Sustainable Happiness. “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

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!

hpiWith 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.

green worldWe 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.

Sustainable Happiness. “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

The Light Bulb Conspirancy: Planned Obsolescence.

“The light bulb conspiracy” is one of those documentaries which not leave you indifferent; it hits a nerve and develops a critical spirit on you.

ligh bulb conspirancy

It discusses the issue of planned obsolescence, that is to say the scheduled reduction of the useful life of some products to increase their consumption. The documentary begins with the example of a printer and discovering the real reason why it has stopped working. Then, it starts by explaining the origins of this plan, which lies in the creation of a cartel (Phoebus). This cartel consisted in changing the light bulbs’ manufacturing patents with the aim to last only 1000 hours. And up to cases such as cars, nylons and latest products-generation such as iPods (with a battery of only 18 months for the purpose you have to buy a new appliance when finished). It was between the decades of 1920-1930 that the following idea emerged: An item which did not break down was a tragedy for businesses and for their employers. So since then, the fact that there is the need to create fragile products or with a limited lifetime has been promoted. Therefore, sales and profitability remain constant, thus the global economy can keep going. The businesses defend themselves saying that the consumers are free to buy whatever they want. Let us not fool ourselves; nowadays advertising and fashion have a lot of influence in our consumer society.


The film fulfils its goal, to make you think about consumerism in a society of constant growth. Where there is this cycle of constant acceleration of production, consumption and waste. It makes you consider the fact that if we carry on with this model a day when we run out of resources will come. So, additionally, we should take into account that “there is an infinite progress head in a finite planet.” One important consequence to keep in mind is that with greater consumption comes higher waste. The documentary wisely shows us that a large amount of waste end up in Ghana, Africa. They enter the products with the label of second-hand ones. There, they try to repair and use the again, but mostly they end up in landfills increasingly full.

Finally, the film gives a few examples and an interesting proposal: That is essential to create more laws to ensure that companies eliminate their products in an environmentally friendly way. I totally agree with it and we should start finding ways and alternatives to reconsider this existing planned obsolescence and rethinking the values of our present society and economy.
I believe it is a complicated issue, but today there are already moves up against this planned obsolescence. Should we need to start asking ourselves these challenges and promote them? Of course, yes. We need to try changing and overcoming the barrier that one day Gandhi said:ghandi

The Light Bulb Conspirancy: Planned Obsolescence.

Towards Sustainable Cities. Strenghtening social bonds in Barcelona.

“It is not logical that in a Mediterranean city the majority of roofs are closed and do not have any kind of use”. This was remarked a few months ago by Barcelona’s city Mayor, Xavier Trias. I have to say that I totally agree with it.

If you have a look to an aerial photography of Barcelona, apart from acknowledging the imposing Sagrada Família and the perfect grid of the Eixample neighbourhood, you will probably see the lifeless, colourless roofs of the buildings. Roofs full of grey air conditioning systems and abandoned ropes for spreading clothes.

barcelona aerial This is a pity. A vibrant and warm city like Barcelona could do it much better. Who does not like to spend summer nights in a green roof with a gentle breeze and the lights of the city at your feet? Or winter middays under the sun that warms us up a bit? These communities’ rooftops could provide a neutral space within which people and neighbours come together and social interactions could occur. A sense of connectedness could arise and foster trust and cooperation among these individuals. Besides, these social dynamics help promote community wellness and social cohesion, provide individual benefits, improved public health, and social resilience. All of these are critical components of a sustainable and well-functioning society. I believe it is very important nowadays when more of half of world’s population are living in urban areas. Therefore, Barcelona is starting to launch an aid plan for the roofs of the city to have environmental, energy-efficiency and community gathering uses. This measure will be based on economic aids and incentives to communities of neighbours who decide to transform their roof. The Deputy Mayor for Urban Habitat, Antoni Vives, said that “if we recover all the roofs we could gain a surface area of 1,700 hectares, equivalent to two districts of the Eixample.” Actually, the present building standard commands that all the new municipal buildings including offices or social protected apartment blocks, must have community’ roofs. It is being done, for example, in the new Barcelona municipal library in the neighbourhood of Vallbona, which will have a green rooftop. A green roof is now widely recognised, for example, as a means of improving air quality and for providing greater thermal performance and roof insulation for the buildings they are laid rooftop So, it is a very good idea to promote this kind of roof and also made it accessible to neighbours to promote the benefits of these community’s social strengths. This Barcelona plan is very interesting and it should be done in more urban areas. A more sustainable and resilient city is always a good idea. Come on, it’s hip to be green!

Towards Sustainable Cities. Strenghtening social bonds in Barcelona.