In Pursuit of Happiness

September 26, 2011 at 9:27 am 6 comments

In this blog, I’ve very often discussed happiness which at first glance may seem unrelated to sustainability.  However, as I see it, the two are quite inter-related because the fundamental drive of people, perhaps even the purpose of life is to find happiness.  In the world we are now creating, people believe they will be happier once they have x, y and z – usually things that can be bought.  Where our modern pursuit of happiness clashes with sustainability is that after we’ve bought x, y and z we realize we’re still not happy and develop a new list of things to buy that will make us happy.  And, little by little we are consuming our world.  From my experience I’ve found that happiness is found in our relationships and not in our stuff.

The engine of our world economy is our consumption and this creates problems not only in terms of environmental sustainability, but also has consequences in how it creates poverty.  So much of our consumption economy is simply driven by corporations, businesses and advertisers need to feed their profitability by fulfilling peoples search for happiness. If I am correct that it is relationships that foster happiness then, this is a huge distraction of resources, wasteful and is contributing to other people’s poverty.

The question then is how do we build a civilization that contributes to relationships?  I think the answers already exist and have a proven track record.  For example, pedestrian friendly communities help people to know their neighbors and develop a sense of connection with their community.  Public transit is a major element that contributes to the pedestrian culture.  Local economies literally allow people to invest in their own communities and the welfare of the people that create it.  Systems that require less work create less stress and more family time.  And, finally communities that utilize sweat equity rather than taxes create a greater sense of connection not only with the community, but with the idea of self-governance and responsibility to their community.

One of our obstacles to making fundamental changes to our world stems from public confidence in several myths about our civilization.  The first is the images of happiness that I’ve just discussed.  Once we realize that happiness cannot be found in buying stuff and that it is found in our relationships with each other, we will change our priorities.  A huge myth is that somehow if we keep doing what we’re doing that poverty will disappear.  Well, the devil is in the details and the current system is built upon economic inequity.  And, the prosperity that billions of people have experienced relies on a resource bubble that is unsustainable.  This brings up the next myth that life is getting better: While this may have been true in the past, we’ve reached a critical point in our population growth, use of natural resources and people’s tolerance of social inequity.  A sustainable system does not try to have people live without stuff, but rather recognize what is enough.  People need to come to terms with the reality that it is not important to live like a millionaire nor should that be their goal.

No one can make anyone else happy, but we can certainly make it easier for everyone to achieve by designing and building systems that contribute to the greater goal of happiness.  Ultimately, I believe the movement to sustainable systems will result from a rising awareness of our consumption of resources and its impact on our fellow man and will result in voluntary societal restraint of our consumption of products.  While the Sustainability Puzzle is attempting to address the built elements of our world, I’m trying to tackle both sides of the happiness equation.  I’ll soon be releasing an ebook with the working title of Liking Yourself to address the existential challenges of being happy.  While these writings are probably inadequate to change our world, I’m doing what I can with the limited resources at my disposal.


Entry filed under: Consumerism, Design, Environment, People, Philosophy, Sustainability, Thoughts. Tags: , , , .

Manifesting the Golden Rule Reframing the Sustainability Argument: It’s about How We Organize Ourselves

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tincup  |  September 26, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Excellent post. Although the prospect of making any progress in the points you outline, one must nevertheless put the thoughts down on paper (or post). I have attached a couple links below that are relevant to your post. Bottom line, as time goes on, I am afraid we will know longer imagine what could be.

  • 2. Nicole Brait  |  February 29, 2012 at 8:12 am

    Very interesting and thought provoking.

  • 3. K.  |  March 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I concur.

  • 4. katemcspadden  |  March 21, 2012 at 6:19 am

    You are so right about the some basic elements of the human heart contributing to the growing problem – so many of the ills of our world today can be traced back to basic misdirected desires of the heart. I am reading a book by Jen Hatmaker called 7:An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. It is a great easy (yet challenging) read about the over-consumption/consumerism among the wealthiest populations (us). In it she quotes a report from the United Nations that states that 20% of the world’s population who live in the wealthiest countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures – and the poorest 20% consumes a mere 1.3%. And of course, what the wealthy consumers are buying is the problem – unnecessary goods that are manufactured irresponsibly.

  • 5. Marlen  |  March 23, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    I agree, you should definitely check out what we are proposing to create a system based in common sense and equality – my blog with these topics is different from the one you read today, it is

    Thanks for posting

  • 6. Painter Lady  |  March 25, 2012 at 8:53 am

    I’ve found some good reading here, in your various posts. I’ll be hanging out a bit because I am really feeling frustrated lately with a ‘will of the people’ who turns a blind eye to so many of the important issues, for the sake of the economy, politics/popularity and because smart people who have invested themselves in sustainability efforts are viewed as ‘bleeding hearts’. Thank you.


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