Brooks cited Dorothy Day as a role model in that respect. "She had this incredible career creating the Catholic Social Worker, then a bunch of soup kitchens for homeless people, a bunch of hospitals. She'd built this tremendous empire doing good," he said. "But one of the precious moments comes at the end of her life. She's a brilliant writer. She's been writing her whole life. She's giving an interview. And she says, 'I thought at the end of my life that I would write a memoir. So I sat down and I wrote at the top of the page, A Memoir. But I didn't feel like writing much. I'd sit down and start thinking about God, and how glad I was that he'd been on my mind. And I decided not to do it.' For such a great writer and an ambitious person, it was a moment when she decided not to write, not to create. Just to enjoy what she had. And it's a nice moment of surrender at the end of a life, when the ambitious side of her kneels down to the spiritual side, and she has that moment of tranquility. It's a beautiful end to a tremendous life."
As I listened to this exchange, I suddenly recalled a piece that went around the blogosphere back in 2011, when David Roberts, who also believes Americans focus too much on money and power, came up with a very different solution: rather than intense periods of achievement followed by introspection, why not just insist on a significant degree of chill in your life at all times?
He called it the medium chill:
"Medium chill" has become something of a slogan for my wife and me....We now have a smallish house in a nondescript working class Seattle neighborhood with no sidewalks.
We have one car, a battered old minivan with a large dent on one side
where you have to bang it with your hip to make the door shut. Our boys
go to public schools. Our jobs pay enough to support our lifestyle,
mostly anyway. If we wanted, we could both do the "next thing" on our
respective career paths. She could move to a bigger company. I could
freelance more, angle to write for a bigger publications, write a book,
hire a publicist, whatever. We could try to make more money. Then we
could fix the water pressure in our shower, redo the back patio, get a
second car, or hell, buy a bigger house closer in to town. Maybe get the
kids in private schools.
All that stuff people with more money than us
But ... meh.
It's not that we don't think about those things. The water
pressure thing drives me batty. Fact is, we just don't want to work
that hard! We already work harder than we feel like working. We enjoy
having time to lay around in the living room with the kids, reading. We
like to watch a little TV after the kids are in bed. We like going to
the park and visits with friends and low-key vacations and generally
relaxing. Going further down our respective career paths would likely
mean more work, greater responsibilities, higher stress, and less time
to lay around the living room with the kids.
So why do it?
There will always be a More and Better just beyond our
reach, no matter how high we climb. We could always have a little more
money and a few more choices. But as we see it, we don't need to work
harder to get more money to have more choices because we already made our choice.
We chose our family and our friends and our place. Like any life ours
comes with trade-offs, but on balance it's a good life, we've already
got it, and we're damn well going to enjoy it. That's the best thing about the medium chill: unlike the big chill,
you already have it.
It's available today, at affordable prices!
Tyler Cowen talked about the same sort of attitude in economic terms:
A threshold earner is someone who seeks to earn a certain amount of money and no more. If wages go up, that person will respond by seeking less work or by working less hard or less often. That person simply wants to "get by" in terms of absolute earning power in order to experience other gains in the form of leisure--whether spending time with friends and family, walking in the woods and so on. Luck aside, that person's income will never rise much above the threshold.
I wonder what Brooks and Huffington would think of the "medium chill" lifestyle. They'd perhaps argue that, if Dwight Eisenhower or Dorothy Day had adopted that attitude, we'd all be worse off. Hell, if Brooks and Huffington themselves had adopted that attitude we'd be worse off. But not everyone can lead the D-Day invasion, or approach saintly status, or even publish columns or Web sites that reach millions. So maybe Day's "a time for achievement, a time for reflection" is the right approach to life for some people... and "the medium chill" for others?