Cameron Wigmore, Green Party Member: Happiness Is...

December 17, 2007

Happiness Is...

An excellent article by Bill McKibben exploring how the environment that sustains us has become very relevant to economics, and how a new shift in focus on well-being can help people understand the relationship between economic activity, our quality of life and the environment.

The Green Party already has extensive policy (also found here, and in other places throughout the federal party's website) on the interconnectedness of the environment, the economy and societal well being. And if this article isn't enough reading on the subject for you, I've blogged on it before as well.

From the article:

...we were so deeply enmeshed in the rhythms of consumer culture that challenging it in any real way seemed anathema. You could really see this attitude at work in the negotiations around the World Trade Organization. Relentless expansion of the international economy was the central business at hand – labour and environmental concerns could be discussed, but as ‘side agreements’. We were, literally, in the margins; the economic worldview loomed so large that all else was in its shadow.

But that’s begun to change – or soon will. Or could, anyway, if environmentalism begins to transform itself from a fixation on filters and light bulbs to a new fixation – on human satisfaction. For a very long time, ‘happiness’ has been considered a soft topic, something that hippies and sandal-wearers bothered themselves with and the actual world ignored as it went about the important business of More. In the past decade, however, economists, aided by psychologists and sociologists, have begun to question some of their assumptions...

...British economist Richard Layard, who has written a great deal about this work, says: ‘We now know that what people say about how they feel corresponds closely to the actual levels of activity in different parts of the brain, which can be measured in standard scientific ways.’ People who call themselves happy also seem happier to their friends, live healthier lives, and so forth.

Which allows you to start doing something interesting. It allows you to start reversing two centuries of reductionism. Instead of asking: ‘What did you buy?’, you can ask someone: ‘Is your life good?’ And once you’ve asked that, you’re in position to ask the most subversive question there could be: ‘Is “more” better?’

Because if more really is better, then environmentalism is a lost cause. There aren’t enough Powerpoint slides of calving icebergs to turn things around.

But if more isn’t necessarily better, then there are possibilities.

And so here’s the bottom line. We’ve become significantly richer, but not significantly happier...


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2 comments:

Tony Trepanier said...

Our level of happiness (as measured) has not risen over time with our wealth. However, that doesn't mean that economic growth is worthless. People(in rich countries) have a "sort-of" access to the past through relocating to poorer parts of the world. Yet we don't see people moving from rich nations to poorer nations. This is pretty good evidence that wealth does serve the purpose of making people happier.

Cameron W said...

Hi Tony,

Interesting points. I recently came across this article: Calgary's wealth brings no happiness