Will a sustainable future make everyone happier?

If you are reading this then you probably are interested in Sustainability. I am also assuming that we also agree on the fact that the human species on earth needs to strive being more sustainable because the way we live at the moment is not sustainable at all.

The purpose of today’s post is to briefly discuss the topic of happiness and its relationship to our sustainable future as I see it.

I am a happier person ( I know the term “happiness” is a bit general but lets just use it for the purpose of this post) because I have the opportunity to make a difference and promote a more sustainable way of doing business by providing companies with insights which help them to be more sustainable. The same is true for my personal life. I do not need to consume excessively  in order to be happy and I am keen to live my life as sustainable as possible.

But here is the issue. The reality is that the majority of people on this globe will not be a happier if we all try to live a more sustainable life. Aspects such as consumption and product variety will be hardest hit one we decide to lie a more sustainable lifestyle and the so called consumer-culture will quickly be a phenomenon of the past my view. In the end everything will have to be consumed in moderation because of our limited resources and everyone, from the rich and poor, will have to make cut backs and change the way they live life.

The big question
But can we as a species really adapt to consume in moderation, realistically scale down, make economic progress and be happier all at the same time?

My view
My answer is a clear ‘Yes we can’, simply because WE MUST change our ways. I also believe that we will find ways to innovate as well as be more sustainable. And this goes for each member of our society: Businesses, governments and individuals. Once we are finding ways to combine these different aspects happiness will be a consequence.

This is one of the big and important questions with regards to Sustainability in my view. I know that I am doing my best to convince my family and friends to live more sustainable (sometimes more effective and sometimes less unfortunately) but the crucial question is whether the majority of people on our planet will do the same.

My personal view on this particular topic is that we have no choice. WE NEED to make it possible. This is part of the purpose of Sustainability in my view. I also believe that in the end all of us will be happier then ever before because we, as a species, made change happen and paved the way for a more sustainable future for us and the generations to follow.

This is my view. What is  yours?

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36176995@N05/3343552223

No Comments

  1. Hi Fabian, and interesting and positive post.
    Though I do challenge one part of it "But here is the issue. The reality is that the majority of people on this globe will not be a happier if we all try to live a more sustainable life". This is a huge statement and the sentence that follows relating it to increasing consumption isn't born out by research comparing wealth (and consumption) and happiness – done in the developed world over the past 50 years. The argument is that our economic system isn't build to deliver fulfillment and to meet the fundamental human needs we need to live sustainably. We can live sustainably if we use materials better and value materials (and consumer goods) differently. By understanding what makes us happy and fulfilled we should then start developing the mechanisms to deliver which may be less 'stuff' (within defined sustainability constraints) and more human capital (relationships, empathy, love etc).
    The challenge we have is challenging the system to help it adapt to one that aligns with sustainability (at all levels) rather fights against it.


    Simon twitter: simontgoldsmith

    1. Thanks for the comment and challenge SImon. This is what I want. :- ) On your point: Yes it is a huge statement and obviously based on my experience so far and looking at my field of influence. And I must say that I am constantly surprised how little individuals are actually doing to change their lifestyle. It also seems to me that 'happiness' is more and more something you can purchase in form of a treat during shopping or other leisure activities.

      I really like your statement that we need to challenge the system. I totally agree. But haven't we tried this already over the past 15 years? What would be the next level of challenge? Have we been successful?

      1. Hi Fabian, thanks for your response. Yes I agree it is surprising (and extremely concerning) how little people are doing to change their lifestyles even to a slight degree let alone the shift we need. Consumption is sold as the happiness ‘creator’, though a short-lived and empty one…

        One view I have is that the environmental sector, government and business have done a poor job at helping people understand the basic – fundamentals of sustainability. Sustainability only becomes important when we are able to all see it as important – as the foundation to our personal, social and economic well-being. So far it hasn’t been seen as important because in my view we have used incomplete and non-compelling ways of helping people learn that sustainability is not just about ‘recycling or ‘switching off lights’ but it is the foundation of how the world works, something we can’t ignore or wish away. The principles that make a sustainable society are easy to define and understand (for example The Natural Step), so far we haven’t applied them through education, work or communities, so we are therefore unable to use a common language to create solutions that move us towards becoming a sustainable society.

        Yes there is a challenge, though the tools are available for us to use, our choice is whether we decide to go shopping or whether co-create a sustainable future.understand some of the underlying problems that have to be dealt with.

  2. Fabian, do you think perhaps we will redefine happiness over time to value sustainability?

    1. Good question Lavinia. I think in a way we will once our values change and with it our appreciation for less consumption and more sustainable living if this makes sense.
      What do you think?

  3. Hi there,
    A challenging question you are posing here and one with no definite answer. How could we know? My guess is that as time passes human kind will keep evolving (just think about our evolution during the last 200 years). Desires and needs are likely to change and I'm almost certain that the source for hapiness won't come from consumption. In fact, buying stuff doesn't make me happy at all. Do we have a choice? Of course. There's always one – as suicidal as it might be. But then again, there have always been first movers and others that need to see the "sky fall down" to grasp what's at stake and seek protection.

  4. Throughout human history we never consumed in excess. Of course wasteful living was there in ancient and till the more recent times too but it was limited to very few people in society.. The average family, even at the best of times didn't really waste food that was painstakingly prepared or threw away the plough and got another because the paint on the handle was coming off.

    Wasteful consumption and unsustainable living was visible in Western societies only in the past few decades. So it's not something that human society would miss if it peters out. Do we miss horse carriages for transportation? Yet horse carriages have been around in history for a comparatively far longer period

  5. Sorry for not being to the point.Blame it on slopping editing.

    My point is, sustainable living- if we interpret it as non wasteful living was the rule, rather than exception if you look at human history. And there was no evidence that people were on the whole unhappy all the time.

    While exact parallels cannot be drawn with earlier times (the exponentially rising population is the biggest game changer) with newer systems and processes, sustainability can still improve everyone's quality of life. And a better quality of life is one of the important aspects of happiness.

    1. Interesting. Thanks for clarifying. I totally agree with you on the better quality of life aspect. Very well said.

  6. I think actually world-wide sustainability AND happiness for most if not all, are achievable. The ones who will not be happy are those who *benefit* from the excess of consumerism. But happiness is not about material possessions.

    Shel Horowitz, GreenAndProfitable.com

    1. Good point. But a lot has to change in order for us to be able to have this win-win situation in my view. I also think we will always have the benefiters from any excessive consumption. What do you think?

      1. Yes, certainly. Until they feel so much shame and public pressure that they change their ways. (rare, I know.)

  7. I love the link between sustainability and happiness, as we can only be happy on this planet if our actions support the long term health of all. In my view, whenever actions support the greed of a few, the majority suffers greatly. But can society change and support this approach? That's a tough one to predict.

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