The dilemma that is insurance

“Bold print giveth and the fine print taketh away!”

Anonymous Insurance Agent

I don’t really understand insurance. I know I am not alone.

To my simple way of seeing things insurance is basically people like me, who don’t get embroiled in never ending shenanigans, having to indirectly fund people who are repeatedly tormented by the Gods or their own stupidity. All the while the company takes a crooked cut from both of us.

One positive is that if you live simply enough, and you are not attached to material possessions, then you don’t really need contents insurance. There is nothing important to be stolen, nothing that you must replace after a fire and nothing to be ruined in a flood. If you view everything you own as for sale or temporarily borrowed there is no point paying someone to protect them. One mental trick that I use is to view an item as already broken in the moment that I acquire it.  Seeing yourself throwing away a dull bent or broken thing can help you to avoid the allure of the beautiful shiny new thing that you desire. Seeing it as broken also helps you deal with the event when it actually does break. That moment can pass harmlessly.

Still even the uber minimalist among us have some stuff, however few, however basic and so some level of contents insurance is advisable. Even if you would view the loss of all your possessions as the final giant unclutter you would still need a few clothes for your back and some simple cooking equipment. Having insurance would help.

While I am ambivalent about contents insurance I am not so when it comes to home insurance. The risk of course, if your home were not insured, is that you return home from work one day to find a jet plane engine has fallen from the sky and flattened your house.  This would leave you with mortgage payments on a property that you can no longer use, and at the same time trying afford living costs somewhere else.

So insurance helps me mitigate the risk of having to make two large payments to buy one house. Still can insurance costs be reduced, neturalised or tuned to profit? If you are wondering where insurance sits on our framework it is in reduce mode right now.

There are of course many ways to avoid insurance like renting a house and riding a bicycle instead of owning your house or operating your own car. That way your landlord can deal with the scoundrels of actuary and you don’t have to.

There are also ways to minimise insurance by actively managing your behaviour to reduce premium costs or by picking policies that better fit your needs. For instance you could chose Fire, Flood and Theft insurance (FFT) instead of complete cover. FFT provides cover for 90 % of claims..the most likely things that can go wrong, but not the jet plane scenario if it were to happen. The main benefit is that FFT is significantly cheaper than full cover. It’s the odd ball catastrophic unpredictable risks (that virtually never happens) that drives your insurance premiums. If you are prepared to take the risk that a drunk driver won’t put his car through your lounge wall next Friday night then you can potentially save a lot in insurance payments.

But at the root of it if you own a house you need insurance cover and if you own a car you need third party insurance (as a minimum). This is and unavoidable life cost unless you like la pari! (to gamble).

I’ve racked my brain on the insurance obstacle for a number of years, but in that time I have not found a better way around the problem of paying someone a heck of a lot of money to protect me from something that is really unlikely to happen. In terms of probability its like paying someone a full time salary just to walk around with me at the golf course on a Saturday morning and catch errant golf balls before they hit me. You really appreciate that one that they catch an inch from your noggin, but as weeks roll by without incident you can’t help feel that you are wasting your money.

As you can see I struggle with the whole concept of insurance. Recent events have renewed my enthusiasm to surmount the insurance dilemma.

For one thing we would save all or part of our $3000 insurance payment that we gift every year. That’s an extra $75,000 that we are missing out on in our retirement fund.

The other issue is that a significant sized city in the country that I live in has been badly affected by a major natural disaster. The result is that the main insurance companies have reviewed the cover that they are willing to provide to anyone living in other cities not affected by this disaster.

Let me explain. Our insurance is currently replacement insurance. This means that we pay the insurance company a fixed premium and they cover us by rebuilding a similar house for us if we ever needed one. The price escalation risk (i.e. that property construction costs might be higher than the premiums we pay) is carried by the insurance company.

But now the major insurance companies have been badly affected by escalation (suddenly everyone in the same large city wants a new house at the same time) and the price to rebuild has spiked sharply. Insurers have responded by passing this price escalation risk directly back to their clients (carrying none themselves) through a nasty change in their policies. As a result it appears that I will no longer be able to purchase a ‘replacement’ insurance and instead will have to settle for a ‘sum insured’ policy.

This is worrying. We need to consider how much we would actually need to rebuild our home. In the event that our city was affected by tsunami or earthquake the price of home rebuilds could go up 100-150% as builders and materials will be in short supply. The problem is that if we covered our selves for 150% of our home’s current value we would be paying insurance premiums that are way too high considering the actual value of our house and an over insured house is a motive for mischief..and here is the issue.

Insurance companies cannot allow people to over insure or the number of ‘accidental’ home flambe’s would increase sharply.  Although the costs of rebuilding after a major disaster could be double the price it would be unwise for an insurance company to allow this type of cover even if  their customers are willing to pay them inflated premiums.  Bottom line…no insurance company will sufficiently insure our family home against natural disaster, but because this is so very unlikely is it actually a problem (even though it just happened in the city next door)?

As I see it our options (in order of decreasing riskiness) are:

Don’t insure at all. Redirect the savings to grow my capital retirement fund faster.

Continue to pay $3000 per year and hope that in my lifetime we are never affected by major flooding, earthquakes or tsunami so our cover should be sufficient.

Battle with a company to let me pay them+$6000 per year so that we are covered for everything from possible to improbable.

Return to renting. Let the landlord sort it.

I have also considered ideas like form my own insurance co-op, but I still need to learn more before I could consider a co-op as a serious alternative. Coorperating on insurance isn’t as far fetched as you might think. It is just a question of scale, equity and stability.

Anyway, I still pay insurance. I don’t want to, but I pay it.  Still I frequently think that perhaps there is something I am missing? A beautiful, elegant solution that my pigeon brain has failed to uncover…

Dear readers I’d love to hear from you if you are an insurance dodger. Help me out!

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Why Are Beggars Despised? by George Orwell (1933)

It is worth saying something about the social position of beggars, for when one has consorted with them, and found that they are ordinary human beings, one cannot help being struck by the curious attitude that society takes towards them.

People seem to feel that there is some essential difference between beggars and ordinary “working” men. They are a race apart–outcasts, like criminals and prostitutes. Working men “work,” beggars do not “work”; they are parasites, worthless in their very nature. It is taken for granted that a beggar does not “earn” his living, as a bricklayer or a literary critic “earns” his. He is a mere social excrescence, tolerated because we live in a humane age, but essentially despicable.
Yet if one looks closely one sees that there is no essential difference between a beggar’s livelihood and that of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then, what is work? A navvy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out of doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course–but, then, many reputable trades are quite useless. And as a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others. He is honest compared with the sellers of most patent medicines, high-minded compared with a Sunday newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a hire-purchase tout–in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering. I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets him in a different class from other people, or gives most modern men the right to despise him.

Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised?–for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. In all the modern talk about energy, efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning is there except “Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it”? Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this test beggars fail, and for this they are despised. If one could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would become a respectable profession immediately.

A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other businessmen, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modern people, sold his honor; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.

Kill Bill: How to turn 10 of your bills into payments with liability alchemy

“I have ways of making money that you know nothing of”

John D. Rockefeller

One of my big things is to try wherever, whenever and however possible to take something that 99% of people pay for, and come up with a way to not only get it for free, but to make money doing it. Ms Simple says it’s an addiction. I say cheaper than heroin and better for my health than sniffing glue!

This post, more than any others, probably encapsulates my perspective the best. By Killing Bill I avoid wasting significant amounts of my time doing silly things prescribed by fools with money. This frees me to fully enjoy the life of a penniless aristocrat.

The first step in my Kill Bill Programme is to fit all of your liabilities, expenses, bills and outgoings into the following framework.

Reduce: We are continually focused on the most efficient use of resources possible. Example – Turn off a light to reduce electricity costs.

Breakeven: Gaining access to a resource that we need without any cost. Example – borrowing a floor sander from your neighbour.

Profit: Turning a liability into an asset. Example – Renting out something you are paying off.

Here are some thought-starters to swing this powerful mindset right into practise.

10. Hire purchase bills

Reduce: Put down the biggest down payment you can and only buy on 24 month interest deferred.

Breakeven: Have someone else buy it for you by renting the purchase out for the cost of your fees. You get a perfectly good quality item for the rest of its life for free.

Profit: Save, buy in cash and run a community tool shed with a regular or per item charge.

My first rule: never buy on hire purchase. Hire purchase is greedy bankers way of telling you that you can’t afford it. However, if you have possessions lying around that you have already bought, that you’d like to keep, that you use infrequently, and that you are still paying off consider renting them out. You might be surprised how many people will contact you if you put a notice up in the village or at a cafe. Unless you are an extreme minimalist it likely you have lots of things that you use so infrequently that they can be regularly rented. These trickles of income can become torrents at times. My friend runs a community tool shed. His rates are way better than commercial and he also can help organise some volunteers for the big jobs (so long as you a willing to pay it forward or back when someone else needs a hand).

A caution here: people typically thrash rented items, but that can be overcome by holding a bond. Also if you don’t know them personally make sure you know where to find them (in case they don’t return on time). Best to lend to people that are connected to you through the community (kids schools, sports teams, churches or antenatal groups).

9. Accommodation

Reduce: Live in a smaller flat or house. Pay rent rather than high mortgage costs.

Breakeven: Share a house with tenants or find a job that provides accommodation free.

Profit: Buy a cash positive rental property, subdivide a home or progressively acquire a small apartment building.

Take a job that pays you with accommodation or pays for your accommodation for you (think Army, contractor, travel writer, hotel manager or…[insert your ideal job here]). It’s also surprisingly simple to find people willing to buy a house for you!! Think rental.

8. Car payments

Reduce: Drive a smaller car, own less vehicles, drive less.

Breakeven: Company leases your vehicle.

Profit: Operate a vanpool, ride a bike or walk (health benefits).

There are jobs that pay with cars (or fully paid fuel and car lease in lieu of salary). In addition learn to fix your own car. Use those skills to fix other peoples cars to break even on the auto you operate.

Run a vanpool with a mileage contribution from users.

Talk to local car rental companies they always have cars that need to go places = free travel and some travelling cash. This is good if you are spontaneous and would enjoy free unplanned road trips and holidays.

7. Education costs

Reduce: Source the cheapest comparable qualification or pay for assessment only (meaning you must learn the curriculum content yourself)

Breakeven: Find free community education or self educate using resources from the public library.

Profit: Teach a night school class on topics that interest you [Highly recommended].

If you have the confidence you could teach a night school class on a topic that you’d like to know more about. You only need to be a few steps in front of your students to provide value. Think of it this way – you are being paid to learn, you will be highly motivated because you will be standing in front of a class soon enough and in answering the questions from your students you will gain a deep and rich understanding to the subject area (if you are wondering if I’ve actually done this the answer is yes! Topic – exercise physiology).

If teaching  sounds like a stretch just select jobs that will pay you to complete qualifications or give you on job training in useful skills that will advance your devious plot to live simple. Don’t feel bonded to the company. Once the useful training is finished. Just take that next step in your education by working for their competitor. Only be as loyal to a corporation as they are to you (which is generally not at all).

6. Fitness bills

Reduce: Find a cheaper gym provided by the city council, a university, a hotel or a community centre.

Breakeven: Play outside for free.

Profit: Become a part-time Personal Trainer (guessing you’ve figured out why I was teaching night school now).

Start a local yoga group, a parkour club, a novice bicycle ride group or morning fitness boot camp and charge a modest fee that you will pay back at the end of a certain number of sessions. If people don’t participate you keep the money or a proportion relating the sessions they missed. Having people relying on you is an excellent motivation to get up in the dark, cold or rain. You’ll likely get into and maintain very good personal fitness at the same time you can really help and inspire other people into a healthy lifestyle. This is so rewarding that it is worth doing voluntarily.

5. Internet bill

Reduce: Limit your internet use at home. Avoid mobile internet data use on your phone.

Breakeven: Use only free Wifi connections at cafes or downtown.

Profit: Sell residual Wifi to your neighbourhood.

Selling unused Wifi data from your plan to your neighbours is quite easy and is cost effective for everyone. Most people have plans that are too big and most of the charge is the fixed fee component (sometimes called the line charges). A Wifi range extender can expand your signal range quite a distance. If you are considering sharing your net you need to be sure that your neighbours won’t use your connection to do anything that they shouldn’t. Pricing this you can fairly charge people enough to fully pay your connection or pay your connection plus. You can also include additional services to make this extra fee more attractive. Most people don’t have very sophisticated computer skills so having someone on call to come and help them with their usually fairly simple issues (all for a few pennies) offers them great value for money.

4. Grocery bill

Reduce: Eat less. You could live happily on one meal a day or choose smaller portion or eat cheaper simpler foods.

Breakeven: Work as a chef or dumpster dive (the new way using the internet to hook onto free food opportunities).

Profit: Eat from your garden. Sell or make some surplus items to buy whatever you can’t produce or make a profit.

Grow expensive fruits, vegetables or other plants and sell them at organic markets, food shows or at local fruit and vegetable markets. Having a surplus (beyond what you need) of the right items can help subsidise or pay for the grocery items you can’t grow yourself. Lookout for free bulk goods on freecycle or other local swap and trade forums. Sell home-made baked goods to the local cafe. Make 12, sell 10. Eat free or price to make a profit.

3. Mortgage bill

Reduce: Save a larger deposit. Live in a smaller house.

Breakeven: Take in ESOL borders or residents to help cover mortgage expense.

Profit: Subdivide once income from a tenant is greater than outgoings to pay the mortgage.

Rent out your property so that rental income fully pays the mortgage bill. This is effectively having someone buy your house for you. You could also subdivide your house and rent it to fully or partially pay your remaining mortgage. There are also options like renting a room to an English language student, operating one room in your house as a bed and breakfast accommodation or temporarily renting your house out when you are on holiday. As your loan dwindles all of these become cash flow positive.

2. Entertainment bills

Reduce: Consolidate your hobbies.

Breakeven: Choose only cheap or free hobbies.

Profit: Monetise your hobbies.

Next time you feel like partying consider selling tickets. There will be no cost to you and you will get to meet a bunch of new people. If you are organised you might make a small return on the deal. Learn to play an instrument you can entertain with around a bonfire. Guitar is good. Ukulele is better. If it becomes your entertainment – entertain others. Busk, play gigs. Record put it on iTunes. Who the heck knows. You’re probably the next big thing. If not do it anyway. Just 200 crazy fools with click happy fingers can keep you in beer and biscuits for year.

If you start to think about it there are a zillion other ways that you could monetise your hobbies. So many perhaps a separate post is necessary…

1. Electricity Bill

Reduce: Conservation of electricity.

Breakeven: Home generation of all personal electricity.

Profit: Generating a surplus of electricity to sell to a neighbour or back to the grid.

Generate your own power and sell any surplus back to the city for a tidy profit. Check out this essay.

As you can see I am fascinated by liability alchemy. Turning a red bill gold or green is delightful! I’ve also noticed that this idea is embryonic. A few of my friends have mulled it over and it’s grown on them. Slowly, but surely I see them putting their own versions into action. Pounce on the idea if something grabs you immediately. If not give it time to percolate. Good things take time.

In that vein…the slow burn…I’m also working to become known as the neighbourhood handyman who’ll fix your stuff for a song (or wicked sweet barter, trade or swap). Unfortunately I’m still more dangerous with tools than handy. Check back in 40 years though. I might have an interesting and eclectic retirement living!

Got any other ideas to kill bill? Please, please share!! …I’m a stone cold kill bill cotton shooter! 😀

Excuse me…is this where enough lives?

“He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough”
Lao Tzu

I often ask people to help me understand where enough lives.

How do you know when you’ve watched enough TV?

How much food is enough at a free banquet?

How much money do you need to have enough?

If you’d been to every continent on the planet would you have travelled enough?

When should you push the off button on your laptop in the evening?

How big is the perfect house? How many rooms are enough to live comfortably?

If you suddenly had every possession you’ve ever wished for would that be enough or would you soon need something else?

Unfortunately, humans are hard wired to search so we have a really tough time trying to answer capped questions. As soon as we soar to a lofty perch atop the tallest tree we spy an even bigger tree off in the distance that looks even better to roost in. Once we have spied ‘better’, we take often take unconscious steps to attain it immediately. Our failure to pinpoint enough explains why you see extremely fat people that carry a block of cheese in their purse or why an incredibly wealthy business person will continue to work themselves into an early grave. It also explains why you regularly hear of a family with a 20 room house who are looking for a new place with more living space.

I appreciate that I must search. It is my nature to search. The market, the internet, for a better life. My ancestors succeeded because they could search better than other species. Their exceptional search abilities were the reason they found safe shelter and scraps of edible food to survive. In our early history both were in such short supply that the search function didn’t need an off button. There was never enough and so they searched for more perpetually…or they died.

That’s why I can’t stop myself from searching, but I can refocus my searching brain away from searching for more.  Now I search extensively for strategies to live with less. This is a good redirection of my nature. Better than waging a war of willpower over the pause button. Living with less has let me engage my search functions on hyperdrive without destroying myself and half the planet. Enough is a mirage in the dessert. There is no water only shimmering sand and the next mirage glistening off in the distance. Stroll on Governor.

For the first time since childhood I feel content and happy. I have enjoyed the search for less far more than I ever enjoyed my life when I was chasing down more or more recently wrestling with enough. Our ancient brains are perfectly content living life on simpler terms. Why fight our nature?  We must retrain our instincts that were built to succeed in scarcity and adapt them to our over abundant world. Scarcity is no longer the problem that our societies face. Now our challenge is avoiding destruction by abundance.

All around us are examples where we are failing to adapt to this new challenge and this failure brings us ever closer to the annihilation of our species. Nature is a harsh mother to her dullard children. We must choose to grow, to change and to evolve. Our fight for survival is very simple. We must shift away from fighting against each other and work together. In nature species that compete do not thrive as prolifically as those that entertain a strategy of mutual aid and mutual support. The Fire salamander, Lamnoid Sharks, Lions and Bears tend to compete, fight and kill each other. The highly competitive creatures are so few in number that if listed they would be unfamiliar to all but the most enthusiastic naturist.  Meanwhile, Ducks, Ants and Bees are playing nice together and have taken over every corner of the planet.

If we turn away from selfish competition and stop capturing (and squandering) all of the resources that we can get our hands on and instead practice a strategy of mutual aid, mutual support and mutual confidence our lives can become richer. As a species we have thrived because of our sociability. It is only a modern contortion of life that has killed community and fostered competition as the basis of our lives.  Kill the corporate I say. End rivalry. Reduce waste. Let’s give, cooperate, share, and help each other…for all our sake. Only when we appreciate that resources are so abundant, that there is no need to compete, horde and waste them, and that we can better achieve our life objectives working with others will we finally realise what enough looks like.

Family Philosophy: Our code for living

 

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated”

Confucius

As of January our family has been trying to follow our updated philosophy of living. These principles guide our behaviour and inform our decisions.

12 Principles

  1. The purpose of life is to be happy.
  2. We actively form routines (and habits) that facilitate happiness.
  3. Sharing happiness multiplies it.
  4. Practice compassion and kindness. Most people are good and don’t mean to cause harm.
  5. Our freedom grows as our spending slows: Financial wealth is created by maximising the gap between what we earn and what we spend.
  6. The simplest solution is often best: Small is beautiful.
  7. We create or adapt to solve problems. Buying ready-made solutions from the marketplace is a cop out!
  8. From silence and stillness comes wisdom.
  9. We buy low harm goods (environment, people, and animals).
  10. You receive from life what you focus on most so focus your thought and energy on whatever you wish for. Focusing on what you wish to avoid only speeds it’s arrival to your door.
  11. Living in the past creates guilt. Living in the future anxiety. Enjoy mindfulness of the moment. Notice that the world is beautiful right now.
  12. If it isn’t working just let it go. Letting go is easier than clinging.

Pollution britches: Get the dirty monkey off your back!

“The more we pour the big machines, the fuel, the pesticides, the herbicides, the fertilizer and chemicals into farming, the more we knock out the mechanism that made it all work in the first place”
David R. Brower

A few months ago I wrote about our no harm policy. Today I’d like to give you an illustration of it in practise.

One of the fabrics that we no longer wish to buy is Cotton.  In about 5 minutes with a computer  and Google you can find out why. Search: Cotton pollution. Or click here or here.  We buy organic cotton clothing when we can find it.

Admittedly the Simples both have cotton clothing in our wardrobe, but  most of my clothes are over 10 years old and I don’t need to replace them as regularly as Ms Simple. I look damn good even in rags :). Because we don’t buy new high fashion clothes every week we have more time when we do replace clothing to chose consciously.  We buy or are given second hand cotton clothes sometimes.As my sister says “buying or accepting second hand cotton clothing doesn’t drive the market for cotton”, but at the same time we don’t think dumping unfashionable clothing into landfill is the answer either. So when friends spring clean their wardrobe each season we happily accept donations.

We live quite an active outdoors lifestyle, but we have found too many of the outdoor apparel companies don’t really do much to protect the natural environments that they promote using their clothes in. Most produce clothing that is unsustainable, harmful and from textiles that are heavily reliant on pesticides. Patagonia is different. It is a great example of a business that is a good global corporate citizen. As a company they have done more to push the market for organic cotton than many other larger outdoor outfitters. I accidentally discovered about this company by reading a business book written by the company founder. The title – Let my people surf. It was a very interesting and very different management book to the typical ones that I have read. After reading the book I added this company to our buy list. They have a wide range of good quality organic and low harm synthetic clothing products that are good durable and attractive (remember I am a guy that happily wears what Ms Simple describes as rags. Check out this previous post about my shoes).

Our no harm buying means that we choose not to support dirty industries like clothes made of cotton. With organic alternatives, second hand opportunities and alternative low harm materials it is actually very easy to outfit ourselves.  However, there are some other types of products (think carpet) that are so dirty, and so harmful that we don’t think that they need to be produced at all.  It is incredibly energising to find stories about business leaders in these industries that are thinking like we are. Here is one excellent example. If you have 1 minute and 50 seconds watch this. If you don’t have 1.50 seconds make the time.

I think the thing to remember is low harm is not no harm. It is a commitment to make better choices. If you can’t buy no harm products just chose the next best alternative. You get a special feeling pulling a low harm t-shirt over your head. It has symbolic value that makes it different than the other cheap white pieces of fabric from your drawer. Making better choices is our default setting and we feel really good about how we are using our wealth.

Self improvement is just Puritan malware accidentally coded by your first programmer

“The discontent and frustration that you feel is entirely your own creation”

Stephen Richards

The self improvement course you go to at the community college on Friday night has more to do with the sexual preferences of a despot King than some innate character flaw. Probably far more than you realise. To explain let’s go back to the future. Strap yourself in McFly. Juice up the DeLorean with 1.21 gigahertz and set the time dial for 1490 – Medieval England.

Before we depart I want to let you know that this post resulted from an exchange of comments with my buddy Josh over at Living Apex. Josh’s comments on self improvement encouraged me out of my idle malaise and inside on a perfectly sunny day to bruise my fingers on this post. If there is something on your mind drop a note in the comment box it’s great to receive your thoughts. If you’d like to check out Josh’s work then a good place to start is here.

Okay Doc’s up the clock tower. Time to start our run. Hold tight we are almost hitting 88 mph…Middle Ages…here we….

…Wow!

It’s a bit dirty. The first thing to notice is that there are less sick and odd people than you meet on the subway. Weird. Things are by no means perfect here, but one thing that stands out is that life is structured around hedonism, fun and pleasure. The people are by and large a contented lot. They sing and dance regularly and get this – there are 100-150 non working days of festivals every year! That’s a couple of wonderful village parties to attend every week. People wear colourful clothing; they enjoy their food, drink and a hearty laugh.

Pause a minute and you’ll notice another group. They are dressed in austere black. Think of their getup as the business suits of the day. Like ‘suits’ the world over they don’t smile much. Smiling is a pointless waste of energy. These black garbed humdrum squares lead lives so boring that if it ever flashed before their eyes they might not even be in it. They do little aside from work and pray. To them fun and frivolity are sins. They labour for money, salvation and naught else. They are the Puritans.

The contrast between the medieval folk and the cloistered Puritans could not be starker.  Unbelievably more and more of the fun loving freewheelers are being convinced of their sins, they are taught shame and guilt and other tools of Puritanism.  Ideas like fun and pleasure are quickly being replaced by seriousness, sternness and hard work. The Puritan believes in strict living and the need to impress upon others the view that humour and idleness are wrong.

One of the doctrines that springs from these budding Puritan capitalists is a very strange new notion. They teach their children that through hard work and God’s grace they may mould out all the imperfections from themselves. Here for the first time appears the genesis of our obsessive quest for self improvement. The idea that we can be moulded, shaped and improved and in so doing improve our lot in life is bought into being.

This is all very foreign to the happy folk that have grown accustomed to producing enough to enable good living for all.  They work merrily together in the fields. They share whatever they have. Debtors may be released from their financial bondage if it is clear they cannot pay. Idleness is wide spread. It is after all a rather strange notion to work anymore than you have to. Once the field has been properly ploughed why plough it some more? These convivial folk worked on skills for the good of themselves or the village, but the idea of one day becoming perfect is a development forged by the Puritans. In the medieval culture where lives are lived cooperatively and collectively, to produce for the good of all, what need is there for self improvement to the point of perfection? Good enough will do and this ensures everyone can participate in the evening’s merriment. Why labour while others play?

Meanwhile on the rich side of town a tubby ruddy ginger King grows tired of his wife. He yearns for another so desperately that he would separate the state from organised religion to bed her. His carnal desire is immense enough to overthrow the law, structures and institutions of the day. Seizing the opportunity inadvertently presented by the randy royal the Puritans step in and take charge of the ideals of the era. And so it is that these twin forces of a royal libido (drenched in more than a dash of madness) and a dour mob of boring suits reform merry old England into a work camp. In so doing they put an end to a colourful pleasure seeking, community oriented way of life that had survived for 1000 years before them.

Right, back to time-machine we must return to the present…the history books record that King Henry VIII did indeed kill his wife, got his leg over his girlfriend and killed her too. Meanwhile the Puritans seized their opportunity to kill off fun in any or its many forms. Their cry’s still ring in your ears when your runty boss tells you to work harder, work longer, be thankful for a job, forget a pay rise, and to appreciate these opportunities he’s giving you recreate less…

No thanks to the Puritans we have 10 hour work days, low pay and a myth rattling around the back or our brains that we are a partially completed creation. A clean slate of wax. A piece of clay that can be actively moulded into whatever we want to become. With some hard graft and serious dedication we might one day be able to perfect ourselves and attain…benefits?

But, what benefits might I ask? Had it not been for a dodgy King and some zealots in corporate clothing your life might have centred around fun. All the while you would be blissfully ignorant of any short comings in your personal character.

If you are not content in and of yourself, if you are pursing personal success coaching, if you are perfecting presentation skills or memorizing the 16 steps to greater self confidence you might be better off reflecting on how those party loving folk of 1490 might view your Puritanical view of your life.

Would you have even have these urges if the Puritans had not won the idea war waged 600 years before you stepped on the soil? After all isn’t it just the modern day Puritans bombarding their advertising messages that you suck, that you are broken, that you are imperfect,  and that you need to be fixed that has you shaking down these supposed character flaws? In the same foul swoop they offer salvation through buying their programme, or seminar or a retreat where you can get your broken self fixed.

Think about this though. If there were means to truly and permanently improve yourself wouldn’t you know about it already? If one of the millions of books or courses was actually worth the price of admission don’t you think it would have become so widely known that you would have discovered it already, tried it and become living proof of its effectiveness?

To self improve has become the modern day salvation in our increasingly unhappy secular lives. Religious people might point to that statement as a call to mass. It’s not. This post has nothing to do with religion whatsoever.

What it has to do with is that like many other features of our life we are living to a script passed down the ages. Like a parlour game of whispers the message gets distorted generation by generation. It is deep code placed there by our first programmers. Unwittingly the Puritan script is coded into our mainframe for us to run in the background for all of our adult life…unless we realise it to be malware and decide to delete it. Sadly I fear that we are whispering the wrong script to each other! The code of endless work, self critique or self loathing and guilt in taking our pleasures. We must develop our own defense against Puritan spammers.

Myself I would prefer the Medieval way of life. Granted it was one of the most bloodthirsty periods in history, but reviving the best of the values, beliefs and customs from that period could do more to support an improved quality of life than anything that has emerged from the Puritans industrialist-capitalist plot.

Self improvement or self contentment? Work or dance? Compete or share? Puritan or Medieval? Flag your personal development class next Friday night. Instead spend the time appreciating your qualities. Reflect on your blessings. Remind yourself what it is that you are grateful for. Stop comparing your everyday to other peoples highlight reel on facebook. Look for the happiness in your own life situation. Give up the self critique. Lets contentment happen and contentment is the first stop on the way to a happier life.

Better still stick it to the Puritans. Celebrate your Medieval roots. Skip work. Take off to the woods for a long weekend. Build a bonfire. Drink sing and dance with your friends. I’d wager this will do more for your spirit than any course notes you’ll miss out on.