Photograph by Anurag Banerjee

The daily grind. The hustle culture. The nine to five.

Call it what you may, but this ‘work hard, play hard’ culture has been ingrained in our consciousness since we were old enough to understand it. After all, how else does one live a good life if not by working hard, saving up, and making sacrifices? Unless, of course, you were born with a silver spoon. 

This way of life is slowly falling out of favour with some people. It could be that they’ve realised toxic productivity isn’t the answer. It could be the acknowledgement that success isn’t defined by hard work only. “There’s the idea that nothing worth it ever comes easy. The pandemic has helped people reprioritise and reflect on what is really important to them. In today’s socio-political climate and economic uncertainty, they are realising that working hard isn’t necessarily getting them all that promised success, and that work will not give their life meaning. Add to this, an increased awareness and conversations about mental health discourse. People want some change,” says Farah Maneckshaw, therapist and research associate at counselling platform Kaha Mind.  

This is why people are opting for the ‘soft life’, a life focused on hustling less and living more. Urban Dictionary defines the ‘soft life’ as a life free of stress or worry and without hard work or sacrifice.

Soft living as a trend began with black women in Nigeria. The influencer community there started an aesthetic movement that saw them quitting the hard life for something that gave them peace. It was about finding a softer approach to life. It was about black women putting themselves first. Soon, #softlife started trending on TikTok before making its way West. 

Soft living is now a social movement. It’s not anti-work; it’s about setting boundaries and reducing stress. It’s not about being lazy or selfish, but about prioritising yourself and your health first. Marie Kondo got it right when she preached throwing out everything that doesn’t bring joy: be it a toxic workplace or a toxic relationship. 

At first glance, according to influencers and hashtags, soft living is luxurious: eating at fancy places, jet-setting around the world, buying designer things, and devoting time to yourself. There’s a heavy reliance on consumerism. In such a scenario, it is important to remember that not everyone can afford this soft life. A life of quiet luxury and the ability to cut back on work depends on your socio-economic status and can only be achieved or sustained if you are financially secure. “It cannot be a life of luxury unless you are loaded and don’t have to care about money. Else, this soft life cannot be a lifestyle, but possibly a break,” says Anand Doctor, a financial advisor who is part of 1 Finance’s Mumbai chapter and the founder of FinCare. He adds that to live a soft life, you either need to make more money or need less money. 

It brings us to the question: for those who don’t come from wealth, is it possible and financially viable to live a soft life? The movement hasn’t really discussed what it means to live a soft life financially. 

Doctor believes it is possible but requires some effort. To start with, he advises redirecting your career pursuits and getting into things that are more fulfilling for you. “It may still be hard work, but the fact that you like or love it (and not tolerate it for the paycheck) can make your life feel softer. Once you discover what you like to do in life, you may work harder, but it will feel better, and more peaceful and rewarding.”

Budgeting is important for those seeking to follow a soft life. “Get a clear picture of what your finances are and then make informed choices,” he says. He cautions against falling into a consumerist trap and instead advises spending money on things you really love or care about. “Figure out what you like and what your family cares about and redirect your money there. It will definitely make you happier than doing something just because others are doing it.” It is also important to plan for the future, “otherwise, your soft life today will become a hard life.”

Everyone should have their own idea of what can make their life softer. Maneckshaw believes it is hard to separate economics from the soft life. “Scale back on things that may be overwhelming or cause you to sacrifice too much of your well-being. Reclaiming rest and focusing on relationships is what I would see as being a little more anti-capitalist or anti-consumerist way to live a softer life.”   

Joanna Lobo is a freelance writer from Goa who specialises in writing about travel, food, culture, lifestyle, and all things Goan.

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