I blog about environmental and social justice issues because I am very concerned about the health of the interdependent web of life of which we are a part.

Melting Arctic ice.......beautiful and frightening!

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Friday, December 18, 2009

A Happier Way to Live

I had an epiphany yesterday  - I realized why people recoil when I discuss climate change.    I tell any audience that climate change is real - it is happening as we speak - I point to real world events like the melting of the ice caps and glaciers - the pine beetle killed forests in British Columbia - earlier springs - and I stress that, as a society we must DO SOMETHING about our greenhouse gas emissions.  However, the subtext to my words is "I demand that you change everything about the way you live - moreover,  I want you to restructure your mental maps of the world. " No wonder people look horrified, disbelieving, and anxious as they flee my company. Therefore, I'm going to add a section to my spiel: I'm going to tell folks that these changes will improve their lives. And my claim to a happier, more fulfilling life is backed up by evidence. What ? How on earth?

The nef (new economics foundation,) is an independent think tank that analyzes economic data.  They have created a new measure of well being: the Happy Planet Index. The HPI measures our wellbeing in terms of a meaningful , long life versues the resources we use to in living that life.  It turns our that OECD countries like Canada and the USA have seen a decline in life satisfaction since the 1960s.  This isn't surprising: scientific studies demonstrate 
the negative impacts of materialism. They range form poorer personal relationships through fewer good moods and lower self esteem to [an] incresed prevalcance of psychological symptons.
Which country tops the list for long life expectancy, high life satisfaction, and a low eco-footprint per capita?
Costa Rica.  Life satisfaction 8.5 / 10. Life expectancy at birth - 78.5 years.  Eco-footprint per capita 2.3 global hectares.   In fact, all of Latin America scores higher on the HPI index than Canadians.  Costa Ricans demonstrate that a happy life is possible without costing the earth.  But how / what / sputter ????????
The law of diminshing returns is ocurring in Canada and the States: once we have our basic needs met, more stuff and more income doesn't increase our satisfaction with our lives.  

But living sustainably, and giving up materialism as raison d'etre will increase our happiness.  Witness  Latin America:  although it has a horrible history, today it is unusual for two reasons. "One is the prescence of relatively unmaterilaistic aspirations and values. ... [And] social capital is particularly strong in the reagion.  Civil society is very active." (Closer to home,  one local professional stated that since he gave up driving to work and gocery shopping, his relationships with his children and his family have improved.) So our socity can give up materialsim, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and enjoy more life satisfaction.

You may, of course, do your own research on the Happy Planet Index at:

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