My son just reminded me that it was Earth Day. This sparked a discussion of what one person can do to make a change. We talked about Al Gore, how recycling has grown and new ideas that could really shift our perspective. For me, the most exciting idea to affect the planet this year has come from a tiny country in the Himalayas called Bhutan. Their prime minister has been waging a campaign to measure human progress not only by how wealthy a country is, but also by the way it impacts the environment and the happiness of its people... a fascinating notion that has made it all the way to the U.N.
Earlier this month, Bhutan's Prime Minister Jigme Thinley suggested the meeting to explore the idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH), rather than just the conventional economic measure of Gross National Product (GNP). What does that mean? The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon summarized it this way:
"Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness."
The environment, social well-being and economics together in one soup -- now that's an idea that could be a game changer!
I decided to look deeper. Apparently the U.N. General Assembly mandated a World Happiness Report that described some of the problems the planet is now facing.
• Advances in productivity and technology exist while we relentlessly destroy the natural environment in the process.
• Sophisticated technological advancement AND more than 1 billion people without enough to eat each day.
•"If we continue mindlessly along the current economic trajectory, we risk undermining the Earth's life support systems -- food supplies, clean water, and stable climate -- necessary for human health and even survival in some places."
• Countries with great economic development (GNP) are coping with new crises of obesity, smoking, diabetes, depression and more.
• In the U.S., even with the rise in economic and technological progress over the last 50 years, life satisfaction has remained the same.
It's clear that material gain alone is not the shortcut to happiness or environmental issues. According to the report:
"The realities of poverty, anxiety, environmental degradation, and unhappiness in the midst of great plenty should not be regarded as mere curiosities. They require our urgent attention, and especially so at this juncture in human history."
An alarming fact is that the World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, depression will be the second most debilitating cause of disease, across all countries, genders and ages. This is just behind heart disease. It's time to adopt a new approach, and there is hope. The World Happiness Report suggests that:
"... if we act wisely, we can protect the Earth while raising quality of life broadly around the world. We can do this by adopting lifestyles and technologies that improve happiness (or life satisfaction) while reducing human damage to the environment."
Bhutan is leading the wake-up call. Prime Minister Thinley states:
"I see this as the reflection of a world finally coming to terms with the truth that it needs a shared, human vision in place of the mindless pursuit of limitless growth in a finite world."
It is encouraging that other governments are taking notice too. According to this article:
"The [British] government is placing 'strong emphasis' on the impact of policies on mental health, which ... costs Britain a huge amount to treat and hurts industry efficiency ... The British government wants to inject well-being cost-benefit assessments into all new policies."
Enrico Giovannini, representing Italy said:
"Big corporations are starting to talk about corporate social responsibility, saying that money is not the only parameter we should use to assess how satisfied workers are -- there is also a sense of community, future employability, education."
Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute and co-editor of the World Happiness Report for the U.N., further explains:
"'Sustainable Development' is the term given to the combination of human well-being, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. We can say that the quest for happiness is intimately linked to the quest for sustainable development."
So, What Can One Person Do?
All this world happiness discussion may sound far away from day-to-day life, but world happiness and environmental change start one person at a time. Here are some easy ways to begin. Some of these will be familiar. It's putting them into action that makes all the difference.
1. Personal: Focus on your personal happiness and connecting with nature and develop practices that bring that into your life and home. A few aspects to start with are:
• Get enough sleep.
• Do some physical exercise.
• Practice an attitude of gratitude.
• Make an effort to develop mindfulness and speak with kindness.
• If something doesn't turn out ask, "What can I learn from this?"
• Get to know your strengths and what you are passionate about.
• Try to leave an area better than the way you found it.
• Spend some time in nature -- it will calm you and remind you of what's important.
2. Education: Bring the science of happiness and social and emotional learning to your schools. It is not enough to learn math, science and history. Learning resilience, self -awareness, self-mastery and taking responsibility for one's impact on people and the environment are at least equally important to successfully navigate the ups and downs that life presents.
3. Engage: Do something that resonates with you to make the world a better place. This could be anything from smiling at a stranger, to volunteering in an animal shelter, mentoring someone, or doing one small thing to help the environment. You have more power than you may realize.
My son and I both agree: A happy world does begin with a happy you. Emotions are contagious; when you are happy, and care about the environment (in both your emotional and your carbon footprint) you spread that positivity to the people around you. Your example of living fully gives others permission to do the same. Happy people create happy communities who are dedicated to everyone thriving. These communities can then institute more caring policies that influence the well-being of a town, a state, a country. From one to many, conscious happiness can take hold, and it is a game changer for this generation and for those to come.
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