Friday, 14 January 2022

Why happiness is good for the planet

What makes us happy?

Money? Stuff? Success? Relationships? Family? 

An increasing foundation of scientific research shows a significant linkage between personal well being and environmental behaviours. This is not a coincidence; it is a profound truth of crucial importance in the quest to create sustainable socities. It proves beyond a doubt that sustainability has nothing to do with sacrifice and everything to do with creating a better world for ourselves and our children. 

If you think about it from an anthropological point of view, it is not surprising. Happiness is an evolved trait that optimizes our behaviour for successful living and therefore survival. No surprise then that behaviour that harm ourselves and the planet are increasingly lowering our well-being and vice-versa.

According to EcoHustler, below are 5 of the top reasons why people are happier.

1. Living a more local life

Modern transportation brought a new era of individual freedom; however society has restructed it around a range of social problems; pollution, congestion, obesity, stress, respiratory problems and traffic accidents. When one's life revolves the same local area, it results in fewer resources used, less pollution, more time for leisure or family. Other well being benefits include a resurgence of active communities, greater closeness of people to the natural environment, improved safety and improved environmental quality of communities. 

2. More vibrant healthy communities

Walking or cycling to work, school and shopping increases your regular contact with people in your community. This is fundamental to improving wellbeing because human relationships are consistently found to be the most important correlation with human happiness. 

3. Connection to the natural world

Green people have an appreciation of their place within the great natural scheme of things and tend to feel closeness to other organisms and to wild spaces. This can be a source of inspiration and enrichment thoughout life. Caring for nature focuses ones attention out of oneself which helps to void the angst and self obsession that is a by-product of our individualistic consumer times. 

4. Less materliastic

People who are less interested in material things have a tendency to consume less and therefore use fewer resources and have a lower ecological footprint. These people are also usually happier than those who hold on to stuff and constantly crave for more. Once we have all that we need to survive (food, water, shelter), additional material things have less and less impact on our wellbeing. Many surveys have discovered that people were happier after spending money on experiences, rather than physical things. Socializing, sport, creative arts, performance, music, cooking, gardening, hiking - all are popular pursuits that increase happiness and reduce ecological footprints. 

5. Personal development

When we look at the 'Hierarchy of Needs' (as described by Abraham Maslow), we see that the lowest levels are occupied by physiological needs. As these are met, higher levels of needs emerge, these are termed growth needs and are associated with psychological needs. While our lowest needs must be met, our higher needs are continually shaping our behaviour. Marslow, who studied people such as Einstein and Roosevelt, declared that self-actualized people embrace facts and realities rather than denying or avoiding them; they are interested in solving problems, and have a system of morality that is fully internalised and independent of external authority. Personal development allows people to turn their attention and create energies to find solutions to big challenges, such as our collapsing biosphere.

Happiness vs GDP

Some argue that, GDP is crucial for governments to make investments that improve well-being for their citizens and protect the environment. But is it really so? The Venn diagram below compares the 10 highest-ranked countries in three categories; wealth, happiness and environment. 

The central takeaway from this diagram is the significant overlap between happiness and environmnt. Seven countries appear on both lists: Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Austria. Out of the tp environmental performance, the only countries that failed to earn a spot on the happiness list are the same ones that overlap with GDP (UK, France and Germany).

Click here to see Happiest countries in the World 2021 list

At a bare minimum, we can conclude GDP is not the most important factor in determining environmental sustainability and th well-being of people. That's because GDP only measures how much money a country has, not how it chooses to spend it!

For this reason, GDP can b counterproductive to happiness and the environment. But it doesn't have to be. Governments need to start seeing GDP as a limited measurement that factors into national progress, but is ultimately inferior to the measurement of happiness and environmental sustainability. Such a fundamental shift would allow lawmakers to prioritize the issues that save the planet while improving the lives of everyone on it.


If you want to be happy for an hour, get drunk.

If you want to be happy for three days, get married.

If you want to be happy forever, make a garden.

Chinese proverb