This time of year many of us are considering the changes we want to make in our lives to become better versions of ourselves. We set goals to help us be happier and healthier than we were last year. We join gyms, give up booze, get up earlier or sign up for that course.
This year, how about considering goals that are not only good for you but good for the planet too? Many of us want to do our bit to reduce our impact on the planet but do less than we should because we sense it’s going to be difficult, inconvenient, costly, and dare I say it, dull.
I’m here to tell you this simply isn’t true. Decades of research has shown that people who live more sustainably tend to be happier than those who do less for the planet. And new research funded by KR Foundation by Global Action Plan, the University of Surrey, and Professor Tim Kasser is showing this isn’t just because it “feels good to do good” (although of course it does!). We found that sustainable actions may, in fact, be inherently fun to do.
Our new research found support for a theory suggesting that people who undertake more sustainable actions are happier because the types of activities we need to undertake to live more sustainably are actually very good at meeting our core psychological needs. Research tells us we have three core psychological needs: 1) for autonomy – we want to feel like we are free to choose our own actions and be in control of our lives 2) for competence – we need to feel like we can do things for ourselves and get better at things and 3) relatedness – we want to feel close to others and to have strong supportive relationships. When these needs are met, we feel happier and more fulfilled in our lives.
Modern life offers endless opportunities for convenience. Got to be somewhere? Grab an uber. hungry? Order a Deliveroo. Need a new outfit? Just one click and get next day delivery. But these short cuts rob us of opportunities to learn new skills, meet new people and build up our self-confidence. Actions that take a bit more time and effort offer us far more opportunities to feel good by building our sense of competence, relating to others and feeling in control of our lives.
Here’s some examples of how sustainable lifestyle switches can make us happier by meeting our psychological needs:
Switching to a plant based diet can challenge us to try new recipes and experiment to find new healthy meals we like to eat. This builds our kitchen skills and our sense of competence. Just think how you feel when you’ve cooked a delicious new recipe compared to the feeling of microwaving a ready meal.
Cycling to work instead of driving can of course help us feel healthier and fitter but can also give us a sense of autonomy and control when we zip past the traffic jams.
Hunting for second hand clothes can give us a sense of achievement when we find that perfect pre-loved outfit. And gives us a chance to connect with the wonderful people in our local communities who so kindly donate their time to work in the nations charity shops (see this lovely article by TV presenter Miquita Oliver about why she loves 2nd hand shops).
Attending protests or getting actively involved in groups taking action on issues we care about can lead us to meeting people with shared values and enable us to build new friendships. Connecting with others on causes we care about can make us feel more able to make a real difference than we do on our own and help us feel more empowered.
Consciously choosing to buy less stuff can help us feel more in control of our lives and feel defiant in our resistance to the tricks used by advertisers. Who cares about 50% off when you save 100% by not buying it at all? Buying less means our homes are less cluttered and we have less waste to deal with. We spend less time scrolling through shopping sites, staying in for deliveries and trips to the post office to return items we don’t like …only to order more to be delivered next week. Buying less helps us take back control of how we spend our time and money to focus on things that really matter to us, like time with friends, exercise and hobbies we enjoy.
So this year when you’re setting your resolutions to bring more health and happiness into your life – perhaps being greener could be your route to a more fulfilling 2022.
By Natasha Parker, Head of Post-Consumerism