Happier people, healthier planet

How putting wellbeing first would help sustain life on Earth – a guest post from Teresa Belton, author of Happier People, healthier planet

happier peopleHappier People Healthier Planet addresses the diametrically opposed issues of personal wellbeing and ecological destruction, and brings to light how these concerns, which are normally considered to be disparate and discrete, are actually intertwined in many complex and subtle ways. Clearly, the condition of the planet’s eco-systems impacts on human health and happiness. But the relationship is not simply one-way.  This book argues that carefully attending to and investing in what really matters for individual and social thriving will also protect the environment.

Most human beings are strongly attracted to material possessions, novelty and ever greater comfort and convenience. Paradoxically though, growing affluence has not resulted in increased subjective wellbeing; indeed, consumer society is witness to much unhappiness. Even worse, our unchecked appetites for ‘stuff’ are fast undermining the delicately balanced life-support system provided by the natural world, on which human and other life depends. So it is welcome to realise that it is perfectly possible to live a rewarding life without consuming much more than we really need. It is urgent that we all make this discovery if we are to preserve the hospitality of the Earth.

For those of us who have secure housing, food, warmth and some degree of choice in how we live, reducing our material expectations is much easier when we come fully to appreciate that wellbeing is not generated by money, possessions, ease and outer image but by a multitude of ‘non-material assets’ such as good relationships, a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning, contact with nature and exercising creativity.

Happier People Healthier Planet considers many factors and influences that are likely to dispose individuals to build a store of non-material assets which will enable them able to enjoy living in ways that are sustainable. In exploring questions such as the development of personality and values, and the significance of playfulness, spirituality, and secure attachment in infancy, the book shows how the intimately personal has globally ecological implications.

Informed and illustrated by insights from a wealth of sources, both academic and popular, Happier People Healthier Planet also incorporates a study of willingly modest consumers in Britain, passing on to readers the thoughts and experiences contributed by a wide variety of women and men who actively pursue all manner of fulfilling lives of relatively low material demands. These modest consumers offer challenge, inspiration and reassurance in the search for better ways of living.

One Reply to “Happier people, healthier planet”

  1. This book contains quite a few insights that may help us on our Joy in Enough journey, insights that I’ve not found elsewhere.
    In particular, it’s third and fourth propositions.The third is about the need for us all to cultivate the skills and qualities to be able ‘to enjoy to the full the many sources of real well-being. The fourth is about developing the emotional capacities which will help us respond constructively to the big challenges and changes ahead of us all.
    I was reminded of something I read in the business and environment lit in the 1990’s by Duncan MacLaren (then with Friends of the Earth) to the effect that when physical resource use becomes very constrained the firm that fully develops the ‘human resource’ – the skills of its people – will be at an advantage. Teresa, in effect, generalises the same principle beyond the world of work. It is also at least a credible proposition that one of the best antidotes to consumerist pressures is active engagement in gardening and craft work, community cultural and sporting activities – all of which require skill development: the ‘soft side’ of the transition to the new economy, as it were.
    So particular chapters or passages I’d recommend reading include:
    Chapter ten on nurturing playfulness – reflecting Teresa’s expertise in the role of play in child development; pages 255-9 on the (rather negative) role of the electronic screen in relation to play, citing the work of Susan Greenfield, are particularly worth reading.
    Chapter eight on the importance of spiritual values: ‘… trust, kindness, generosity, humility, honesty… link us with each other and with the natural world…’
    Chapter twelve on the personal qualities and capacities for building a better future. This takes you on a fascinating journey covering such areas as optimising our capacity to experience wellbeing, wellbeing and the climate, resilience, attachment theory, and developing a new culture from birth.
    A minor crit, reflecting my personal crusade: could we all challenge the use of the term ‘growth’ as used in ‘economic growth’ (as Teresa uses it)? Growth is an implicitly positive word in our language. Let’s just talk about ‘increasing GDP’ or something boringly technical sounding, instead
    Don’t read this book for its macroeconomic critique of the existing order. It touches on these questions, attempting to summarise the literature. But it might be a book to put in the hands of people from the worlds of education, child development, social work etc, people who often think that the worlds of political economy and climate change have nothing to do with them. Equally it can be given to ‘hard’ economists or scientists who need to learn something about the human skills and capacities required for the transition to the political economy they advocate.
    Tony Emerson Feb 2019


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