This blog is devoted to achieving a happier, healthier and more environmentally sustainable life without spending money. It may be a surprise to you that many of the same activities that will make you happier and healthier are also good for the environment. In fact, many of the aspects of our society that are making us less happy are ones that are making us less healthy and damaging the global environment.
Although health and environmental protection have always been important to me, I had not prioritized happiness in my life, but still I was relatively happy. Several years ago I found myself working in a field where the natural environment did not seem to matter, the people were generally unfit, unhealthy and certainly did not prioritize health. I became very unhappy as my stress levels climbed which then started causing stress related health problems.
I have learned through the study and application actions related to health and fitness, wellbeing, and climate change that health, happiness and the environment are closely intertwined.
How happy and healthy are you?
Are you happy in yourself? Do you feel good and healthy or has your health professional(s) suggested changes to your lifestyle?
If you have areas you really feel need improving, you are not alone. In many consumer based societies happiness is decreasing. There are many indicators of our societal health, one interesting indicator is the Happy Planet Index published by the New Economics Foundation in the UK. The index takes into account wellbeing, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes and ecological footprint. The top ranked country out of 140 countries is Costa Rica, with Canada at #85, UK at #34 and the USA ranking at #108. The UN World Happiness Report ranks consumer based societies much higher as they take into account current economic data.
Why should we care about rankings such as the Happy Planet Index? It gives us a window into the future for example poor wellbeing and inequality of outcomes in society can result in poor health and poor societal wellbeing in the future. The index really does tell us about happiness, health and the environment.
You may be asking how can I be happier, healthier, and more environmentally sustainable? I am already maxed out, I don’t have the time, money or the energy between working, trying to keep fit, shopping, preparing food, looking after my family etc.
Are you maxed out?
Have you ever tried doing less? Humans are often trying to maximize, rather than optimize things and experiences. We assume that if a little of something is good then more must be better, which consumer marketing exploits. This is simply not true for many areas of our lives. Let us illustrate this with a beautiful, delicious looking dessert, I can eat one piece and feel wonderful and really enjoy it. The greedy part of me wants another piece wanting to repeat and increase that feeling of satisfaction. So I start eating a second piece and I don’t feel as good, I feel overfull and maybe a bit sick. More was not better, there is such a thing as enough.
Another example that sticks in my mind comes from the time I worked at a manufacturing company. They regularly held”continuous improvement” activities in areas of the facility that had workflow, delivery and/or high defect rates. The manager in charge would say “If ten events a year don’t work then next year we will do twenty… ”. What happened? Everyone would spend so much time trying to do all these action items that their day to day jobs did not get done. The product scrap rate soared and the company started losing a lot of money. The replacement manager cancelled all the events and went back to basics so that staff could figure out what the real issues were and what should really be focused on.
When we are not in the happy place we want to be, we try to take more and more action to move ourselves forward. We can become so stressed and scattered that we are not doing anything well and no longer enjoy the activities we are doing.
What we need to be healthy
In order to live a vital life, prevent disease and optimize the chance for disease remission the following 9 things are needed, according to Lissa Rankin M.D.:
- healthy relationships
- a healthy, meaningful way to spend your days
- healthy, fully expressed creative life
- healthy spiritual life
- healthy sexual life
- healthy financial life
- healthy environment
- healthy mental and emotional life
- healthy lifestyle that supports the physical health of the body.
What we need to be happy
According to Psychology Today happiness is a state of wellbeing that encompasses living a good life that is with a sense of meaning and deep satisfaction (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/happiness) . They describe that much of happiness is under personal control, but that achieving happiness typically involves times of considerable discomfort and requires growth and adventuring beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone. Specific actions that increase life satisfaction are:
- regularly indulging in small pleasures
- getting absorbed in challenging activities
- setting and meeting goals
- maintaining close social ties
- and finding purpose beyond oneself.
Once the basics of housing, food and clothing are covered, money does not buy more happiness. The well-being of our neighbours, communities and natural environment also contribute to our own happiness.
What we need to have a healthy environment
There are two parts of the environment we need to consider, the local environment and the global environment. We need to have clean air, water and soil in our local environment just to survive. Since we live as part of an interconnected web of life we need to keep our larger ecosystems healthy to support life including plant and animal life. Ultimately we need to reduce our resource use so that we each live on our fair share of the planet’s renewable resources and maintain both local and global ecosystems.
What are the benefits?
The benefits of moving towards a happier, healthier, greener life are huge. The benefits include feeling better in and about yourself, improving community connections and improving both our local and global environment.
We are going to explore these three intertwined parts of our lives. Future posts will include actions and fun steps to move us forward in our journey.