You won't find the term plastered on a billboard or promoted in ads on TV. There's not a particular snack-food company making money off this term, or using the word as its catchphrase in magazines and commercials. It's not affecting anyone politically. It's not causing controversy on Facebook. The term is not the subject of anyone's conversations at the dinner table. But the word "granola" and the ideals that accompany it have become a presence in the lives of many around us. It's a fad, a revolution, a phase; whatever you want to call it. There is a shift in society that is creating a new culture, and the term "granola" has already been coined to describe it.
Check your friends' Pinterest boards, and you'll likely find one with detailed plans for a trip around the world, full of exploration. Take a walk in the park and try not to be thrown off by the large number of Eno hammocks and Chaco-clad youngsters you find. I challenge you to scroll through Instagram and not find several posts about her most recent backpacking trip or his most recent mountain-climbing accomplishment, with a hashtag or comment labeling the individual as "so granola."
The people you interact with every day have dreams and plans of traveling from here (wherever "here" is) to there (wherever "there" might be). They want to make that journey fun; they want to make it exciting; they want to make it something worth telling stories about. There is a widespread longing for adventure and for the outdoors.
Maybe the longing has always been present, and I'm just now noticing it. However, I do believe that this "granola" lifestyle is just now becoming a culture all its own. Camping trips and hikes with friends have become more appealing, to many, than trips to amusement parks like Six Flags or Worlds of Fun. Paying to go paddle boarding or kayaking seems like a better idea than paying to see a movie. And driving cross country to the closest (or better yet -- farthest) national park has never sounded like a better idea.
So why is this? Why do we all want to be "granola"?
Is it because a higher altitude makes our Instagrams more impressive? Is it because we like the opportunity to compare our own water bottles, outdoorsy brand-name stickers, and hiking gear with our friends? Or maybe it's the tan lines? Maybe we're all just looking for a way to get darker than we were last summer.
There is truth is all of these reasons- but I don't think they're the bottom line. You see, there are lots of ways to get lots of likes on your most recent Instagram picture. We've always had the opportunity to compare our own materialistic things with those of others. Tanning beds have been an option for years -- and some people would rather not get tan at all.
So why the obsession with this new "granola" culture?
I think it's something more than meets the eye - this desire for a simpler, more natural, more "nitty-gritty" way of living that goes beyond social media, material things, and image -- or at least, is trying to. In fact, I think the essence of "granola" culture is just that: striving to start treating material, everyday things as they should be treated -- as tools, and nothing more. The adventures that result from the pursuit of a "granola" lifestyle are not focused on the materialistic, brand-name aspects of the journey. The most authentic version of the "granola" lifestyle is about so much more:
1. It's about facing challenges.
It's about testing yourself. It means learning more about your weaknesses when you fail to reach the top of a mountain or follow through with your trip to Europe. It means discovering your strengths when you finish the hike that turned out to be harder than originally anticipated. It's about expecting the unexpected, and accepting the unanticipated. There is a "next-level" that so many of us never even thought about reaching, and while the challenge of getting there is scary, it's also really attractive.
2. It's about discovery.
Self-discovery, yes, but also discovery of everything that is not made of you. The world is so big and you are so small. The desire for this "granola" lifestyle is about going back to the basics and realizing this. It's about realizing the person you are going to be tomorrow, and thinking about how you're going to get there. It's about discovering that today is the day you start becoming that person. It's about discovering that there is always going to be so much more for you to learn.
3. It's about separation.
Again, the normalcy of the life we all live can get to be a little too much for all of us, at times. There will always be companionship at work, or school, or home, or at the grocery store, or nearest festival, or one of the many apps on your phone that are constantly telling you to do more. But how rewarding is it to find yourself away, alone, in a hammock, with a book? That's the kind of thing we all need on a regular basis.
4. It's about awareness.
Not "raising awareness" -- not some sort of campaign or fundraiser, that you pin a ribbon to your chest and then run a 5k for, but simply being aware. Opening your eyes. Looking up instead of down. Listening to the sound of the wind instead of the email you're composing in your head. Self-awareness: Who are you? What is your relation to the world around you? Who is responsible for the voice in your head, that whispers little bits of revelation and realization into your soul?
5. Finally, it's about beauty.
Do you know why people love taking pictures so much? It's because there are so many things worth taking a picture of. People buy expensive cameras and phones to take on trips. They buy waterproof cases so they can document the way it looks when you go deeper than anyone else has. They buy GoPros and selfie sticks, and art supplies that let us paint pictures of all the parts of creation that we had forgotten existed.
We buy all these things - technology and backpacks and travel insurance and smoothies and granola bars that are supposed to make our bodies run more efficiently -- and in this pursuit of being "granola," it's easy to get lost in the midst of everything that can be bought. The opportunity, and the challenge, is always present: to start treating materialistic things the way they were intended to be treated -- as tools. Very useful tools, yes, but not as a source of anything. When you realize that all these worldly things we seek are simply tools, you're forced to ask yourself: where does the happiness come from? Where does the passion come from? What, or who, is the source of the part of all this that makes me feel alive? We want to answer these questions, and we want to remember the answers -- photographs, and sticker-covered water bottles, and passports full of stamps help us to do this. But at the end of the day, they are just tools. I think the essence of this trend, or fad, or phase -- whatever you want to call it -- is based on something deeper.
So many people have a desire for more. There is a communal desire for knowledge and separation and awareness and challenges and beauty - the "granola" culture is simply what happens when individuals start pursuing those desires.