Is your happiness sustainable? I’m not talking about that rush of pleasure we get when things turn out the way we hope and expect. I’m also not taking about the giddy experience we get laughing with friends or the thrill of accomplishment that overtakes us when we get what we want. To me sustainable happiness is the sense of good and wellbeing that comes in the middle of the night when you are alone with your thoughts. It’s a deep and sustaining sense that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, where you are supposed to be doing it, at exactly the right time in your life. And the good thing about finding it is that regardless of what is happening in our lives or circumstances, we can still count on it comforting us when the going gets tough.
Yet most of the time, most people tend to think of sustainability solely in terms of the environment. But sustainability, or lack of it, actually applies to everything we do. The word, by itself means balanced, durable, ongoing and self-sustaining. In fact, that’s a big reason why the letter “S” in SMART Living stands for sustainability. While I remain deeply committed to creating a more environmentally sustainable world, I also believe that awareness extends to an understanding that a truly happy life must be ongoing, balanced and enduring both within and around my life.
Of course I’m not the only one who cares about the topic. As a long-time reader and supporter of Yes! Magazine I was pleased when they recently offered a book entitled Sustainable Happiness: Live Simply, Live Well, Make a Difference. Filled with a variety of essays from distinguished authors, the book promotes a number of ways people can experience a more sustainable and “real” happiness in their lives. Plus there are other books, articles and even an online course available in the marketplace with a similar theme. But after reading a number of them, I wanted to add a more SMART approach to the subject. That’s why I came up with the following “signs” that I believe demonstrate a person who embraces sustainable happiness.
- Practices gratitude and celebrates what she has every single day of her life.
- Does her best to stay healthy in body, mind and soul.
- Knows how to love, forgive and be compassionate with herself and others as much as possible.
- Accepts and appreciates her body, her mind, her personality and her age as uniquely her own.
- Feel competent in her work and knows that her life has purpose and value.
- Feels like she has options and a level of control about important decisions in her life that positively affect her future.
- Values and cares for what she owns and avoids wasteful and disposable products and services.
- Recognizes that her worth has nothing to do with how much money she has, what she owns or what titles she possess.
- Recognizes the value of time and freedom, over productivity or material goods.
- Feels that she is a part of something bigger than herself.
Still, it is important to keep in mind that in order to have an experience of real happiness and wellbeing that is enduring and sustainable, it must extend out to other people and the world around you. And that’s where a more traditional perspective on sustainability comes into play because, as Sarah van Gelder says, “Sustainable happiness cannot be achieved at the expense of others.” That’s why the following signs are also important for sustainable happiness.
- Practices compassion and wholeheartedness as much as possible with other people, her community, and the world.
- Enjoys deep and satisfying relationships with other people and her community knowing that connection is an important aspect of a healthy and happy life.
- Has a certain degree of trust in her community and government, and feels relative safety on a regular basis.
- Recognizes that sustainable happiness is not possible when it comes at a cost to other people, the environment, or future generations.
- Realizes that helping others find good health, happiness and wellbeing adds to her own happiness and wellbeing every time.
What I happen to find exciting about the growing awareness of sustainable happiness is the fact that many of our leaders and governments are now taking it into account. Just a few years ago in 2011, the United Nations started the trend by adopting a resolution calling for all countries to increase the happiness of their inhabitants. The following year, the first World Happiness Report was completed along with the first UN Conference on Happiness.
Ever since that time, sustainable happiness has begun to be measured in countries around the world. Now, instead of most governments focusing solely on GDP (gross domestic product), a different measurement exists that takes the focus off production and money and instead puts it on the wellbeing, health and happiness of the people who live there and on what really matters. As David Cameron, Prime Minster of the U.K. said, “We will start measuring our progress as a country, not just by how our economy is growing, but by how are lives are improving. Not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life.”
Of particular note are two trends that the World Happiness Report has highlighted in regards to sustainable happiness. One of them acknowledges that the health of a country’s citizens is dependent upon its mental health as much as its physical health. The other trend is the huge importance of connection and value of social relationships. Taking a focus off the excesses of a consumer-driven culture, and instead putting it on mental and emotional wellbeing, is a key to sustainable happiness.
I think most of us know this. Most of us know that once our basic needs are met, happiness has nothing to do with money. Sustainable Happiness also doesn’t depend on our age or how much stuff we own. But what we may not have realized is that The World Happiness Studies now have research showing that people who practice sustainability are actually happier than those who don’t. On the flip side of that, studies show that happier people go out of their way to take care of their environment. In other words, happy people take care of themselves, others and their planet. Sustainability and happiness are interconnected.
So, sure we might know this but if you’re anything like me, I want and need to be reminded of it on a regular basis. Real happiness, sustainable happiness is something I plan to experience my entire life and I wish that for others as well. The SMART approach is to remember, like the Happiness Research Institute shows, that when we start appreciating and doing our best to experience sustainable happiness, that extends out into the world and touches everyone and everything we encounter.
For more information about The World Happiness Report.
For more information about The Sustainable Happiness Report