My moral values exactly, from No Impact Man: What makes us happy is not stuff but each other.
In a nutshell, the degradation of our planetary home is caused by overconsumption of resources. We in the developed world consume so many resources--we feel we need so much stuff--in part because we are alienated from each other and need consolation prizes. If we build proper communities, not only will we help the planet by sharing resources and therefore using less, but we will be happier, because we will have each other, and we won't need to console ourselves with stuff.
One thing my Lebanese relatives all lament about coming to America is how lonely life is here. They have all succeeded very well and live in big houses, drive new cars, send their kids to top colleges, and live the American dream. But they all complain that life here is so isolated. People work too hard. The streets of our lovely suburbs are empty.
In 1975 my uncle Y came to visit the States for the first time. We were living in a ritzy neighborhood in a small Midwestern city then, with 1920s era gracious homes and some veritable mansions. Grass lawns, big cars, wide streets. My uncle said "where is everybody? If I had such beautiful grass outside my house, I would be sitting on it, saying hello to all the neighbors. I have been here a week and I have not seen a single human being except the ones who drive by in their cars!" How true, dear uncle, how true.
Today my husband and I live in an older urban neighborhood in California, with yards and sidewalks and a shopping district to which we can walk. Many children live in the neighborhood, but you almost never see them outside, and since my children go to a different school, they know only one child their age for blocks around. We don't send them outside to play as my generation did - America has become so fearful that children must be accompanied in public places at all times, until they are ten, eleven or even thirteen years old. So my kids live under house arrest. They can only see their friends at school or if we plan to meet them - which usually involves getting into the car.
We do our best to socialize in the neighborhood, and we have some nice friends nearby. But we don't have the village-like atmosphere I knew in Lebanon, and even had for a few brief years in a college town in Illinois, where friends, neighbors and relatives drop by to ask a question, borrow a cup of sugar, bring news, or just say hello.
One thing I have learned in this illness is that I need to see people. I tell my friends to come and visit me or invite me out. Going to graduate school for two years was in part such a delight because I could go to campus and always run into a writing friend or a teacher with whom I could chat. I had to pay $20,000 a year tuition to have the experience of an agora, a public space where people meet to talk about ideas and art. (in fact, I used to gesture at our now ten-year-old Honda sedan and say - I don't want a new minivan or an SUV, I have graduate school instead).
Now I'm done with that but I still need to see people. So I have to plan it. My writing group meets every two weeks - that's "free" although we all spend money on food and wine to share.
We really don't need more shopping, more food, more cars, more stuff. We need to spend time together.
A private note - I love kitchenware, crockery, table linens and such, but I told myself several years ago that I own plenty of these things and really don't need to buy any more. I have enough platters and serving bowls around to host a party for fifty. My "every day" dishes don't match, but I have two sets of party dishes that do. For this recent birthday party I determined to use as little disposable ware as possible, so I put out almost all the metal cutlery I own, including the silver service for 12 my mother passed on to me. I also got out my collection of linen napkins (serviettes) inherited from my American grandmother. No paper napkins!
My glassware is quite motley - two different sets - but there's enough of it. No plastic disposable cups! So the tableware for the party won't win any prizes from design magazines, but does it matter? People enjoyed the food (homemade soup, store-bought frozen pizza, homemade hummous, bread and cheese, chips and dip, crudites for the dips). Most of all, people enjoyed just being together. At least a dozen guests hung around for two hours after the official "end" of the party.
I realized that we just need to have people come to our house more often - not only close friends and family, but random people, like the parents of our children's schoolmates, and anybody else we meet and like. It's not hard to make a little extra food and share it. It's not hard to get out a game and play it, or sit around talking over coffee or wine. That's it.
We need each other more than we need to buy stuff.