Normal. Unremarkable. Life as usual.
Isn’t that strange? You click off family’s electricity and make them go to bed at nine every night because it’s too dark to do anything else. You ban them from the elevator so they have to walk up and down nine flights of stairs. You take away their fridge so they can’t keep more than a day or two of food around the house.
All this and then they turn around and say it’s life as usual?
Probably it feels that way because, according to the boffins who research what makes for happiness, the “positive psychologists,” people quickly get used to almost any set of conditions. Within a few years, lottery winners and people who become paralyzed tend to return to the same level of happiness they had before their change in circumstance.
What people can’t get used to, though, is the loss of one of the main factors positive psychologists find does have a lasting affect on happiness: community. In fact, in may be that breakdown in community in the United States is one reason that, although material wellbeing has increased hugely in the last 50 years, rates of depression, substance abuse and teen suicide have skyrocketed.
We move away from our families and friends. We stay in the office until all hours. We travel endlessly on business trips. We spend our spare time in front of screens instead of with each other. All these things, we do because we think they will ultimately make us feel better, but in fact, they undermine our connections to each other and make us feel worse.
In the No Impact experiment, as I’ve written before, without all the mod cons to distract us, we spend more time with each other, our friends and our neighbors and actually feel happier.
So what if, as a society, we worried less about a booming economy which drains the planet of its resources? If, as the positive psychologists suggest, having more stuff isn’t going to make us happier, shouldn’t we worry more about things like building a culture that emphasizes personal connection and community?
If the results of the No Impact experiment are anything to go by, not only is that an approach that would help cure our environmental crisis, but it would also help cure our unhappiness.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.