Teresa Belton’s book Happier People Healthier Planet: How putting wellbeing first would sustain life on Earth has proven an inspired read to ease into the new year, helping me to re-commit to priorities I’ve personally set (and sometimes struggled with) over the last 8 years, since I first started studying Buddhism and learning about the concept of “gross national happiness.”
This scholarly text is filled with intriguing stories of people who have made choices to live more simply,; to quit jobs they hate and step off the treadmill of consumption; to steer instead onto paths that honor who they are, instead of being who society expects them to be.
As Belton lays out artfully in her text, these choices aren’t just good for the individual; they’re helpful to the planet, overall. Having control over one’s life, she writes, rather than achieving success in the eyes of others, is what matters for genuine well-being.
One remark from an interviewee hit my recovering Type-A self hard: “The realization and the acceptance that I wasn’t ambitious in the slightest enabled me to pursue work which wasn’t about getting somewhere and more about enabling me to live a more authentic lifestyle.”
“More isn’t better,” concludes an interviewee named Mark, “…I hate waste and greed…nature is free, generous, delightful, uplifting. Because consuming only what I find I need reduces my carbon footprint and allows me to feel good about myself and my place in this environment.”
You may not finish this book inspired to make radical shifts in your life, like eschewing air travel or bathing, as one woman does to preserved natural resources, using a bucket and soap rather than in the shower. You may be like one interview subject, who despairs over the use of the word “happiness” when there is intractable suffering and degradation of our natural resources. (Others point out the tremendous good even one person can make in shifting the state of the world.) But if you’re even mildly intrigued by the ideas that recognizing we are “a small part of something big” trumps any house you can buy or promotion you can get at work, and that solitude and silence and nature are more nourishing than pricey handbags, you’ll find this a satisfying read. It’s good to know there are people out there who are driven by such strong, positive beliefs that take into account their fellow humans, not simply by the grab of cash most of us are instructed to pursue.
Be true to yourself in this year 2015.