What is happiness? What makes you happy? A new car, a bigger house, winning the lottery, a higher-paying job, power, fame, more friends, peace, less poverty, health, less body fat? The options are endless and everybody, of course, has the right to be happy. However, the way we define our happiness drives what we do and how we spend our time and money. The problem is that nowadays our society has become inclined to short-term contentment. Advertisers spend billions spreading that purchasing more stuff and consuming more will bring us happiness. Consequently, other problems have started to rise, especially in terms of greatest natural resources’ use and environmental footprint. In a time of changing climate and economic divisions, the challenge is to create the conditions that encourage us “to turn to each other, not on each other” (Jesse Jackson). It is more likely to carry out that in a more equitable world, and be happy about things that don’t cost the planet and other people or our future generations. As one day, the father of the Earth’s day, Gaylord Nelson, said: “There is a great need for the introduction of new values in our society, where bigger is not necessarily better, where slower can be faster, and where less can be more”. Therefore, don’t you think it should be better to start thinking about: What makes a life worth living?
A long-term happiness or well-being translated to a sustainable lifestyle could be the answer. In socioeconomic terms, we need to start not judging ourselves by what others do or have. On the other hand, environmentally, if we protect our planet’s ecosystems, it will mean clean water, healthy foods, a stable climate, and an equal happiness and opportunities for generations to come. Hence, sustainable happiness is compatible with a healthy environment, an equitable world, and our own fulfilment.
How can we measure whether this sustainable happiness is fulfilled? The New Economics Foundation has created the Happy Planet Index. It ranks countries based on their level of health, of well-being and ecological footprint (or rate of resource consumption). In other words, it tells us how effectively a country converts resources into human well-being. Importantly, it shows us that good, long and happy lives aren’t correlated with higher resources’ consumption or large ecological footprints!
With a quick glance, the countries closest to achieving happier and greener lives are in South and Central America. Basically, the high income countries’ low overall score is due to a large ecological footprint. For example, the happiest country, Costa Rica, has a consumption footprint which is less a quarter than those in the United States of America. Besides, people in Costa Rica have higher average life expectancy, satisfaction and well-being levels. In one interview I recently watched, I liked what one Costa Rican guy studying in the U.S. said: “I think Costa-Ricans put more emphasis on, you know, having a good, standard living and being more relaxed and enjoying”. Wouldn’t you like to live like this? It’s truly appealing.
Oppositely, I agree with some experts who believe that culture can bias the results. Especially within some Latin America’s cultures which people tend to respond to any type of question in a more positive way. So, I’m truly in to adopt and assess indexes such as the Happy Planet Index or the recent Better Life Index (by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) but always keeping in mind that governments shouldn’t use the positive perceptions as an excuse to ignore other problems.
We deserve to be happy and satisfied with our only one life but, at the same time, your neighbours and all the people and future generations do, too. There’s no need to be selfish. Therefore, in these times when sustainability and greener lives are needed, we can learn much from other countries about living happier and healthier with less consumption.
Well said: “There is a difference between saying that change is hard to achieve and saying that the average person will never do anything. One is a challenge, and the other is a cause for despair – Unknown”.
* Title quote: “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” by William James.