The inestimable advantages of living a more natural life

health-benefits-of-sunbathingWe all want the best in life.  The best for ourselves, the best for our children, our families and friends.

So The Escape Artist is probably not going to be able to persuade the world to stop buying shit on the basis that, after 10 – 20 years of “deprivation”, you’ll be rich.

We just don’t work that way. Our attention span is too short. A better way to stick to The Path is by believing that, by spending less and investing more, you are getting the best from life.

So what is the best? In my book, the best option is usually the most natural option. We are not separate from nature, we are animals that just happened to win the evolutionary lottery and co-operate our way to the top of the food chain.

We know that our ancestors lived for millions of years without money. This means that we (or least Bear Grylls) must be able to do the same today. And this explains why Spending does not equal happiness.  It makes sense that the things that make us most happy are the natural “wins” that we would have experienced over the millenia: finding shelter, overcoming obstacles, eating tasty food, conversation and banter, good sex, happy children, a happy tribe.  This is why the best things in life are free.

So when in doubt as to which course of action to take, I recommend (all else being equal) you take the more natural option.  Leading a more natural life not only gives you the best the world has to offer but it also has the side effect of costing less and leaving you richer (in every sense).

What do I mean by living a more natural life?  I mean living closer to how we would have lived back in the evolutionary day. As well as in accordance with my beliefs.

Let’s look at 3 examples in practice:

  • Transport
  • Food
  • Sunshine

1) Transport

There is something about the routine of a set daily commute that is artificial and soul destroying. This is not free range living. So one trick is to find ways to live closer to work then cycle, run or walk. Or break the routine by negotiating working from home or a different office occasionally.

When I lived in London, swapping my tube journey for riding a bike to work saved me money.  And, even when I’d moved out of London, I’d often get off the train a few stops early and run or cycle the last few miles into work. But this was not a penny pinching, cheapskate move. The cost savings were real but far outweighed by the other benefits.

The other benefits include being outdoors, getting exercise and better legs.  I can’t quantify this but I’m pretty sure it also boosted my earnings.   Exercise provides life energy and a pressure release all in one. I got to work pumped and on time with no worries about transport disruptions. And cycling allowed me to manage stress and perform more effectively…whilst staying mostly sane.

I often found another cyclist for a friendly race on the way into work. A nod at the traffic lights and it would be on. I would breathe fresh air, soak up the sunshine and the rain and experience just enough risk in the London traffic to feel fully alive. By the time I got in and the office had come to life, I was ready, if not to actually bite the ass off a bear, at least to deal with what work threw at me.

These days I am rich enough to have a car in the drive.  And, if I chose, a mobility scooter in my hallway to drive me to the kitchen and a Stannah stairlift to get upstairs.  But I don’t because that’s unnatural.

2) Food

Eating at restaurants used to be one of my favourite things.  And I still quite like the idea at least of eating at a restaurant overlooking the Amalfi coast or in New York. But the reality is that it entails a ridiculous amount of time, money and hassle to get there. And the food is often not that great if your goals include having some muscle definition.

These days I don’t eat out at restaurants as often because, for me, the food is just not as good as eating simple fresh natural food at home.  When you go to a restaurant they feel they have to complicate things and add lots of sauces / flavourings to jazz things up and justify the price tag.

The concept I have in mind when eating at home is not Heston Blumenthal style cookcrabatics, elaborate recipes and effete dinner party exhibitionism.

No, the concept I have in mind is Hugh Thingummy Whatsits concept of 3 good things. As the name implies this is where he just takes 3 simple, fresh foods that were not made in a factory and combines them.

3-good-things

3 good things for breakfast

So examples of my regular meals include:

  • Avocado, scrambled eggs and fried tomatoes
  • Tuna mayo, lettuce and tomatoes
  • Chicken, rice* and broccoli
  • Eggs, spinach and smoked salmon
  • Bacon, leeks and onions

To repeat: this food is not necessarily the cheapest, it’s the best.  But buying the best food from a supermarket costs less than the cheapest food from a restaurant or takeaway.

Perhaps I’m making a virtue out of my limitations here? Elaborate cooking is not one of The Escape Artist’s skills, as my children will tell you. Whilst I can appreciate the technical skill of high end cooking, its all a bit artificial for me.

You can actually make it even simpler.   You can pretty much take any vegetable, fry it softly in loads of butter with salt and pepper and bingo, that’s a meal in my book.  When you go paleo* and eat naturally, you realise how added sugar nukes your taste buds and hides natural flavours. It turns out that vegetables taste really good.

This is real food, not food-like products.  Its the food that we evolved (over millions of years) to eat. It’s the healthiest and it tastes the best. And, by happy co-incidence, this is the stuff to eat if you want abs that aren’t buried deep under Lard Mountain.

* rice = carbs and not really paleo…but 100% perfection is not required 

3) Sunshine

As another example of living a natural life, take sunshine.

As we have come to spend our lives indoors under flourescent lighting, we’ve become disconnected from our natural environment.  Most of us don’t get enough sunshine.

But sunshine is a powerful driver of mood and a vital part of our bio-chemistry. We know that our skin uses sunlight to create vitamin D which is vital for good health (you get Ricketts without it).   My guess is that sunshine (like sleep and walking) has a bunch of other benefits for our wellbeing that we don’t even start to understand.

My doctor told me that ~45% of British children have a vitamin D deficiency.  Which, if true, is something that we should be thinking more about to balance the hysteria about sun exposure. Take my children’s schools for example; they seem to have decided that British sunlight at breaktimes is as dangerous as a being a fireman at Chernobyl. My children may be white, but this is Britain: we are not talking albinos in the Sahara here.

If you live in a part of the world where your ancestors spent many generations evolving and acclimatising to the light and climate conditions, catching the odd bit of sun whilst playing outdoors at break time seems unlikely to be a big problem.

Yes, we all know that there are risks to getting sunburnt too often.  But if we replicated our natural pattern of spending time outdoors, we’d gradually build daily sun exposure whilst moving between light and shade. The thing that is unnatural is living in gloom / artificial light for 50 weeks a year, followed by 2 weeks of frying yourself immobile on a Carribbean beach like a prawn on a barbie.

The Prison Camp came up with sunscreen to allow package holidays for office-based lab rats to continue. Note how each step away from a natural life, generates more profit opportunities but no real increase in wellbeing.  And when you reverse this process, it’s a beautiful thing as your spending falls for no loss of happiness.

Meanwhile in my kids schools, memos get sent, boxes get ticked and bureaucratic butts get covered. The suncream manufacturers, retailers and advertisers make money and the consumer ends up picking up the bill.  And it’s possible that kids health is suffering as a result.

Unlike the employees of my Local Education Authority, evolution is smart.  By process of trial and error, evolution designed a breathtaking range of complex biological organisms exquisitely well adapted to the environment.  By comparison, the average Local Education Authority can’t design a functional celebration in a brewery.

My guess is that we don’t spend enough time outdoors to be fully healthy. The science of sunshine and its interaction with the human body involves a mind blowing mix of PhD level physics, chemistry and biology. We may never fully understand it.

But the lifehack here is to realise we don’t need to understand all the complex biological processes and feedback mechanisms. Logic tells us that if we replicate the living conditions of our ancestors (minus the predators but adding in antibiotics and hospitals when needed) we are likely to thrive.

Financial independence is not about penny pinching or coupon clipping to get 10% off your sunscreen.  Its about realising that some aspects of consumer culture are completely artificial and just opting out of the nonsense.

And it’s about getting the best in life.

Resources:

1. The De Vany Diet

2. The Primal Blueprint podcast

3. Mark’s Daily Apple

4. Antifragility

5. Kiss my abs

You can follow the Escape Artist on Twitter here

19 comments

  1. Good article from the economist on link between sunshine & eyesight

    http://www.economist.com/news/china/21631113-why-so-many-chinese-children-wear-glasses-losing-focus

    1. Thank you, I’ve been looking into this recently..its a fascinating area….and, I think, shocking that this area has not received more research effort

      This is worth reading:

      http://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-modern-assault-on-eyesight-health/#axzz4FyxTlTCF

  2. I know I should just read the De Vany book, but I’m curious at the inclusion of rice and bacon in your example meals – are these really ‘good’? When I’ve poked around on the net as a tentative exploration of the paleo type diet, rice seems to be treated as bad since it’s a cereal/carbohydrate/farmed. And notwithstanding the recent cancer scare stuff, isn’t bacon – as a processed meat – ‘bad’, unlike (say) a beef steak?

    Not having a go here, just curious – I eat a lot of rice and I sometimes wonder if I should substitute my bacon habit for the healthier option of having a fag and/or bottle of scotch instead. 🙂

    1. Yes, a paleo purist would rule out rice…but bacon is very much in

    2. I’m Asian, grew up eating rice every day. Good or bad, you can pry it from my cold dead hands 😛

      But seriously, some people have issues with carbs, gluten etc – I thrive on them.

      1. Yes, I think different people respond differently to carbs… some people seem to be able to eat them without problems….not me though

  3. Playing with Fire · · Reply

    A side effect for those who still care about such things is that it is often more socially acceptable to say that you are doing something to be more ‘natural’ than because you want to save money. Eating a packed lunch in the park to save cash is frowned upon, going for a lovely walk and eating healthier food supported.

    1. Gosh, that’s so true. Same with drinking – I don’t drink much cause i don’t like it, plus I’m cheap. But if you say you’re doing Dry July, or cutting back to lose weight or whatever … that’s so much more palatable.

  4. Great post! We love biking, walking, and being outdoors. And raising real food in our backyard. It definitely helps us un-cube from all that indoor sedentary time that’s not natural.

  5. The Rhino · · Reply

    not forgetting bad-sex, cos even when its bad, its good

    and as for ‘bacon – is this really good?’ – yes – its really fucking good.

    like the advert said, vegetarians typically live 5 years longer than meat-eaters, 5 long, miserable bacon-less years..

    1. FI Warrior · · Reply

      Lots of people want sex really badly, which is lucky because that’s how exactly most people do it

      1. The Rhino · ·

        quite, I asked my wife why she never told me when she orgasmed, and she told me, ‘its because you’re never there..

      2. Keep going Rhino, I’m loving this…

        p.s. that’s me speaking, even if not your wife 😉

    2. FI Warrior · · Reply

      Yup, you don’t necessarily live longer if you give up everything pleasurable, like eating meat, (though maybe it just feels like it) because boredom, joylessness and lack of meaning in life kill too, even if not so obviously.

  6. Yes indeed… that’s the way we deal with it…. took the kids to a park yesterday… 24 degrees so could be considered “apply sun-lotion liberally” territory. What do we do?? >> we spend some time in the sun & intersperse this with time exploring for different leaves & bugs etc under the canopy of trees: nature’s natural sunblock!!!

  7. FI Warrior · · Reply

    It could be worse, you could get asked if you’re an anaesthesiologist, because she didn’t feel a thing

  8. So completely resonant -that’s a funny word. Your articles are the resin that is helping crystalize a system of beliefs surrounding prosperity and saving the world.

    I disagree that we can’t just cut spending for 20 years and save all the money and be out. I am doing exactly that… honestly its been 9 years and 3 more to go. sometimes it is difficult but the reward is worth it. I suppose impulse control has not ever been a weakness but it is possible and saying it isn’t gives people an easy out.

    Its about realising that some aspects of consumer culture are completely artificial and just opting out of the nonsense.”

    No one in ‘merica wears hats for any practical purpose, except my daughter and I but do you know what? We don’t wear sunscreen -ever. I’d also add that our collective ancestors had enough sense to get out of the sun and cover up before getting burned (after one sunburn, the lesson was learned) and they didn’t spend all their days on a boat or roasting on the beach/grass/etc. Look at traditional clothing and note that people used it as protection from the elements as well as for practical purposes and display of status. Now we have indoor heat and a/c no one has any idea how to dress for the weather.

    thanks

    1. Thanks for the comment Rowan. And I love it when readers disagree with me on the grounds that I am setting the bar too low…great challenge

  9. The Rhino · · Reply

    the best book on diet i ever read was that tiny pamphlet that has been available in every gp surgery for the past 30 years pretty much unchanged. Its got the classic ‘plate pie-chart’ infographic showing what you should eat. stick to that and you’ll be right.

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