woods, take care of a pet, or resource yourself by running or in yoga sessions.
- Choose old stuff instead of the faster & better products. It’s easy to fall in mindless shopping, thinking that we need the newer and faster product. But let me tell you : this will be a never-ending race, and it will make you unhappy. When you get a newer iPhone, a faster and more powerful version will be released months later. You will need to work harder at your job. Then a better iPad will be released. Then a digital camera with amazing features will be released. Gotta get them all, right? This is toxic and makes us dependant on artificial cycles. The best alternative is to buy rarely, and buy the older stuff. Instead of buying the latest digital camera from Canon, get the film camera from the 80s. It’s only $100 and will encourage you to take less AND better photos. Instead of buying flimsy IKEA furniture that will break next year, buy SOLID furniture made of real wood that you can keep for 30 years. And so on.
I realize that this is opposite to the traditional approach.
In the Modern Western society, when you don’t feel good, there are cookie-cutter solutions. You can get pills to treat depression. You can get statins for your cholesterol. You can order creatine on Amazon to make you feel buff. You can get a double espresso from Starbucks so you can stay ahead of the race. However, these all have adverse effects, and treat symptoms instead of the underlying cause. And the system will not change for you. You are just a cog in a system, part of an assembly line.
Instead, I suggest you to hit the “PAUSE” button. We can take a step back, approach the system as a whole and work to calm things down.