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Cracker Barrel: The good life

Every September the same thing happens. The coolness in the air hints that summer is nearly over. And I, slow learner, look back and realize once again that I spent too much time working and not enough savoring. There is modest consolation in the...

Every September the same thing happens.

The coolness in the air hints that summer is nearly over. And I, slow learner, look back and realize once again that I spent too much time working and not enough savoring.

There is modest consolation in the fact that I am not alone. Almost everyone I've talked to in the past few weeks shares the same lament. Somehow, in spite of all the wondrous technological advances, it seems most of us work harder and longer than ever. In the meantime our lives go by.

We justify our frenzy with talk about making hay while the sun shines - but only a few of us are actually farming. For the rest of us, it's habit or greed or insecurity or good old American consumerism. And in the meantime our lives go by.

An alternative to all of this was offered some years ago by a couple named Helen and Scott Nearing. They dared take the road less traveled, living close to the land, refusing to borrow money, learning to grow their own food and build their own shelter and heat with their own firewood, trying in a hundred ways to see just what they could do without.

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Their aim was to follow what they called a "four-four-four plan."

Four hours of each day (not including Sundays) were devoted to making a living (or, as they termed it, "bread labor"). This included extensive gardening, putting up fuel, constructing and maintaining needed buildings, sharpening and repairing tools, and so on.

Four hours were dedicated to personal growth and enjoyment, including such activities as reading, writing, exercising, traveling, playing a musical instrument, swimming, hiking, skiing, lovemaking, listening to music, etc.

And four hours were allocated for social activities, which for them included writing letters, talking with friends and neighbors, volunteering help for various causes, expressing opinions and generally trying to be good, involved citizens.

In their book "Living the Good Life," the Nearings explain that they didn't split each day into exact four-hour periods, but rather sought to follow their plan on average over each 12-month period.

And follow it they did. By supplying most of own their daily needs and shunning foolish or faddish purchases, they were able to live with a broad margin of leisure time. By devoting a major block of each day to learning and growing and savoring, their lives took on a permanent excitement.

And by spending as much time reaching out as looking in, they found a sense of connectedness and belonging that many of us only dream about. They learned, in short, how to live good lives.

Collections of Craig Nagel's columns are available at CraigNagelBooks.com.

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