Will Sustainable Living Make You Happier?
Clean air, fresh water, green trees…I think everyone can agree that a clean, sustainable environment is better for everyone. We all agree that less pollution is better, along with less waste, biodegradable materials, green living, recycling and all the rest of it. But how many of us keep on living a less than eco-conscious lifestyle because we don’t have enough time or think it’s too hard or too expensive? What are we waiting for?
The fact is that, though we want a happy planet, we are all mainly busy with surviving in our own lives and pursuing happiness for ourselves. So, when we think about living green we think about what it’s going to take away from our personal happiness. Will preserving the environment always equate to personal sacrifice? Of course not. Actually it’s more accurate that environmental sustainability equates to our own emotional sustainability.
Nature Appeals to Our Senses
Of course, the first positive effect of a healthy environment that comes to mind is the simple joy of the outdoors. Who doesn’t feel emotional benefit when enjoying nature and the outdoors, i.e. camping, walking in the woods, smelling the flowers, etc? It feels physically exhilarating to exercise outdoors, breath the fresh air, and feel the weather. The landscape is pleasing to the eye and the overall peaceful atmosphere exploring a forest or picnicking in a field is calming to the mind. Just a short stroll outside in the sunshine, thereby soaking up much needed vitamin D, is a well known remedy for clearing one’s head–and for good reason. The physical sensations and sense stimulation of nature uplift one’s body and therefore one’s mood and emotions.
A Sense of Security in Preserving Our Environment
Those who try to live greener lives also enjoy the sense of well-being that comes with the knowledge that you are working for the benefit of the earth. Researchers Margaret Guiney and Karen Oberhauser’s interviews with volunteers in the Minnesota Master Naturalist program reported that many volunteers experienced a sense of satisfaction and well-being by working for conservation efforts, along with the joy of working outdoors. Undoubtedly, this is because mankind can instinctively grasp that the environment is precious, if only for our own survival and basic needs. Psychologist Tim Kasser, professor at Knox College, notes in his article, “[E]nvironmental degradation interferes with meeting these basic needs and sustainable environments promote satisfaction of these needs and thus increased well-being.” The planet is our home and sustains us, and protecting it not only gives us pleasure, it gives us security.
Sustainable Living Can Change You From The Inside Out
The really remarkable ways sustainability affects you psychologically are a little more subtle, however. The life you lead when you are trying to be conscious of your environment and other creatures in it can have a very dramatic impact because sustainable lifestyles lead to better health choices and also foster a mentality of compassion and connectivity. For example, a person could choose to walk or run as opposed to driving, and this leads to fitness. Then perhaps a person chooses to eat more organic produce as opposed to meat and animal products, a compassionate choice that leads to enhanced nutrition. By buying high quality eco-friendly items rather than cheaper clutter that soon ends up in the trash, one could tend to up with fewer but higher quality items that simplify your life rather than complicate it. The combined effect is not only a gentler eco-footprint but a healthier, more thoughtful existence. The change in one’s self is palpable because living in consideration of other creatures and their habitats does much to remind a person of their own humanity. An eco-conscious life can really change who you are on the inside.
Living Sustainably is Truly Living ‘The Good Life’
But, for a minute, let’s talk about the “creature comforts” afforded by being a heedless consumer. Does going green mean living lean? OK, perhaps it can sometimes. However, living environmentally conscious doesn’t just mean giving things up. Sustainability should not be viewed as a burden, but simply as a set of different viable and alternative choices. In short, we must change our perspective of what “living well” means. In an event centered around sustainable brands, Markus Terho and Sari Laine from the Finnish Innovation Fund recently presented a new survey on sustainability attitudes and everyday practices of people living and working in Finland. “It is not just the duty of companies, countries and governments, but also individuals to change their ways,” Terho said. “[Sustainable living] has to be tied to the idea of the ‘good life,’ not just about giving up or minimizing impact.” We need to realize that a sustainable life IS the real good life.
Now, let’s follow this logic for a bit. Take travel, for instance. Conserving energy with alternative transportation might seem an inconvenience, but as mentioned above, it can also mean healthier exercise by biking or walking. So, not only does it save money, but you have a healthy body. Good quality public transportation can also be less stressful, or driving in groups can be more interesting and communal than driving solo. You gave something up, but gained in the long term. And what about shopping and having nice things? Yes, choosing eco-friendly made from biodegradable materials, such as those offered by Tales by Trees, might seem prohibitively expensive. But, on the other hand, you tend to end up with higher quality things and actually a more upscale life with less rather than more. Try it for a while and you might be surprised.
These are only a few examples, but really just think about it this way: living green means we are preserving the sustainability of our environment, and therefore ourselves. Do we vacation in polluted squalor? Of course not. The real good life exists only in a lush, growing ecosystem. Eco-consciousness does not need to mean the death of industry, nor does it mean we must give up a comfortable way of life. Quite the contrary, it is simply a shift in industry practices and perspectives. Actually, sustainability has the potential to lead to the creation of better and more satisfying products. More importantly it creates a better you. All that we nurture in our environment will reflect back on ourselves. We can be as healthy, thriving and peaceful as the planet we nurture.