Bigger, faster, more don’t mean progress and they don’t make us happy

Did we need a bigger Walmart? Was anyone complaining that the old one was too small?

Are bigger, faster and more always better? Life’s trappings have us in such a choke hold that I am wondering who is in control.

More and more often, I am feeling strangely uncomfortable. It is a difficult sensation to pinpoint, but I feel it when I walk through a frozen food section and see frozen breakfast meals.

The feeling worsens when I see kid-specific frozen meals, including breakfasts. I catch myself thinking: Does it take so long to fry an egg and toast bread that we need a shortcut in a wrapper? Who buys this stuff? It is so sad that there is a demand for frozen breakfasts. No wonder kids are fatter than ever.

I feel the uneasiness even more when the store containing that ample frozen food section also sells clothing made in developing countries, being sold cheaper than the price of the fabric in Canada. I can’t help but think this can’t be fair to someone.

When I saw wartime houses razed in popular southern Ontario neighbourhoods to make way for monstrosities of houses that left no grass to cut or place to play outside, I felt emptiness in the excess. I heard myself asking: “Is this necessary?”

To put numbers to it, the average American single-family house in 1970 was 1,700 square feet, and in 2006 that had shot up to almost 2,500 (according to the U.S. Census Bureau).

I was hoping Canadians had not followed that trend, but we weren’t far behind. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. figures show that in 1975 we had 1,075 square feet, and by 2000 we have doubled that to 2,266, even though the average family size has been on the decline in both countries.

Are we that much fatter now? Do we own that much more stuff, which we bought in bigger Walmarts?

Bottom line is that those bigger houses sure didn’t seem to make us happier, in fact; people seem more harried than ever. Case in point: a man cradling his cellphone on his shoulder, making a work call, dragged his daughter behind him impatiently past me in the frozen food aisle. She looked liked this was not the first time she was ignored in favour of almighty “work.”

I had that uncomfortable feeling again. I tried to hold onto it to sort it out in my mind when I had the ability to process my emotions properly. I grimace uncomfortably even now, recalling the sensation. Like a mild wave of nausea, my nose wrinkles, like I have smelled something “off.” My brow furrows and I lower my eyes. The sentiment is best expressed in a question stated in a disapproving manner: “Really?”

I’m surprised when I realize that what I feel about Walmart’s expansion, frozen toaster strudels, McMansions, and this parental slight, is none other than shame and embarrassment.

Now the bigger question is, why should I feel shame or embarrassment, considering I have done nothing wrong in any of these scenarios? Perhaps the problem is not that I have done nothing wrong, but that I have done nothing.

I feel as though I lack control, swept up in a whirlwind of “progress.” My realization makes it clear to me that I need to make smarter choices for myself, regardless of what others do.

My true quality of life is not improved by having a larger house or more possessions, by placing work over family, or by ripping open pre-packaged foods for my family’s breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner.

I don’t need my eggs 100 seconds faster. I find simplicity and purity in cracking my own eggs instead of buying frozen bagelwiches.

I don’t feel the need to move to a house that has another 1,000 square feet as it would just give me more to furnish, clean, and maintain. I feel “rightness” in living in a house no bigger than the one into which I was born.

I don’t need a new and improved Walmart with 10,000 shiny new square feet, selling me frozen breakfasts and lots of stuff to fill a big house that I don’t aspire to owning or paying off.

“Progress” for me, is perhaps a reversal of the current view. I see my happiness and wellbeing tied to

smaller/slower/smarter instead of bigger/faster/more.

This is not a race.

Just because we can afford it, doesn’t mean we have to buy it. When we can’t afford it, we definitely shouldn’t be buying it. Let’s save for a rainy day or send the money to a country that would be happy to have any roof, let alone a small roof.

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