People ask me if the reduced use of consumer conveniences that goes with the No Impact project doesn't mean a lot of deprivation. I say that I spend more time with my family, eat more healthily, get more exercise and am a better dad. Then I ask: "Was I more deprived before or am I more deprived now?"
The point is that the money we make, the things we buy and the planetary resources we use--or waste--aren't what make us happier. This is the finding of the forthcoming book The How of Happiness by University of California, Riverside researcher Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky.
Her findings show that contributions to our happiness come:
- 50% from a genetically-determined set point (which we can do nothing about)
- 10% from our life circumstances or situations (which means we could trash the entire planet to get ourselves the biggest house and fastest car and still barely feel better)
- 40% from--are you ready?--how we act and how we think.
This confirms my No Impact experience that environmentalism--preserving rather than using up planetary resources--means nothing like depriving ourselves of happiness. Instead, it suggests that using less and treating the planet kindly means we get to stop distracting ourselves from what really makes us happy.
Of our assumptions about happiness, Lyubomirsky writes:
"Perhaps the most common error is that we assume that positive events ... will provide much more happiness than they really do. Take materialism, the pursuit of money and possessions, as an example. Why is it so hard for us (even myself!) to believe that money really doesn't make us happy? Because the truth is that money does make us happy. But our misunderstanding, as one happiness researcher eloquently puts it, is that 'we think money will bring lots of happiness for a long time, and actually it brings a little happiness for a short time.' Meanwhile, in our effortful pursuit of such dead ends to pleasure, we end up ignoring other, more effective routes to well-being."
What are the more effective routes? Well, that gets you back to how you think and how you act, and for more on that, you'll have to read Lyubomirsky's book. But a few bullet points include:
- Nurturing and enjoying relationships with family and friends
- Being comfortable expressing gratitude
- Being the first to offer help to coworkers and passersby
- Practicing optimism about the future
- Savoring life's pleasures and living in the moment
- Exercising at least once a week
- Committing to lifelong goals and ambitions
- Coping with challenges with strength and poise