Eco-conscious People Are Happier People
This blog was originally posted on Happy Eco News.
What makes people happy? It’s the age old question that has divided philosophers, psychologists, and even regular Joe’s like you and I.
Take a minute to think about the last time you felt particularly happy. Was it when you were with family and friends? Did you nail that big project at work? Was it when your team won the big game against their rivals? Was it on pay day when you saw your hard earned cash flow into your account? Or, when you bought that new house plant?
Research suggests that there’s no clear recipe for happiness. Instead, it seems that happiness is a subjective experience influenced by some obvious and some not so obvious factors. As you're on the kun eco website and, presumably, a bit of an eco-warrior, you’ll be pleased to know that one of these contributing factors might be your sustainable lifestyle.
Life satisfaction and eco-consciousness
Let’s take a trip back to around 335 BC, when a guy by the name of Aristotle was dropping some philosophical bombs. According to Aristotle, the achievement of happiness is the end goal of every man and in his book, The Nicomachean Ethics, he argues that virtuous conduct is the “sovereign” factor in living well. Virtuous people, those who show high moral standards by doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong, find life more satisfying than others. Turns out he may have been onto something. Fast-forward to today and there are a number of studies that link sustainable behaviour with greater life satisfaction.
A recent study by Southern Cross University surveyed over 900 people across Australia and the United States to assess participants’ level of environmental concern and explore eco-friendly habits. Based on their efforts to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, respondents were grouped as either “eco-conscious” or “not eco-conscious”. They found that over three quarters of eco-conscious consumers were satisfied with their life compared with just over half of their not so eco-conscious counterparts. The study surmised that “taking care of the planet evidently corresponds to taking care of yourself”.
A 2010 study by Xiao and Li looked at data from consumers in 14 cities across China to determine if sustainable purchase intention and behavior attributed to greater life satisfaction. They reported that consumers who purchase environmentally friendly goods scored higher in life satisfaction. Xiao and Li’s work adds further evidence to the body of research that links prosocial behaviour (that is, behaviour that benefits other people or society as a whole) with happiness.
Research by Katherine Nelson-Coffey et al (2016) explored the well-being effects of prosocial behaviour in a study of 473 people over 6 weeks. Participants were instructed to perform acts of kindness for themselves or acts of kindness for others or for the world. The result? Participants who performed acts of kindness for others or more broadly demonstrated greater increases in psychological wellbeing than those who displayed self-focused or neutral behaviours. This suggests that doing things for others and our planet could actually serve to make you a happier person.
Eco-friendly consumption and self-image
Although there is extensive research that has linked eco-friendly behaviour with happiness, there are other studies that suggest that green behaviour and sustainable consumption may relate more to self-image than the pro-environmental actions people take.
The most robust research in this area is by Binder and Blakenberg (2017) who aimed to answer the question, “is a green lifestyle more about self-image than actual behaviour?”. Using a data set of tens of thousands of UK residents, Binder and Blackenberg investigated the effects of green behaviour on life satisfaction. Much like Nelson-Coffey and colleagues, Binder and Blakenberg found that green behaviour and sustainable consumption increased life satisfaction overall. Interestingly, they found that the boost in life satisfaction came down to self-image (how people felt about themselves) rather than the green behaviours themselves. This was backed-up in an independent study from Vanhoeven et al (2016). With modern life pushing perfectionism, the pressures of social media filling our days and constant worry about ourselves and the way we’re perceived, what’s wrong with boosting your self-image through a little eco-conscious action? It’s good for you AND good for the planet.
Even better, Binder and Blackenberg found that having a green self-image increases the extent and intensity of green behaviour. So if you feel green, you do more green things. That’s a win-win. It could also mean people with a positive green self-image may influence more hesitant individuals to take up sustainable behaviours as well.
Little by little
Through our eco-actions, regardless of how small, we are improving our wellbeing, self-image and the world around us. It’s important to remember even the smallest changes can make a difference and can encourage us to make more eco-friendly decisions day-to-day. Even something as simple as choosing a bamboo toothbrush or reusable produce bags might be enough to put a smile on your dial.
There are various motivators for choosing an eco-friendly lifestyle. You might want to create a better future for others, or connect more with nature. Perhaps social responsibility is your main driver. No matter why you’re on this journey, eco-consciousness is connected with a more positive wellbeing, which is something we can all benefit from.