Bristol is the next European Green Capital. My home city has long been a hub of progressive thinking, innovation, and creativity. Located on the West Coast with its own Silicon Valley and Oscar-winning filmmakers, you could almost describe it as the California of the UK. Well-being is high on the agenda. It is home to the Happy City Initiative. Bristol is one of only four European cities that the Rockefeller Foundation has designated as a Resilient City.The Bristol Happiness Lectures were an annual event that put well-being center stage with speakers including Ilona Boniwell, founder of Europe’s first MAPP program. Now they have metamorphosed into the Happiness Lectures Online, a free online event that you are invited to on May 22. With the city preparing to green light a range of projects that combine sustainability with well-being, the theme of this year’s lectures is Sustainable Happiness, which I will be exploring alongside Chris Johnstone, co-author with Joanna Macy of Active Hope.
So what is sustainable happiness?
It seems to me that it has two dimensions. On an inner level it is about finding ways to sustain our happiness. On the outer level it is about a happiness that is eco-friendly: good for us and good for the planet, a greener happiness that doesn’t cost the Earth. Catherine O’Brien, who specializes in sustainable happiness, defines it as “happiness that contributes to individual, community and/or global well-being and does not exploit other people, the environment or future generations.”
Authentic happiness has been conceptualized as a mix of hedonic and eudaimonic well-being.
Hedonic well-being is more of a short-term pleasure with in-the-moment peaks of positive emotion and gratification. But this form of happiness comes with a built-in limitation: hedonic adaptation, where we get used to the source of our happiness and consequently need to up the dose or add variety to get the same hit.
Eudaimonic well-being is arguably the more sustainable form of happiness. This is the deeper, enduring happiness which comes via a number of routes from having meaning and purpose in life to engaging strengths and realizing one’s potential. These are ways to sustain our inner happiness.
But what about the outer dimension to sustainable happiness? Eudaimonia is also about going beyond the self in the service of something external and with a sense of our connection to the bigger world. Sustainable happiness focuses on we more than on me. For happiness to be sustainable, it needs to be kind to the planet and not deplete our collective resources. We cannot sacrifice the future for the present.
The shadow side of hedonic happiness is that short-term pleasure can have long-term costs that make it unsustainable. Eudaimonic well-being involves arguably little or no cost, making it good for the individual, community, and the planet.
|Examples of Unsustainable Happiness
|Examples of Sustainable Happiness
|Drinking ↣ Hangover
Impulse Buy ↣ Stress of Debt
Binge Eating ↣ Guilt & Weight Gain
Freedom of the Road ↣ Climate Change
|Act of kindness ↣ Deeper friendship
Effort in learning ↣ Satisfaction of achievement
Using strengths ↣ Realizing potential
Meaningful work ↣ Sense of vocation
Appreciating beauty ↣ Care for the environment
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, describes the big challenge of positive psychology as forging a more sustainable and fair social contract, helping people to not just feel better but to live better lives. Key to that is to refocus from individual well-being towards societal well-being.
One thing we can do as positive psychologists is to educate our clients in the routes to eudaimonia, demonstrating for example how sustainable happiness is more likely to be found in relationships than it is in retail. This is how we can cultivate happiness with staying power.
You are invited to
The Happiness Lectures Online on Sustainable Happiness:
How to plant, cultivate and grow happiness with staying power
Thursday 22nd May 2014, 730pm BST, 1130am PT, 230pm ET
Book via Eventbrite to attend.
The Happiness Lectures will preview the 8-week Happiness Training Program which starts online in September 2014.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). The promise of positive psychology. Psychological Topics, 18 (2), 203-211.
Macy, J. & Johnstone, C. (2012). Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy. California: New World Library.
Seligman, M. E. P & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000) Positive psychology, an introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1): 5-14.
More about Catherine O’Brien
Picture taken by Miriam Akhtar in Bristol and used with permission.