Life Patterns

One partner stays home

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For good reason, Western society has evolved beyond a system that determines a person’s role based on rigid gender norms of manual work and war-making for men, homemaking and childrearing for women. This does not mean, however, that a division of labour between the members of a household is always and in every respect or possible configuration a bad thing.

A well-functioning household provides its members with shelter, food, companionship, love, leisure time and other forms of crucial life support. It also contributes to the health of the larger community. It does this in a variety of ways, such as by providing a base for its members’ participation in the life of the neighbourhood, engagement with local politics, volunteerism, and so on.

From the sciences, we know that all complex systems, from amoebas to multinational corporations, require significant inputs of energy from the surrounding environment in order to continue to maintain their functions. We also know, from operations theory, that slack and excess capacity are crucial components of any system – from factories to emergency rooms – that is to run efficiently.

And yet, despite this knowledge, we have not given our households enough slack, enough support, to function successfully. And as a result of this failure, both the individual households and the communities constituted by them are failing.

The old way – which is perhaps also the most obvious and simple – way to create slack in a household is to have one partner stay home and keep house, and this may be a good place to start. Traditionally, the stay at home partner was invariably female; obviously, we are not advocating a return to the 1950s.

Rather, the household’s choice of primary breadwinner should be made together based on what makes the most sense in a given situation and stage of life rather than on gender. And while it requires a great deal of planning and strategizing, partners may, if they are fortunate, be able to trade these roles back and forth over the course of a life together.

Of course, all of this flies in the face of conventional contemporary wisdom, which suggests that none but the wealthy can afford to live on a single income. To be sure, it is hard to pull off, particularly in a society as aspirational as ours.

And yet how many of our ancestors, despite having vastly less of almost everything than we have, managed to make the single-income household work? Furthermore, we have options they could only dream of when it comes to non-traditional work options, thanks to the online world of muse businesses, side hustles and passion projects. It seems reasonable, then, to think that more people can afford this lifestyle than our culture has been willing to admit.

Therefore, when circumstances permit, couples and domestic partners of all kinds should consider an arrangement in which one partner prioritizes a career while the other focuses on managing other aspects of the household and its relationship to the rest of society.

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Life Patterns

Cycling

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The bicycle is one of humanity’s most recent transportation innovations – more recent even that the locomotive or automobile. It is also perhaps the most healthy, elegantly simple and timeless of all of them.

Cycling is one of the best ways to get low impact cardiovascular exercise. Compared to other means of getting around, it is extremely environmentally friendly. Furthermore, bicycles are beautiful machines, dynamic sculptures that serve a profoundly useful purpose: there is great aesthetic pleasure in the contemplation of a good bicycle. Moreover, by electing to maintain and repair our bicycles ourselves, we are also working to maintain our natural connection to the mechanical nature of our things, so often severed in our relationships with our tech devices.

To be sure, bicycles are not be-all end-all of transportation. While bikes can be ridden very long distances, such marathons are not particularly practical for most of us. Nor are they a good means of transporting large or heavy goods. Seasonal and safety considerations further limit the potential of the bicycle to be a Swiss army knife of transportation for all.

All of that said, in the right context, nothing beats a bike for getting around.

Therefore, whenever possible, use the bicycle as your primary mechanical means of transportation, and incorporate the regular care, maintenance and love of bicycles into your style of life.

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Life Patterns

Cultivate love


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Humans require love and connection, more than any other single ingredient, in order to live happy and fulfilling lives.

For more than three quarters of a century, the landmark Grant and Glueck study, led by researchers at Harvard University, has tracked the physical and emotional health of two populations:

  • 456 poor people in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study)
  • 268 graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939–1944 (the Glueck study)

While the study is still ongoing, principal researchers have shared many of the findings to date. Principal among them has been the observation that close, loving relationships, more than wealth, celebrity, social class, genetics, or any other factor, are at the core of what keeps people happy and physically healthy throughout their lives.

“Warmth of relationships throughout life has the greatest positive impact on ‘life satisfaction,'” said George Vaillant, a principal investigator on the study. “Happiness is love. Full stop.”

The Harvard study is only one example from a wide boy of research on the central role of relationships in keeping us healthy and happy.

A second significant body of research indicates that it is possible – and indeed essential – to treat love, and relationship building, as skills that can be sustained and enhanced through hard work. There is, of course, no one simple formula or checklist for cultivating close, loving relationships – everyone is different, and loves differently. What matters most is that we seek out loving, healthy relationships in our own way and on our own terms, and that we recognize the need for ongoing work in this area of our lives.

Therefore, cultivate happiness in your life, and in the lives of those around you, the way a gardener cultivates her plants, providing them the nourishment they need in order to thrive.

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Life Patterns

Walking as transportation and recreation

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More than any other creature on earth, humans have evolved as masters of travel on foot, but our modern lifestyles often alienate us from this key aspect of our being, weakening us both physically and mentally.

Over tens of thousands of years, the human body was our primary mode of transportation; among all species we are the best adapted to cover long distances on foot. As a result of this evolutionary legacy, studies show, we are at our best in our lives when we walk a lot. Our bodies stay strong and mobile, our minds sharp and flexible. Walking costs us nothing, aside from the small amount of fuel it burns in the form of food calories. Compared with other modes of transportation, it is astoundingly environmentally friendly, with no need for heavy, energy-guzzling machines and the expensive infrastructure they rely upon to function.

Of course, walking isn’t always easy today. It is slow compared to other “heavier” modes of transportation. And, moreover, much of today’s world, which prioritizes speed and scale, is optimized to support these faster, more energy-intensive modes at walking’s expense. (Ever tried walking to CostCo?)

And yet, it is still very possible to set up a lifestyle based around walking. There are many communities, and neighbourhoods within these communities, that have a diverse range of amenities within walking distance. This includes practical amenities – such as shops and services – that allow us to incorporate walking into our daily routines and chores. It also includes beautiful spaces, such as parks, attractive streets and campuses, and wilderness areas that provide inviting spaces in which to walk for pure pleasure.

There is something fundamentally absurd about individuals driving long distances to work out – perhaps on the treadmill – at vast, expensive chain gyms. Perhaps this is why so many of us, despite the best of intentions, pay for expensive gym memberships that we rarely use. How much better to live a life in which there is no for gyms or the motivation to drag ourselves into them?

Therefore, structure your lifestyle to include regular walking both as a mode of transportation and for pleasure, so that such behavior becomes automatic.

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