The trouble with shifting gears

rat raceIn the previous three posts, we talked about utilizing improved levels of mental control to either shift up or shift down. Shifting up implies that you use your improved mental control to develop something called a healthy obsession – a state of mind where your thoughts automatically return time and time again to some interesting idea that can add great value to society if further developed. Shifting down implies that you use your improved mental control to decouple from the materialistic rat-race, trading some amount of material consumption for the direct pursuit of health and happiness.

Both of these options are a substantial upgrade from the sad nine-to-five treadmill of unfulfilling labor on which the majority of developed world citizens are still chasing the fundamental impossibility of happiness-through-consumption. But there is a good reason why the majority of the rich world remains stuck in the pointless rat-race: it has simply become the norm within our modern society. And breaking out of the perceived safety of conformity offered by this norm can be very difficult.


This practical difficulty is the subject of this particular post and can be summarized in one simple phrase: the fear of decreasing consumption.

The historically very brief age of cheap fossil fuels we live in today has facilitated a 500% increase in population and an 800% increase in per capita consumption in only 150 years. This brief period of rapid growth has led to a widespread expectation of perpetually increasing consumption rates and, by simple extension, has also created a strong aversion to any potential decrease in consumption.


Meanwhile, the bottom half of the global population survives on an average of two dollars per day, while the average American consumes two dollars roughly every 30 minutes. Yet, despite consuming 50 times more than someone in the bottom half of the population, we always want more, regardless of the escalating sustainability crisis and the flat-lining of health and happiness.

Consumption distribution

Shifting up and shifting down both require that you overcome your fear of decreasing consumption, simply because making these fundamental lifestyle changes will often require at least a temporary reduction in income. Shifting up implies that you start doing work that you love instead of work that simply pays well. Shifting down implies that you cut down on your working hours (and your paycheck) in order to focus on lasting health and happiness.

Taking these steps will require substantial bravery in the face of our universal fear of decreasing consumption. Even though all the evidence shows that the perpetual rat-race towards happiness-through-consumption leads absolutely nowhere, the consumerist paradigm has been drilled very deeply into our psyches.

The fact is, however, that the average developed for citizen can halve his/her consumption and still consume significantly more than 10 times the amount consumed by someone in the bottom half of the global population. This level of consumption is more than enough to guarantee the fundamental requirements of happiness: vibrant health, nourishing personal relationships and free creative expression.


So, take the plunge. Break free. Shift gears.

Filed under: Mental control – Intermediate control

4 thoughts on “The trouble with shifting gears”

  1. Greetings. The comparison to “bacteria in a petri dish” consuming at an exponentially increasing rate, was well explicated by Jonas Salk in “Survival of the Wisest”, some 40 years ago or so. Now we humans have reached the metaphorical edge of the petri dish ourselves, and the consequences are the same, as we choke on our own effluvia.

    We need to effect direct air capture of CO2 (; and we need to change our mode of thinking: principally, the illusion of separation from everything else.

    “Love is all we need. ”


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