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What does a good life look like?

Heavy stuff, I know, but it’s consumed a lot of thinking for me in the last six months. I think I’ve managed to distill it to three things:

  • Slow food & slow eating
  • Slow thinking
  • An interesting, dedicated life

Slow food, slow eating

Eating makes up a large part of our social, familial, and nutritional lives. It’s also among the most experiential part of our lives. Food should be regionally sourced, from a natural life, and with family or friends at a set time—together, without distraction.

I’m worried families today are like how I ended up after my mom died: eating separate meals at separate times. Maybe one person’s vegetarian, another person’s allergic or disgusted by something, another read about some other diet. Suddenly, everyone’s eating different things, likely microwaved or hastily assembled at different times. Each staring off at a sheet of glass as they do it.

If people are serious about their health, diet, nutrition, and care at least a little about sustainable local economies and agriculture, we should be eating slowly, with other people, from natural and slow sources.

If I could wave a wand, my meals would be:

  • At home, around the table with family and friends
  • Regionally sourced from sustainable farms
  • Natural and seasonal. Animals should be sustainably raised toward their natural inclinations. That is, grass-fed, no industrial operations.
  • This would be more expensive, but would have the upside of controlling portions. When I make a meatloaf I often think, “I guess I could have another piece,” but if I know it was $8/pound and not $4, I usually save it for tomorrow’s lunch.
  • Eating slowly without distractions from phones could have the benefit of reducing consumption, too, by letting our brains catch up with our stomachs.

Slow thinking

I printed out an eight-page document the other day, grabbed a red pen, and got up to sit in a different chair in my office. Editing away, I was able to read, re-read, and scribble notes. The whole process made for some of the best revising and editing I’ve done since high school—the last time I probably had nothing but my words printed before me. Nothing bounced, dinged, flew over, requested an update, or distracted me.

I could have done it on my computer, but the pen was clearly better. And when I did go back to my desk to make the revisions, I was able to make more revisions on what was a third or fourth read-through.

By slowing down and making me visualize the pages before me, the words came more appropriately. Removing words was also more liberating and easier.

An interesting, dedicated life

Much has been written about dwindling social circles. Millennials have fewer friends today than our parents did time based on surveys. And they had fewer than their parents.

Social scientists blame many factors, pandemic not withstanding. Everything from empty church pews to designs of our cities to high work mobility. Most millennial men will tell you their only friends, aside from their spouse, is likely a coworker. I imagine knowledge workers in remote positions are more disconnected now than ever.

Millennials don’t move at rates past generations used to, either, but we do switch jobs more frequently than our forefathers and mothers. So, the few coworkers we do Slack with likely won’t stick around for long.

One thing that gets missed among these factors is that many people just aren’t stimulating. Nor are some people willing to do the work of occasionally organizing something, hosting a gathering, or focusing on other people long enough for anyone to get much value.

It’s hard to have friends if, on the rare occasion you do get together with someone, you have nothing to talk about or quietly stare at screens while sharing the same room. This is perhaps where sports fans can carve out a niche. But a shocking number of people don’t read, don’t tinker in their garages on special projects, don’t form too many educated opinions about topics of the day, and don’t really do much of, well, anything. “I sent some emails today and played Pokémon” doesn’t leave much to work with.

If and when you are tasked with conversing with someone like that, you find yourself operating on the fumes of language and the vague feeling that what you’re doing has texture and depth. It’s like diving into a shallow pond with all the gear.

When we hear people say “consume less”, I always assumed they were talking about buying less junk. But now I’ve come to understand consuming goes beyond buying cheap backyard pools from Wal-Mart. Consuming hours of TV or playing hours of video games alone a night will, for all but critics and pros, make a person dull. You’re just achieving boredom, or numbing it. It’s hard to say which, but it sure makes the flywheel of unfocused, dull living spin faster. That, in turn, makes friendship—the kind where you share hopes and fears and ask for advice—more challenging.


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About JUSTIN HARTER

Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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