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Less Is More, Slow Is Beautiful and Circle of Simplicity and a founder of the Phinney Ecovillage, a project to build Sustainability and Community in her North Seattle Neighborhood. She has been a visiting scholar at Stanford University, where she received her doctorate in education, and an adjunct faculty member at Antioch University and Seattle University. A former community college administrator, she now works with community groups to explore the issue of living more simply and leisurely: how to live lives that are sustainable, just, and joyful. She is on the board of the Take Back Your Time campaign. She lives in Seattle Washington with her husband, former technology writer and current blogger Paul Andrews.

Simplicity Circle Guide

For my complete step-by-step Simplicity Circle Guide, please scroll to bottom of screen

Friday, December 3, 2010

Health and wellbeing

Living simply is about living naturally — living in harmony with nature, protecting nature, remembering we’re part of nature. And so, as we struggle to stay healthy during the winter, it’s helpful to see how natural approaches can help.
Let me mention a a few natural remedies — beyond washing our hands and covering our mouths.
Let’s start with water. Use salt water in a netti pot to irrigate your nasal membranes and use salt water to gargle. Every night. Next, keep your self hydrated! Drink lots of water and humidify your air. We always have a humidifier running, and of course you can simmer water on the stove. Keep your heat low to avoid drying out! (And save energy for Nature’s sake.)
Next, stay home when you’re sick! I shouldn’t have to say this, but we need to keep saying it until it becomes a cultural mandate. You’d think that employers would see that liberal sick leave policies would boost productivity with fewer absentees and healthier workers. Unfortunately we’re one of the few countries that doesn’t have a national policy giving people sick leave.
The sick leave issue illustrates a major problem: many of the health issues require more than individual behavior change. They demand enlightened national policies. ( See For instance, getting enough sleep is crucial to your health, but our long work hours make that difficult. And naps! There’s lots of research showing that naps are good for you, but who can take a nap at work? But do what you can. Maybe at lunch hour go out to your car and put the seat back for a few minutes.
Health requires even deeper changes, though. These are explored in a new book by Don Beuttner called Thrive, (author of The Blue Zones). Buettner did a study for National Geographic on the secrets of people around the world who live long lives. He explores four categories: move naturally, eat wisely, right attitude, and connect.
Move naturally. For me, there’s nothing like walking! There are so many benefits — it’s good exercise, good for the planet (you’ll drive less); it costs nothing, and it can build community as you chat with friends and neighbors. And maybe most important of all, it gives us time to reflect, to make conscious choices instead of being manipulated by social pressure or marketing.
Eat wisely. This is huge! (Pardon the pun — a third of American adults are considered obese.) There are really five words that are important here: Eat more fruits and vegetables! (A juicer makes a nice Christmas gift. Juicing is an easy way to consume more fruits and vegetables.) Another idea I’ve heard a lot about lately is the “80% rule:” Quit eating before you’re full. This is practiced by most of the long lived populations.
Again, eating wisely is not just about individual choice. Corporations add chemicals to our food; are cruel to the animals they raise for food, and genetically modify our plants — among other abuses. We need national policies to protect us, but in the mean time, go to our wonderful farmers markets and eat organic!
Of course we must move away from highly processed food and cook more for ourselves. Obviously time for healthy eating is also linked to the issue of work hours: Long work days makes cooking dinner more difficult. Still, you can bring out the old crock pot and cook up something on the weekend to eat during the week!
Connect and Right Attitude: There is one thing that is more important than anything else — building social ties. So get together with friends for an evening of conversation and laughter, giving you both a right attitude and connection! Of course the biggest predictor for the health of a nation is the wealth gap, and our health continues to decline as our gap widens. Here’s where you need to get politically involved. .
Natural health is really an exciting topic. Educate yourself on approaches to natural medicine like homeopathy, osteopathy, or acupuncture. Seattle is lucky to have Bastyr University, a school that not only trains practitioners, but has a clinic and pharmacy. There’s a great supply of both products and information at the Puget Consumer Coop. Finally, subscribe to magazines like YES that will help you continue to explore how we can build a culture that cares about the health and well being of both people and the planet.
Cecile Andrews is the author of Less is More, Slow is Beautiful, and Circle of Simplicity

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The New Loneliness

Feeling depressed? A little down? Feel like you need a prescription for an antidepressant? You may actually be lonely. NO, not lonely! Not that! It seems that Americans have difficulty even recognizing loneliness, let alone accepting it as a problem. It’s just not in our world view. We think we’re depressed and that consuming a pill will cure us, but in fact, we may just need more time with people.
Loneliness is increasing. An AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) study found that of people ages 45 and up, 35% are chronically lonely. That’s compared with 20% ten years ago. And surprisingly, it’s people in their 40’s and 50’s who are suffering the most. 43% of adults 45-49 are lonely, 41% or those 50-59; 32% of 60-69, and 25% of those 70 and older. Our number of friends has been on the decline. In 2004 a quarter of the population had no one they could confide in or turn to in a crisis. (In 1985 it was 10%)
But, you might think, so what? There are lots of worse problems —like war and poverty. (Could even they be linked to loneliness? Maybe in a lonely society we lose our ability to care about others, contributing to war and poverty.) But loneliness isn’t just unpleasant — it’s one of the biggest predictors for health, happiness, and longevity. Studies have found that loneliness even increases the chances of things like diabetes and sleep disorders and Alzheimer’s.
Lately there’s been a rise in depression and anxiety in young people, and loneliness may be playing a role. Some think it’s because kids are forced to pay so much attention to achievement and success instead of social ties. In highly competitive places like Palo Alto, California, teen suicides are up. In like manner, some argue that children’s depression is a result of declining free play. Kids don’t get to spend their days riding their bikes around town with their friends or playing hide-and-go-seek as so many of us did.
Part of the cause of our loneliness is that work hours have increased and we’re exhausted. (Probably why the people in their 40s and 50s are the loneliest — with both careers and families they have no time at all.) But ultimately our loneliness comes from a competitive, cutthroat culture. It feels like we just don’t care for each other anymore. There’s been so much ugliness this election — something people care about, as Jon Stewart demonstrated with his Rally for Sanity. And we’re all pitted against each other because there are so few jobs. Unless we begin to have some regulations on corporations things won’t change. We’ve got to put the well being of people and the planet over the chance for a few to make egregious sums of money.
In fact, studies have found that our longevity is linked to wealth inequality, and the gap between the rich and the rest of us just keeps growing. A recent study found that our life expectancy has dropped to 49th, whereas in 1999 we were 24th. (We were number one in the Fifties when our wealth gap was small.) Our greedy culture breeds the loneliness that shortens our lives.
We must find ways to develop a society that encourages social ties! And actually, there is a lot happening. For instance, the “live local “ movement that advocates strong, sustainable neighborhoods. We’re lucky in Seattle because we have been leaders in the sustainable neighborhood movement with dozens of neighborhood organizations like Sustainable Wallingford, Sustainable Ballard, Sustainable Greenwood Phinney. We’re all involved in a network called SCALLOPS: Sustainable Communities All Over Puget Sound ( We’re also a part of a related movement —the Transition Town movement, also strong in Seattle ( And of course, check out the activities at the Phinney Neighborhood Center, a leader in neighborhood community.
The great thing about the problem of loneliness is that it’s something you can take action on immediately. It’s hard to change the workplace or get city hall to respond, but you can take a walk in your neighborhood right now! Say hello! Stop and chat! Your spirits will rise immediately! And you’ll be helping to create a new culture in which we learn to care about each other, one in which we understand that “we’re all in this together,” a culture that puts caring first.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Funny films for happiness

LIVING SIMPLY | Funny films increase happiness, well-being

By Cecile Andrews

Everyone wants to make a difference and have a good time. But it’s not always easy to do either one, let alone find ways to do both at the same time. But I’ve found a way: Have a funny-films festival for your friends.

Sure, this sounds fun, but how does it make a difference? Studies have found that social relations are one of the biggest boosters for happiness and health and that they have a profound affect on people’s involvement in community.

People who engage in a lot of social interaction tend to vote more, be better environmentalists and are better workers and parents.

So almost any social activity makes a difference to individuals, as well as to the wider society. And since the essence of community is laughter, funny films are made to order.

Amusing, appropriate films
What should you show? Let me tell you about the films I’ve shown at our Funny Films on Phinney series, part of our Gross National Happiness initiative sponsored by Sustainable Greenwood Phinney (

First up was “Harold and Maude.” A lot of you have seen this film many times since it came out in 1971. (Some of us have seen it more the 50 times!) Next was “The Big Lebowski” (1998), a Coen brothers film, and then “The Castle,” an Australian film (1997).

I won’t give away any plots, although many people have seen the first two because they’ve become cult films.

In “Harold and Maude,” we see an audacious old woman who loves to dance and speak her mind and saves a young man from suicidal depression.

In “The Big Lebowski,” we see three slackers whose main passion in life is bowling and hanging out.

In “The Castle,” we see a neighborhood fighting a big corporation.

All three films are hilarious, but above all, they have a common theme: They are a critique of life in our ruthless, corporate-consumer culture and a testimony to the importance of joy and caring.

Harold is redeemed because he loves Maude. The guys in “The Big Lebowski” stick by their buddies. In “The Castle,” the neighbors inspire each other to speak truth to power. Each film shows that wealth, fame and status don’t make you happy — relationships do.

And the Dude in “The Big Lebowski” (Jeff Bridges) becomes the epic anti-hero for our times — the nonachiever, the guy who hangs out instead of trying to get ahead, the guy who’s not worried about money and status. It’s a critique of the careerism in this country — the idea that you are what you do. As someone said, in America, we live to work, while in Europe, they work to live.

“Harold and Maude” is even more relevant today than it was in the ‘70s: As the baby boomers begin to retire, we need a new image of aging, of becoming an elder. Maude is 80 and fully alive. She is exuberant, rebellious and eccentric.

Building the Village
Again, a lot is going on in Seattle around this issue.

Even though the last place some of us think we’d be interested in is a senior center, the Greenwood Senior Center, 525 N. 85th St., is sponsoring — along with the Phinney Neighborhood Association — a program called Phinney Village, which is part of a new movement around the country called “Aging in Place.” It is a program for elders to work together, watch out for each other and to help each other live fully. To find out more about Phinney Village, call (206) 297-0875.

The Funny Films on Phinney series continues in August each Monday night. This time, it’s comedies with a political message: the British film “Girl in the CafĂ©” (Aug. 9); “In the Loop,” also British (Aug. 16); and “Dr. Strangelove,” the old classic with Peter Sellers (Aug. 23).

They all show that war is madness and that we must build a more caring culture in which we realize that we’re all in this together.

All the movies are free and start at 7 p.m., in St. John United Lutheran Church, at North 55th Street and Phinney Avenue North.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


An incredible little video on happiness:

Friday, May 28, 2010

Paradise Built in Hell: Communities that emerge from disasters

I recently discovered one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It’s called A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. Author Rebecca Solnit writes about the caring communities that spring up in disasters and tells the stories of how people come together to help each other. Solnit uses first person accounts, and I was absolutely bowled over by the things people had to say. In describing their experiences and emotions, people used words like euphoric and ecstatic and transformative. What people felt was not just fear and anxiety from the disaster, but ultimately caring and connection with others.
Solnit explores several disasters, starting with the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but the most important stories are about Katrina and 9/11. I had no idea that anything good emerged from these disasters. And in fact, one of the most interesting —and damning — things Solnit says is that “official” accounts of disasters always stress the negative: they talk about violence, looting, or raping and the stories of compassion and caring are ignored.
Why? One, the official version comes from the “elites,” the news media and the public officials. Solnit suggests that the elite viewpoint represents their opinion about human nature — a belief that people are basically selfish and that everyone is out for themselves. She argues that perhaps elites feel this way because that’s what they’re like! Being selfish and cutthroat is usually the way people get ahead!
This view that people are basically selfish is the dominant view in the American culture. But there has been a lot of research lately stressing that altruism is also central to our nature. In other words, we can either be cruel and ruthless or compassionate and caring — it all depends on what your culture encourages.
We have a culture that encourages us to be selfish and cutthroat. We’re taught to compete and to strive to be “number one.” We want to be winners, and we learn to do whatever it takes.
It’s not only that we’re encouraged to compete and win. It’s also that we’re not given many opportunities to be caring and compassionate. For instance, our work hours make it difficult to volunteer or take time to be involved with the community. The wealth gap in our country means we’re always pitted against other citizens for resources, and rich people always seem to want even more money than they have! In more equal societies people understand that what’s good for me is also good for the greater society.
I thought of a good analogy that shows what’s going on: When my kids were little I took them to an easter egg hunt — or I should say an easter egg race. The candy was spread out over the lawn and the kids stood at the starting line and then a (toy) gun was shot and they all started running for the candy. My kids (who went to alternative schools and didn’t learn all the competitive tricks) just stood there, kind of stunned. In other words, you either raced for what you wanted or you got nothing! That’s the way our society is set up and you’re forced to compete if you want anything at all.
How can we change? That’s really what the voluntary simplicity movement is about. We’re saying that we must create a society in which people have the opportunity to care for one another. Thus, the Simplicity movement advocates government policies that help people behave differently. For instance, give people shorter work hours so they have time to volunteer or get involved in their communities. Or another example: if we had universal health care, a lot of people could work fewer hours, giving them more time for their community. Further, if we created more equality people would care for the common good instead of just their own selfish interests.
Most of all, we have to change our value system. That’s why the Solnit book is so important. She’s showing that our basic human impulse is to help and care for others. We need policies that give us a chance to express this basic impulse. A government should help you be the best kind of person you could be, not the worst.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Gross National Happiness

There’s a new movement afoot! Gross National Happiness — evaluating our society in terms of happiness rather than money. That’s what the GDP, Gross Domestic Product, measures — the amount of money flowing through the system. The problem is that GDP goes up not only when good things happen, but when bad things happen as well. Things like mining disasters or oil spills can put a lot of money into the economy.
Robert Kennedy said it best in 1968:
"Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product ... if we should judge America by that - counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl...

"Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans."
So what does Gross National Happiness measure? Happiness research finds that the things that most contribute to satisfaction involve time for family, friends, and community. Indeed, social ties are the chief ingredient in happiness. We’ve forgotten this and it’s why happiness in the United States has been on the decline for the last thirty years.
The problem is that most of us grew up thinking that if we were rich we’d be happy. But the research shows that after a certain point, more money does not contribute to happiness. In fact, it can get in the way because money often becomes more important than relationships. In particular, time becomes money, and there is no financial benefit to just hanging out with friends!
Essentially, we care too much about money. Some companies will seemingly do anything for money — cheat, lay people off, pay low salaries, poison the environment, make money from wars. Look at our mine disaster and the oil rig explosion. Companies cut costs on safety for the sake of profit.
The central idea of Voluntary Simplicity is to straighten out our thinking out about money. Money will always be a motivator, but it can’t be the primary one. We must put people and the planet before profit. One way to get people to think differently about money is to measure true fulfillment instead of just money. Measuring Gross National Happiness is one way to get people thinking about what truly matters.
This all started with the little country Bhutan deciding to measure Gross National Happiness instead of GDP. And now, cities around the world are starting to get involved. One of the first is Victoria, BC, and recently a delegation met with the Seattle City Council to begin talks about making Seattle the first American city to use GNH as a measure.
What would be measured? In Bhutan and Victoria they’re using 10 indicators: psychological well-being, time use, community vitality, culture, health, education, environmental diversity and resilience, living standard, and governance.
As you can see, this is an exciting idea! Imagine how fun it would be to get together and talk with others about what these indicators mean for your own happiness as well as the well being of our society.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

video of Cecile on "The Joyful Community"

Civil Conversation

Things are really out of control. What started as just plain rudeness on the part of the Tea Party has escalated into death threats. Civil talk is on the decline. It looks like it’s up to us, the citizens, to call a halt to this, and things are happening.

Most of you have heard about the new Coffee Party, where people come together for civil conversation. To start with, people take a “civility pledge,” which says, “I pledge to conduct myself in a way that is civil, honest and respectful toward people with whom I disagree. I value people from different cultures, I value people with different ideas and I value and cherish the democratic process.”

Taking such a pledge and coming together to talk is great, but we need more.

Building social ties
Conversation has been on the decline for a long time because people just don’t take the time to talk with others. (I’m involved with the Take Back Your Time Campaign, and we’re starting Decaf Coffee Party gatherings, where people exchange ideas about how to live more slowly, savor and enjoy their lives.)

It’s so important to take the time to talk with others. Research shows amazing results when people come together and build social ties: People are healthier, happier and live longer. One study found that social isolation is as bad for you as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

My favorite study is one that was published recently. It found that people who have substantive conversations are happier. We have certainly found this to be true in our Simplicity Circles, where we talk about ways to cut back on our consumerism, live more in harmony with nature, get involved with community, slow down and enjoy life more.

As we come together each week we essentially explore the questions, “What matters? What’s important?” Our Simplicity Circle conversations are always substantive and satisfying.

But, still, a lot of people are not having these kinds of conversations, so conversational skills are getting rusty. Stop and think about it: What do you want in a conversation? You want to be heard, to be recognized, to be accepted, to be affirmed, to be appreciated, to make in-depth contact, to be enlivened.

How to talk with others
First of all, we want others to notice that we’re there. Some people just start talking about themselves, and you feel you could just give them a mirror and walk away.

When we’re talking with others we need to make sure we pay attention to them. We need to watch their faces and make eye contact — nod, smile and notice if we’re connecting.

Next, we’d like to be heard: Conversations must be two-way. How often have you asked someone a question and he or she just starts talking, treating the interchange like an interview? Watch yourself in conversation, and make sure it’s going back and forth.

Next, we want to be recognized — that is, we like people to see our essential selves. Here’s where we need to risk being honest and authentic and drop any false poses. Don’t say things you don’t really mean; don’t echo popular sentiments you haven’t really thought about. Be forthright and honest (in a nice way, of course).

After being recognized, we want to be accepted, to not feel judged, to not feel that the other person is ranking us as a 2 on a scale of 10. Drop the games; don’t try to prove you’re superior. Respond as an equal.

Even better, people want to feel appreciated and affirmed. Let people know how much you value them, how much you appreciate their unique qualities.

But even after you have done all of this, you may not really make contact. You must reveal yourself. You must tell your stories and talk with authenticity, enthusiasm and emotion. Too many people try to conceal their true feelings instead of revealing them.

Finally, take a risk and talk about some of the big things: Talk about your values, your goals, your hopes, your worries. Make it into a substantive conversation.

Ultimately, you must enjoy yourself. Be an easy laugher — there’s nothing better than laughing together.

CECILE ANDREWS is author of “Less is More,” “Slow is Beautiful” and “Circle of Simplicity.” For information about joining a Simplicity Circle or a Decaf Coffee Party, contact Cecile at

Saturday, March 20, 2010

substantive conversations

Some new research has found that people who have substantive conversations are happier. It always seems strange to need research for something like this, something that we should know anyway, but it's nice that someone is seeing the significance of conversation with depth. Lately I've been leading group discussions after a film series we've had and when people get in small groups to talk about the films, they love it. You can just feel the energy go up in the room.

We need to find ways to do this more. In response to the new "Coffee Party" I'd like to have a decaf coffee party to bring people together to talk about ways to take back our time and live more slowly. Apparently some people on the right have decided to have a decaf party to make fun of the coffee party, but that doesn't have to stop us. This is something the Take Back Your Time campaign can do for our Oct 24th day of observance.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

trash and triviality

"If we have only trash and trivialities to sell, we must produce trashy and trivial personalities to serve as consumers."
Lewis Mumford, 1944

This is one of my greatest fears: as we trivialize life around us, we trivialize ourselves. I worry that my experience of the world has been reduced to the emotions engendered by a tv sit com. Apparently sit coms evoke mild depression. But essentially, the emotions are trivial and trashy. If we have a constant diet of the trivial and trashy, can we ever feel or think deeply? If we spend our time shopping for clothes, are we able to recognize or connect with great ideas? Are we experiencing life in a mediocre fashion?