We live in a world where, for the first time in history, much of what we see and use on a daily basis are objects that have been designed, sometimes by whole departments of people highly trained in the relevant skills. Apple and Nike come to mind.
Given the prevalence of design for objects like phones and shoes, it is striking that we have almost no one working on life design. Given the problems with our current lifestyle, designing a better way of life seems like a good idea. This especially true when you consider that our places of work and living shape human nature (see this post). What is the goal of life design? Designing a life of thriving, using only one planet’s worth of resources, a life that is not only sustainable (and perhaps restorative) but is beautiful, vibrant, healthy, and happy. What we need is a culture that nourishes sustainable well-being, or, put more simply, a life that works.
Lucky for us, there are some people, who are focused on life design, aka Life Designers. All of the experiments and experimenters covered in that post are critical if we are to assemble and integrate disparate sources of knowledge and ways of being into cultures that weave together a life that works.
Why is life design not recognized as a main priority right now?
Have we made “progress” for so long through specialization that we imagine integrating across different fields to create sustainable well-being will happen as a matter or course?
Or, could our fragility in confronting anxiety-provoking information provide part of the reason? Simply put, given a choice between changing our world view to accommodate uncomfortable facts and distorting those facts to preserve our world view (and the sense of control and security that go with it), many of us choose the latter. There is some neuroscience evidence for this (Westin et al., 2006, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience). Theoretically, one of the promises of training in mindfulness meditation is being aware of what is happening rather than distorting things to see what we wish were happening (but that’s a another post).
In any case, the people I know about who have populated the field of life design, at least recently, have done so through heroic means and radical lifestyle change. This is unfortunate because few people are willing to engage in that much lifestyle change unless circumstances make it necessary or incentives exist to encourage it even if not necessary.
What capitalism teaches us is the power of incentives to encourage behavior. If we want to encourage the evolution of lives that work, we need to incentivize good life design.
Meanwhile, it is exciting to learn from models where they exist. Again, I refer you to Life Designers.
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