Personal Happiness and the Environment: A Sustainability Connection

In previous posts, I discussed the “Sustainability Prism”, the link between personal happiness and the economy, and the link between personal happiness and equity. In this post, I am exploring one more connection in this prism — the connection between personal happiness and the environment.

A common awareness all over the world now is that a major problem causing worldwide pollution, loss of natural lands, and extinction of species is overconsumption in the United States, and the developed world, in general. What is at the root of this overconsumption? Is it cheap production, and technology ‘improvements’ allowing for mass-production? Is it television and superb advertising of products? Is it the greed of rich and comfortable people?

All of these factors may help in the overconsumption process. They are even integral to the process. However, I would not say that they are the root of the problem. The root of the problem is the tendency to consume that results, on an even deeper level, from discontentment and a lack of personal happiness. If we have personal happiness deep within ourselves, we do not have a drive to consume. Even if the advertising is superb, and the products are cheap as nothing, if we are happy within ourselves, there is no pull to consume them. We see them, but we know they cannot add to our happiness, our peace and contentment. We have no drive to take in order to look for happiness, because we have found that happiness within. This is the root of consuming, or not consuming.

If we want to look for a solution to the problems of the world, the overconsumption and resulting environmental problems, we have to look inside ourselves and find a contentment, a true happiness, that does not want from the world and that does not find in the temporary happiness of ‘taking’ or ‘having’ anything that is comparable to the happiness that is within each of us, the soul of our life, the soul of happiness. Happiness is always found within — we look outside and see something that we think adds to ourselves within, but nothing adds to the true love of the soul. We cannot find that true love as long as we are looking out, and so we think our soul is a limited and possibly even a weak thing, but our soul is the most unlimited and happiness-producing thing in this world.

We look within, and we find the answers to our problems without.

For more on this topic, read:

Personal Sustainability: The Path to Worldwide Environmental Sustainability

Green is In, but What is Green? “Green” Lifestyles and Green Living

Environmental Degradation and the Self: the Link between the Two

Image credit: Zachary Shahan

  • Lori Allen

    Your ideas are very interesting but you seem to equate consumption only with unhappiness or some sort of personal deficiency or lack of character. This sort of Start Trek utopian idealism that “we all just find personal happiness we won’t be consumers any more” is very negative and even offensive to many people, including myself. Such ideals are just another way the green movement alienates people by indicating that they are somehow inferior for their petty human need to make their homes and environments beautiful and comfortable. Buying a new dress may be about how beautiful the dress is and appreciation for the talent of the designer and seamstress, not about how I am an empty, shallow person looking for something to fill my soul-less psyche and who is mentally weak and easily swayed by advertising. Similarly, recovering the couch or buying new garden furniture to create an outdoor living area may be about the basic human need to have a safe, happy, beautiful place home, not about “keeping up with the Jones’s”.
    While there are many people who consume mindlessly, equating consumption at it’s root with personal flaws or indicating that if we just rise above our petty human needs and wants we will stop consuming is the same sort of self-negation preached by most religious sects(including Buddhism/Zen). Self-negation is neither healthy nor desirable. It is just another type of mindlessness.

  • Allison

    My opinion: Most organized Religion is not about self-negation… At the heart of a spiritual quest is the search for what/who we are, as an individual, as a species. Materialism is about attachment to things. People confuse these ‘things’ with what we really want deeply = Love.
    We need some things… Much of what is marketed and consumed (at the expense of Mother Earth) we truly don’t need.

  • MFA

    All the more reason why we need to work harder towards protecting our environment, rather than watching our so-called leaders fumble the ball over and over as they did recently at the g8 summit:

  • Steven Jones

    Hi. This article is great.

    In the Word, it is made plain in Ecclesiastes that consumption is pointless. It is also made clear that the love of this world and specifically money is the “root” of all evil.

    You’ll find the love of money at the root of mass production schemes, milk-pushing ads, and immunization schedules.

    While I think this and all eco enviro-friendly articles miss the swing at “the point of life” while making a good point about sustainability, it would be a real stretch to say I was offended by it.

    “Pride, the more of it we have, the more we hate it in others.” C.S. Lewis

    I really hate pride.

  • cynthia irene

    This article along with others by this remarkable young man is dancing sweetly around the concept of a footprint. The lighter our footprint on earth, the more blessed we may be in touching the spiritual life that is the true source of happiness and contentment.

  • cynthia irene

    As regards my experience and concepts such as self denial — It is consummerism that encourages a sense of self denial — not the green spirted person — they are lighter freer in being. Graced with a lightness of native footprint. The opposite in fact of self denial seems to be what the young author is addressing.Wealth can be spiritual, can be artistic, can be of family love, can be of service work. Wealth can be associated with many ways of being and living. Certainly one feels weathy when breathing in a glimpse of unharmed nature of this world — self negation falls very far from detachment of materialism. In a world where one can now buy breasts — excuse me for this example — beauty is diminishing with materialism. As an artist I revel in diversity, and this I feel is the crux of what materialism denies.

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