The Question Of Lifestyle

Use these questions as a gateway to deeper self-understanding

One of the articles in What Is Enough? (IC#26)
Originally published in Summer 1990 on page 50
Copyright (c)1990, 1997 by Context Institute

Why do we live the way we do? What things are important to us, and why? What is a "lifestyle," anyway?

Actually, until 1929, there was no such thing as a "lifestyle." The word was coined by psychologist Alfred Adler, who wanted to reclaim free will from the psychological determinism of Freud. Adler was unable to accept that our lives are completely programmed by what happens to us in the first five years of childhood. He believed that the individual has the power to choose, to exercise character, and to affect the direction of her or his life. For Adler, "lifestyle" was the sum total of the values, passions, knowledge, meaningful deeds and eccentricities that constitute the uniqueness of each individual.

In recent years, however, the word has become associated with the kind of job we have, how we spend our leisure time, the nature and quantity of our possessions. "Lifestyle" has come to mean what one has, rather than what one is.

The following questions are tools for reflection – to help you separate your lifestyle, in the original sense, from your economic status. Each question could be a starting point for a long conversation, a journal entry, or a letter to a friend. This is not just an intellectual exercise. We live in a world that is made almost entirely by human choices – the sum total of the lifestyles of all individuals, acting in concert, and adding to (or subtracting from) the momentum of cultural processes. Some of these processes are now destroying natural processes that predate them by many millenia. The choices we make have become matters of life and death, both for ourselves and for many other species. We must begin to wrestle with them in a more profound way than ever before.

But choice is not always a simple "yes" or "no." The question of lifestyle is more than a question of deciding whether or not to participate in those parts of the human enterprise that endanger the living Earth. In the end, it is a question of choosing who we are.


How far is too far to walk?


Given the choice between a beautiful modern home on a pristine mountain lake, and a year of living as a member of a Native American tribe before the arrival of the Europeans, which
would you choose and why?


What is the purpose of your job?


If you didn’t need to work for income,
what would you do with your time?


What is the smallest amount of money
you could live on for one year?


What was the last thing you bought that you really didn’t need? Why did you buy it?


Could you live without an automobile?
How would it affect your life?


If you knew that eating one-third less food than you do now would satisfy you nutritionally and permit a poor child in your community to escape hunger, would you do it?


What issues do you feel strongly enough about that you will write to your elected officials
or the newspaper to express your views?


What was the last program you watched on television that you liked?
Why did you like it? What products were advertised during the show?


Do you believe that "the best things in lifeare free"? Explain.


If you had an appointment with the President
of the United States for 10 minutes, and permission to say whatever you liked,
what would you say?


What was the last new thing you learned?
What do you want to learn next?
What would you like to teach?


What would you be willing to give up to attain spiritual enlightenment?


Would you be willing to spend a portion of your life standing guard over a nuclear waste repository? Why or why not?


How many of your friends are from a different culture or race than you?
How did they become your friends?


In what ways has your life directly benefited
from contemporary science and technology?
In what ways have you been harmed?


If you knew it would save a certain patch of forest,
and all the creatures living amongits trees,
would you be willing to give up using toilet paper?


If you had no money, would you still have
the same friends?


If you won the jackpot in the lottery,
how would you use the money?


How do you decide what clothes to buy?


Whom do you consider to be your enemy?
If you were stuck in an elevator together with him or her,
what would your conversation be like?


What legal drugs (including caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and sugar)
or illegal drugs do you use?
Why do you use them?


What would you estimate to be the total weight
of all your possessions?


How do you react to friends who are in pain?
Do you react differently to strangers?


If you hear music that moves you, do you feel free to dance or to cry?


If you needed to, could you grow your own food?
Do you know where your food comes from now?


What are your reasons for having
or not having children?


How would you feel if your child married someone from another race?


What kinds of things are you unwilling to buy second-hand?
What are your reasons for wanting those things to be new?


Do you feel comfortable borrowing things from your neighbors?
Why or why not?


What is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to you?


Where, how, and why do you travel?
What do you give to the places you visit?
What do you bring home?


What do you think about when you think about home?

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