You may not have heard about “Soft Living” yet, but it is a phrase that you will certainly come across soon if you are a user of social media. Originated in the Nigerian influencer community, this idea is a cultural swing in the opposite direction from the grind mentality that has heretofore prevailed. First, let’s do a recap of hustle culture so that we can understand how soft living works as an antidote to it.
Capitalism will always result in hustle culture, but the intensity and reach of this culture grew with the popularity of both social media and reality television. These media showed everyone levels of luxury to which normally only the one percent was privy. Naturally, this raised the bar for what we aspired to be/own/achieve. Once upon a time, plane travel itself was a luxury, a cool thing to be able to afford. But watching influencers vlog about first class or seeing the Kardashians fly private everywhere now made an economy ticket seem like small potatoes. Likewise, the names Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik may have been recognisable from Sex and the City, but few had ever considered actually purchasing a pair until they saw Instagram accounts grow exponentially from posting unboxing videos of such designer goods.
And along with every fancy flight, holiday, and designer purchase, these influencers were spouting gyan about how they were able to get to this level by hustling their butts off. This went beyond influencers, with entrepreneurs and employees alike wearing busyness and burnout as a badge of pride. Thus arose the following unofficial credo of the last decade:
You can get anything you want if you work hard enough.
You should want the best of everything.
You should monetise any hobbies and passions you have to achieve peak productivity.
It goes without saying that working hard is an honourable value. Turning a hobby into a business can be a wonderful way for someone to love his or her work, and has allowed many housewives to start small businesses that give them financial independence and fulfill them in a different way than family life does. But when this thinking permeates into every facet of life, making you view every action in terms of its productivity, it can make you forget that it is okay to just enjoy something for what it is. For example, years ago when I had lots of time on my hands and was learning how to bake, I posted a photo on Facebook of some pretty sugar cookies I had baked and decorated. Immediately someone asked me “Are you going to market these?” and when I said no, she looked baffled: “So, you’re just going to…eat them?”
I have often received this response regarding my various talents. Family members are perplexed by the fact that I don’t pursue a career as a presenter/emcee, since I am good at public speaking, or that I didn’t become an influencer myself. And for a long time I beat myself up about not having that hustle within me. I would chalk it up to laziness and unabashedly tell my family this rather than make up excuses, and maybe that is partially true. But ultimately what I realised is that just because I am good at something and enjoy doing it from time to time, it does not mean that I want to make it into a career. I am fortunate to have married into a family business that I can contribute to, but that also runs well enough on its own that I can have plenty of time for my kids, for leisure, socialising, exercise, etc.
Some people are happiest when they have a full schedule and dread idle time, but I am the opposite. I love being accessible to my children, who gripe when I leave them to go to work for even just two hours! And after surviving sleep-deprivation induced postpartum depression, I relish having time to read, daydream, or rest my eyes whenever I feel tired. I’ve also enjoyed occupying myself with small projects like planning my son’s birthday party, making the decorations or meticulously planning the party games. I and other women who live similarly often meet disdain from full time working mothers who love to ask “So what exactly do you do all day?” But a dear friend reminded me that there is as much dignity in planning your child’s birthday party as there is in spending a full day in the office. Those of us who are happy with a slower pace of life should not feel any less than because of it.
While grind culture would have me loathing myself for being like this, I was lucky enough to come across the work of Tricia Hersey, founder of The Nap Ministry and author of Rest is Resistance, that totally reshaped my thinking. As a Black American, Hersey’s activism aims to give a sort of reparation to her community by teaching them that rest is their divine right:
“We are constantly told to go harder, grind more, boss up, push through, fake it til you make it and sleep when you are dead. I’m wondering where we can find tenderness, softness, alignment, and rest. Aren’t you tired?” (Tricia Hersey via @TheNapMinistry on Twitter)
The answer is yes, many people are tired, and that is why more of them are embracing soft living. If you browse the #softliving hashtag on social media, it might seem like it emphasizes luxury, but this is not in the lens of consumerism as discussed earlier. Fortune.com says “Living the soft life is about throwing yourself into joy, and prioritizing the richness of experiences” while Elle Canada defines it as “rejecting the idea that a difficult life is the only path toward an enjoyable one.” When you allow yourself to be entitled to joy not as a reward but simply as your divine right, life becomes a lovely pursuit of pleasure rather than a grind. Soft living can mean anything from wearing a beautiful silk nightgown to bed, for no one’s enjoyment but your own, to ditching your 9 to 5 in favor of freelance work that you can do from the beaches of Goa. It is also about setting boundaries, filling your own cup first, and prioritizing wellness over productivity.
So if this sounds appealing to you, what are some ways you can start living a soft life? Start by incorporating some peaceful me-time into your morning routine. Instead of checking emails while having coffee, savour it slowly, device-free, in a spot with a nice view. Schedule time for languid walks where the goal is not increasing step count, but to get outside and observe the light dance through the trees. Get comfortable saying “No” to plans and people that drain your energy. Bring out and use for yourself the fine china that you normally reserve for guests. Get a massage as a regular treatment instead of a rare treat. Stop thinking in terms of “guilt” and “earning” or “deserving”. Your mere existence means you deserve everything, and the only person who can deliver on that is you. With summer upon us and the heat sapping our energy, it is the perfect time to embrace this practice. So go forth, dear readers, and live softly!