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Happy Person, Happy People, Happy Planet

31 Aug 2017 | Satish Kumar

World In Drop

A new, inclusive and holistic concept of wellbeing is coming to the fore, embracing sustainability, resilience, fairness, care for the Earth and all living beings.

The true meaning of 'wellbeing' has often been very narrowly interpreted and misunderstood. It has been associated with personal growth and personal development; a search for job satisfaction, work/life balance, more time for yoga, walking, gardening and resting. But this view is changing.

Radical ecologists are now proposing a decrease in economic output, a reduction in material consumption, the setting of limits to our use of non-renewable resources, and an increase in the growth of human wellbeing and the wellbeing of planet Earth.

The commitment of governments across the globe to the singular goal of growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is being questioned and a new understanding is emerging. Economists, industrialists and policymakers are realising that GDP is not enough and nor is it a guarantee of a good society. For many seemingly wealthier countries, GDP has moved exponentially upwards but the health and happiness of the population have fallen. At the same time the stress on our natural resources has increased out of all proportion (peak oil is only the tip of the iceberg).

Wellbeing is being taken seriously

In recent years, a number of excellent initiatives have been founded demonstrating that this topic is now being taken very seriously. Cambridge University's Well-being Institute was established for the scientific study of wellbeing and the Happy Planet Index was set up by the New Economics Foundation (NEF). The Action for Happiness charity is now playing an increasingly pivotal role in promoting positive social change.

The government of Bhutan's initiative to measure Gross National Happiness (GNH) in place of Gross National Product (GNP) has started to inspire governments in the West that haven't had the courage to challenge the orthodoxy of GNP. European politicians are now talking about the need to focus on wellbeing and the influential World Happiness Report is now in its fifth year of publication, edited by influential economists such as Jeff Sachs and Richard Layard.

Afh Event

These are all good starting points. A shift of emphasis from exclusive attention to economic growth, high living standards, social mobility and materialism to a politics of wellbeing is very welcome.

How authentic is this shift from economic growth to growth in wellbeing?

The establishment is very good at hijacking or even stealing the words of the green movement and then carrying on with 'business as usual'. For example, the word 'sustainability' is often used both by politicians and business leaders, but when we then examine their actions and practices it is difficult to believe that they have understood the meaning of the word.

It appears they want to have their cake and eat it: they wish to achieve sustainability without disengaging themselves from the causes of 'unsustainability' such as globalisation, the free market, mass transportation and deep-sea oil exploration.

Afh Shift Poster

The truth is that if they wish to embrace wellbeing they will have to be more honest about it and turn away from their clear commitment to unlimited economic growth and the religion of materialism.

The interdependence of Wellbeing

Wellbeing is not merely an extrinsic value: it is an extrinsic and an intrinsic value at the same time. It is, in the long term, impossible for an individual to be happy when others are suffering from starvation, social injustice and wars. Also, how can an individual be healthy on an unhealthy planet? Health of the person and health of the planet are two sides of the same coin.

Individuals and communities live in a seamless web of relationships. If those relationships are flourishing, individuals and communities will flourish. If the web of relationships is in turmoil, there can be no tranquillity, no harmony in the lives of individuals, their families or their communities. Wellbeing is as much a spiritual value as it is an economic necessity.

Happy Outdoors

If we suffer from fear, anxiety, greed, anger, craving and selfishness, then wellbeing will remain a distant goal. But if we cultivate compassion, courage, caring, gratitude and humility, then wellbeing will be near at hand. Psychological wellbeing is a first step to social and environmental wellbeing, but without social and environmental wellbeing, psychological wellbeing will remain a distant dream.

We are happy only when we make others happy - it is a seamless process. If the forests are gone, if biodiversity is diminished, if water is polluted, if cruelty is inflicted on animals, then there can be no personal peace or social coherence. If human communities are damaged because of poverty and deprivation, then they will be forced to encroach more upon natural resources. Therefore social justice is an essential part of wellbeing.

So the big vision of wellbeing - which we will be exploring at the fifth Resurgence Festival of Wellbeing in London on Saturday 23rd September - is that it must be a personal, social and ecological whole: Happy Person, Happy People, Happy Planet!

Satish Kumar

Satish Kumar is a peace and environmental activist and Editor Emeritus of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine.

Festival Of Wellbeing

The Resurgence Festival of Wellbeing takes place on Saturday 23 September, 10am-6pm, at St James's Church, Piccadilly, London W1J 9LL, featuring leading speakers, change-makers and performers. Festival tickets cost £45/£35 Concessions.



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We are honoured that the work of Action for Happiness features in the book as an example of his ideas being put into practice.

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