Climate change: greener lifestyles linked to greater happiness – in both rich and poor countries
The idea that being green means sacrifice and going without was epitomised by Boris Johnson’s denigration of the “hair shirt-wearing, tree-hugging, mung bean-eating eco freak”. When the UK prime minister said that in 2020, the message was clear: a sustainable lifestyle may be worthy, but it represents a pretty dreary state of affairs.
Look at the evidence, though, and you’ll find a different story. A wide range of research now shows there is a positive relationship between environmentally friendly behaviour and personal wellbeing. This may be because taking steps to protect the environment makes us feel good by fulfilling basic psychological needs, such as the sense that we are making a useful contribution to the world or acting on our own values and concerns.
The effect can run the other way too: people in a positive frame of mind are more likely to pay attention to the environment and to act in a manner which benefits more than just themselves. As it becomes ever clearer that a lifestyle geared towards consuming ever more energy and natural resources is not much good for the planet or our own wellbeing, there is the tantalising prospect that people could instead live better by consuming less.
A landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that abandoning fossil fuels and the high-emission lifestyles they afford must begin immediately. The good news is that there may be a lot more gained than lost in the process than people realise.
Good for you, good for the planet
In recently published research, I and academic colleagues scrutinised the relationship between environmentally friendly action and subjective wellbeing (essentially, how happy a person is). We wanted to find out whether simultaneously greener and happier lives were only possible in wealthier countries, or for people in them who are more well-off.
Fixing the climate crisis can be a source of pleasure and not just pain.
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