by Paul Gerst
We live in an age and a culture that promotes a bigger, stronger, and faster is better, lifestyle. As consumers in a capitalist society that is what we’re supposed to do, but without turning this into a heated political discussion, I would like to turn the focus to the effects this “bigger-is-better” lifestyle has on our health. Can simplifying or reducing aspects of yourself and your life make you healthier and happier?
It is prudent at this point to make a comparative list of the pros and cons of Bigger vs. Smaller. What makes this difficult is that there are many aspects that must be defined and maybe more importantly, it is not that one is “right” or better than the other; it is simply to make you think and then make healthier, more balanced choices, not just for you, but for those close to you, and also for the world.
Ego Bigger: We are strong individuals and can work through difficult problems. Smaller: We don’t make disagreements about being right or winning; we communicate more openly with the intent to come together. Consumer Bigger: We help drive our economy; we acquire assets and items which delight and entertain us and our loved ones Smaller: We don’t buy things we don’t need and we live more simply, coming to realize that happiness comes from within, not from our possessions. Emotions Bigger: Some will view us as passionate and full of heart; higher highs. Smaller: Some will be able to let go and move on more quickly, avoiding the lower lows. Living Space Bigger: More room provides more opportunities to simply get alone time; can entertain others; represents success. Smaller: Less to maintain, pay for, and manage, allowing more time for leisure; less stress. Social Network Bigger: More friends provide more opportunities for recreation, staying occupied. Smaller: Fewer friends are easier to maintain and have deeper, more connected relationships; can have alone time. Career Bigger: More money, status, benefits. Smaller: More time for the other things in life; not “married” to work, less stress (assuming one is living within his means).
The trend is likely obvious to most of you by now, so the need to flip these examples for cons is not necessary, though I would encourage you to make a complete list of your own. If you have a spouse, have them do their own and when each of you are done with the lists of aspects of your life and the Pros and Cons of doing that aspect “bigger” or “smaller,” prioritize what you want to change the most as number one and so on. You and your spouse can take great strides to better understand each other; who is he/she? What matters most to him/her?
What it boils down to is this: After assessing your life at present, are there aspects of your life that you can get rid of or make “smaller” to lower your stress and increase the quality of your health, relationships, etc.? The answer most of you will arrive at is, YES!
Now that it has been loosely established that most people in our culture have too much clutter; things, thoughts, activities, plans, etc. it is time to identify the effects of this clutter on us, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Excess, another way of describing the clutter, is something that creates stress in many forms. For example, excess food will stagnate our digestive system, not allowing for complete digestion, absorption, and assimilation. This diminishes function in the digestive system and if excess eating persists over time, other systems that rely on the energy and nutrients from proper digestion will be affected, on top of the systems that will be affected by the extra waste (what the body doesn’t break down or use).
This example demonstrates how the physical is affected in one way, but in reality, the body is a whole and thus, the physical will affect the mental, emotional, and spiritual and vice versa.
Using a reverse scenario, let’s say that someone gets caught up in mental and emotional overload, that is to say that this person has an overabundance of negative thoughts and resultant emotions that create stagnation and lead to imbalance. We’ll choose a common one and say that the person views themselves as a victim, having been hurt and abandoned in the past to the point of harboring resentment and anger. This anger has been suppressed and yet it has grown to the point where the slightest provocation can set off a reaction that is far stronger than most anyone would find appropriate. To the “Reactor,” it feels normal or warranted because it has built to this point. They don’t think about the situation before them in an isolated way, it is but a part of an ongoing string of negative events!
The resultant symptoms may be muscle tension in the abdomen, chest, shoulders, neck, jaw and/or head causing or lending to indigestion, shortened breathing, muscle tightness and pain, neck aches and/or headaches.
In the above cases, these individuals would benefit from the “smaller” lifestyle. For the over-eater, by simply reducing the amount of food consumed or simplifying so that they can work with someone who will help them identify the underlying causes of their emotional eating and find healthy replacement behaviors. For the “Negative Thought Farmer,” (c’mon, admit it, you’ve done this), a simpler existence or “smaller” amounts of thought (meditation would help here) would do wonders in avoiding the “making mountains out of mole-hills” issues, which means less fighting, resentment, etc. Overall, it means less stress and a healthier you.
Next time you find yourself reacting to another driver, your child, parent, or your partner, take a deep breath, exhale all the way and focus on these two things:
1) How can I make myself “smaller” here? 2) What is the outcome I want in the end? (Is winning or being right more important than finding a solution that is best for everyone and has all parties as happy as they can be?) Put this into practice and you are likely to become a much healthier and happier person!
Paul Gerst L.Ac. has been a practicing Acupuncturist for 14 years.