For the uninitiated, living an ecologically friendly lifestyle may seem like a hassle, another chore to be added to the list of things to do every day. Being careful with the types of products you buy and putting in the effort to recycle and reuse is not what many in our society are used to. But, like most things that require thoughtfulness and effort, making the switch towards “going green” can actually be fulfilling and add a dimension to our lives that we may not have expected.
Conserving energy with LED light bulbs, shopping for California avocados at your local organic store, and frying sustainable seafood is all good fun but who could have thought that all this living green can actually make us happier? When you think about it, it makes sense – when we choose to live a life that’s more in line with our values and the natural laws of nature, we automatically improve our own well being. Below, I offer a few small small changes that can further improve your connection to environment and make you proud of your daily activities and the overall direction of your life.
Find Your “Ecosophy”
Living a green lifestyle implies a concern that the things we’re doing to the world aren’t sustainable. That worldview—while probably true—can turn into fear. Some ‘eco-freaks’ make eco-friendly living a pedestal, an obsession, or a religion. In these extreme cases, it is no longer a happy middle path—it’s a time sink, a phobia, a soapbox.
Back in the 1980s, the Norwegian book Ecology, Community, and Happinessworked with the idea of living happily with the ever-present concern for the environment and the world. Original author Arne Naess and student David Rothenberg write that the key to a happy co-existence with eco-living is to find a system of belief—a world view or an “ecosophy” that helps us guide our actions and live in line with our values.
Each person can come to value green living (and different kinds of green living) through his or her own thought process. The more individual belief mixes with a widespread movement, the more traction the movement will get—and the happier we’ll be as individuals and as a group.
Live Your Core Values
A 2005 well-being study in the journal Social Indicators Research showed a statistically significant correlation between increased ecological awareness and an increased sense of satisfaction and well-being in one’s life. The philosophical idea of green awareness as a path to sustainable happiness is now being borne out by science.
“Lifestyle change” is a central tenet of most eco-friendly habits. Over time, people make changes in the general structure of day-to-day living to bring the things they consume and the things they throw away more into line with their eco-friendly ideas. According to some theorists, it’s this intentional change that allows people to feel some control over their own destinies—gaining a kind of “agency,” or personal power and decision, over the larger industrial systems that have controlled our choices for years now.
Japanese academic and thinker Wang Zhihe presented a conference paper in 2011 on the “Second Enlightenment.” Where the First Enlightenment was a period in Western thought that revered reason, logic, and science above all, the “Second Enlightenment” occurring now has more to do with balancing reason and possibility, emotion and logic, into a whole person. To Wang, people are “creative beings” with the ability to “create a new and harmonious relationship with nature” in the 21st century.
The key to building an eco-friendly life that brings happiness and a sense of well-being is to build small, sustainable lifestyle changes that add up to a life more in line with the things you believe are most important. No one else can tell you how to “go green”—and that may be the most powerful part of today’s “eco” revolution.
Design Your Life
The principles of “lifestyle design” pull from architectural and fashion-related design concepts to build a life that feels intentional. Instead of getting pulled this way and that by moment-to-moment desires and impulse buys, what happens if you give yourself the time to build some guidelines for how you want to live—and then act on them? Combining lifestyle design with a green ethic is a valuable way to build lifestyle goals that you can reach and stick to a little at a time, so you create daily habits that make you proud to be you.
Re-Design the World
Right now, whole economies and societies are built on the idea of “economic growth”—that things are healthy and all is right with the world when the people and companies that produce things are getting bigger… and bigger… and bigger. The problem is that kind of growth just can’t be sustained indefinitely.
Economic writers presented their research and ideas on green economics at the “International Conference on Happiness and Public Policy” on the emerging idea of “green growth” in economics. According to their study, wealth and happiness were not dependent on one another—despite common misconceptions around the world.
Instead, they said, policy makers should focus on reforms in business, government, and society that would build an emphasis on Green Growth—sustainable economic growth that minimizes today’s rampant consumerism in favor of industrial and monetary practices that are more in line with peoples’ values and overall happiness.
Enough Is Enough
No matter how green you go, choosing to live a simpler life with fewer packaged, manufactured things is part of the deal. Make your money count—buy quality, long-lasting items made with green ethics. Buy quality clothes made from sustainable materials that will last and reduce the carbon-footprint of clothing production. Buy an all-natural latex mattress instead of a cheap, industrial inner-spring that will be in a landfill in five years. Choose whole foods that are healthier for the body and send less packaging to the dump.
When you have enough, let it be enough—don’t fall prey to commercials, impulse buys, or the “need” for more. And say “enough is enough” to the world’s producers of things by choosing lasting, quality goods that make sound ecological choices. You’ll be surprised at how much happier you can feel when you live an intentional life filled with decisions that reflect the person you are.
Author: Michelle Gordon is a sleep expert who researches and writes about sleep and health.