Frugal hedonism for academics

Over the weekend I read the delightful book The Art of Frugal Hedonism by Annie Raser-Rowland and Adam Grubb.

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Essentially a list of strategies for spending less money while enjoying life, it was the juxtaposition of frugal hedonism that grabbed me and the quirky tone that kept me reading. (Here’s a great podcast conversation with Annie on Slow Your Home that gives a taster). The authors describe frugal hedonism thus:

The truly savvy hedonist avoids blunting her capacity for pleasure against a barrage of constant stimulation. He knows that the rewards of the journey frequently trump instant gratification. She shuns that level of convenience and indulgence that insidiously erodes her mental and physical vigour. He makes non-monetised sources of pleasure his first port of call, so that he’s not trapped into shaping his life around earning. Far from being acts of martyrdom, such frugality-compatible behaviours can in fact be your best ticket to enjoying everything more on both the deeply fulfilling and sensually satisfying levels.

I started thinking about what these strategies might look like for academics. While I like the idea of spending less money in order to work less, the currency that matters for many academics is time and energy. How can I spend these wisely and enjoy work more? Many of the strategies Raser-Rowland and  Grubb suggest resonate: create your own normal, have lots of things you want to do with your freedom, undercomplicate things, give something. Here are a few of their ideas reimagined for those aspiring to slow academia. In a nutshell: frugal hedonism means time for contemplation, positive relationships and friendships with colleagues, and finding pleasure in work and beyond.

  • Relish

The authors recommend musing on the word relish “with its suggestion of immoderate sensory intensity.” What have you relished at work today? How have your senses been engaged? In a day unusually free of meetings—as though I had been given the gift of time—I relished conversations with colleagues and the start of semester buzz. There are students everywhere. It’s crowded, noisy, and finding a parking spot is near impossible. I tend to prefer quiet days on campus, but this bombardment of the senses provides music, colour, movement and opportunities for people watching. It’s exciting.

  • Indulge your curiosity

The thrill of discovery is a great motivator. I am always keen to know more. One of my most valuable conversations today was inspired by asking a colleague a question which required a longer answer, so we talked over coffee. This week I am indulging my love of learning by taking the time to attend a public lecture for International Women’s Day by Cordelia Fine, author of Testosterone Rex (which is currently in the reading pile next to my bed). I also indulge my curiosity through reading. Perhaps Producing Pleasure in the Contemporary University might be a good companion to this post—I’ll move it to the top of book pile.

  • People who need people are the luckiest people in the world

There are hashtags for this one: #academickindness #circleofniceness. I am part of collaborations with colleagues that feel rich and generous. These have been the highlights of my working life—research and writing teams, doctoral supervision, co-teaching, conferences. If you haven’t yet found like-minded souls, don’t despair. Indulge your curiosity, talk with people, seek out and relish experiences, read and write and you will find points of connection with others. This academic kindness notebook sharing initiative by Ellie Mackin Roberts is a great idea. I have just signed up!

  • Look up, think about constellations. Look down, think about magma.

I think the authors articulated the grandness of everything beyond the self well:

Look up. There is so infinitely much more matter than you out there, hurling forth glowing plumes, imploding into vortexes, converging into gaseous balls, the shattering into incandescent rain…

Look down. There is the great grinding, shifting, melting foundry for all the yawning canyons and toothed peaks and rift valleys. There is the alchemical trinity of moisture, mineral and organic debris that has the power to birth new life…

Remembering where and what you are should not be to the end of feeling like an insignificant speck. You are woven of this stuff, this starlight and magma, let it extend you and make you feel endless amongst it … Then scan what feels important to

(Here’s the children’s version in a picture book). The message for academics: you are stardust, so how much does your H-index really matter?

A final comment inspired by some boxed text the book: “We knew a man who spent some time teaching agricultural workshops in Peru, and he described how grandmothers would show up for class in this mountainous location, having thought nothing of taking a three day walk to get there.” If someone walked three days to be in your class, would you teach the same way you do now?

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