Monday 21 May 2012


Shifting into a lower gear in life might mean better health, quality of life and relationships. After all, even if you win in the rat race, you are still a rat.

By Anna Teoh and Dr Lim Poh Ann

Today, the prevailing philosophy in life is the bigger the better—bigger paychecks, bigger cars and bigger houses. While there is nothing wrong with being rich, it is dangerous when far too much time and energy are expended towards selfish economic goals to the neglect of values, personal health and relationships.

Even as we watch TV advertisements of fancy cars or view our neighbour’s house renovations, if we’re not careful to monitor our thoughts, we too might get sucked into this materialistic whirlpool.

Choosing Lifestyle over Life

We’re living in a world stuck in fast-forward. Always on-the-go, we’ve become a society accustomed to fast food, drive-in outlets and instant coffee.

When the chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, wanted to set up an outlet in Tokyo in the early 1990s, consultants advised him against it as it was impolite (by Japanese culture) to drink from cups while walking on the street. 

However, Japan’s first Starbucks opened to overwhelming response as the trend was in keeping with the people’s fast-paced lives.

We too often justify ourselves: We need to work hard for financial security and to provide for our family’s needs. But, in doing so, are we choosing a lifestyle over a life?

Too Tired!

Hectic, demanding and fast-paced lives. That’s the way most people live their lives today. After work, they come home too tired to talk to their spouses and children. They rush through a silent dinner, watch television and go to sleep.

People have little time for their friends and family members, much less for God, exercise and personal development. Family devotions are rare and time is cut back on prayer.

Sleep deprivation is rife as people spend time on the computer to catch up on work or their hobbies (including social networking) before retiring for the night.

The Affluenza Epidemic

Apart from the global flu pandemic, there is another epidemic. “Affluenza”, coined from the words “affluent” and “influenza”, is a condition characterised by constant striving for more wealth. Highly contagious, it is a socially-transmitted disease. Symptoms include compulsive shopping, high debt, overwork, obsession with "having it all", extravagance and stress.

Jane Austen once said, "A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of." But her claim is increasingly being challenged today. Money has the power to make people happy, but only when they are rising from the low-income to middle-income group. After their basic needs are met, more money could make people less happy and more worried!

Instead of attaining a better quality of life, they end up feeling perpetually dissatisfied. Thoughts are continually focused on amassing more things and enhancing appearances while relationships with God and man are sidelined.

These misplaced priorities could have been avoided if they knew the value of contentment: “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8). 


Downshifting, a behavioral and lifestyle trend, is fast gaining acceptance. Downshifters voluntarily choose to abandon their fast-paced, financially-driven lives in exchange for lives at a slower pace. Basically, the live-to-work principle is being replaced by the work-to-live philosophy.

Downshifters often enjoy better health, more fulfilled personal lives and improved relationships. It may mean cutting back on working hours, being content with less money in order to embrace a more balanced and wholesome life. Work is seen as just one area in life; the other areas such as personal development, family, spiritual, physical, and social aspects of life are also emphasised.

Carl HonorĂ© makes a convincing case for slowing down in his book, In Praise of Slowness. He challenges the conventional view that faster is better. The philosophy of the Slow Movement, he says, is “not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”

Ways to Downshift

Downshifting does not necessarily mean a total lifestyle change. You can start by incorporating minor changes in your life such as:

1.    Reduce expenditure on unnecessary items. Resist compulsive shopping by leaving your credit card at home, and save yourself the stress of settling debts.

2.    Practice frugality. Make a list before you shop for groceries. Browse through catalogues for promotions. Consider budget local holiday destinations (a camping trip is fun and less hectic compared to joining a tour group). Try giving handmade items.

3.    Value functional utility over status when choosing goods.

4.    Avoid wastage. Cook just enough, turn off the lights when not in use. Save water by doing the laundry when the load is full.

5.    Decorate your home keeping simplicity, elegance and functionality in mind. Browse through websites and magazines to jumpstart your creative juices.

6.    Try growing your own vegetables if you have space for gardening. Not only are they healthier compared to pesticide-laced vegetables, you also save money.

7.    Buy local food. This helps minimise food miles (distance over which food is transported to the consumer) which has an impact on climate change.

8.    Reduce hours spent at work and commuting. If possible, try not to work overtime. Consider switching jobs or relocating to optimise use of time.

9.    Donate, reuse or recycle old items. Many churches have a drop-off corner for used items. Buy quality second-hand goods.

10. Allocate quality time each day to be spent with your family. Impart godly values to your children through your actions.

11. Set aside time for prayer and meditation. This helps you take stock, re-focus and get in touch with God and your inner self.

12. Do not try to keep up with the Joneses. Remember, your identity as a child of God is secure and not dependent on the amount of money you have. Instead, seek God and live out His calling for your life. 

Benefits of Downshifting

1.    More time to spend with your loved ones, leading to more fulfilling relationships.

2.    Opportunities to contribute to the community through your time, talents or resources. Knowing your neighbours better helps in outreach.

3.    Making your money stretch further can be challenging but rewarding.

4.    Having more time for exercise, sleep, prayer and reflection improves physical and mental health. You are less likely to suffer from infections or stress-related chronic conditions, such as heart disease or depression.

5.    Adopting a slower pace of life reduces your carbon footprint, thus benefitting the environment.

6.    You’ll have less regrets on your deathbed. No one ever regrets not having spent enough time at the workplace in the final moments!


Some people choose not to downshift, fearing uncertainty or losing out in terms of the world’s goods. After all, the materialistic mantra, “He who dies with the most toys wins” still holds true for many. However, if they recognise what they stand to gain in the trade-off – better quality of life and relationships – they might then reconsider.

"The truly rich are those who enjoy what they have," according to a Yiddish proverb. Are you enjoying what you have or are you caught up in the rat race?

Lily Tomlin quips: “The trouble with the rat race is, even if you win, you are still a rat.”

 "And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Mark 8:37). So let’s set aside time to reflect … and see how we can get off the fast track to lead more meaningful lives.

 The above article was first published in Asian Beacon magazine, December 2009, issue 41.6

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