Sustainable Wellbeing: Towards a Sustainable Lifestyle
By Elisa Furlan
reviewed bY Amadou Barrow
Sustainable wellbeing means a beneficial relationship between humans and other systems. It represents holistic and ongoing adaptive processes addressing multiple perspectives of life, all of which need to be balanced.
We’re part of nature, but we seem to forget the priceless value of it.
Many natural resources are currently being exploited and polluted. The consequences are terrible: not only does the environment suffer, but exploiting nature can prevent us from meeting basic human needs in the future; those needs that can be satisfied by natural resources — like water, food, and materials. Kals and colleagues highlight the beneficial relationship between nature and the people who feel a strong emotional affinity for it: in fact, these people are more likely to engage in nature-friendly behaviours.
Nature can cure us. Many studies have shown the impact nature has on our mental health: it can improve our emotional wellbeing, our self-esteem, and our attention deficit disorder. It’s been shown to have a positive impact on both teenagers and children, as well as older people. Therefore, in protecting nature we also protect ourselves.
What is sustainable development?
As stated by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987, sustainable development is a ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. It’s got core principles, such as the welfare of future generations and the protection of both future generations’ and our ecosystems’ interests.
The idea of sustainable development focuses on the concepts of sustainable societies, nature conservation, and a more efficient resource management.
What is a sustainable society?
A sustainable society is a society that, apart from meeting the needs of present and future generations, allows the human being to develop itself freely and harmoniously. There’s a way to calculate the level of sustainability: the Sustainable Society Index (SSI). It includes three wellbeing dimensions: environmental, human, and economic. There are 21 indicators of sustainability listed in the SSI, such as sufficient food and drinks, clean water and air, and equality and employment, just to name a few.
The SSI can be used in many ways:
- To show the public the current situation in a simple way.
- To set policies with respect to sustainability, assigning each indicator to a specific ministry, that will be responsible for the development towards sustainability.
- To compare countries and see what they can learn from each other to improve their own wellbeing.
- To assign various research projects to students in high school and universities.
- To improve your own behavior towards sustainability.
Reducing the environmental impact of travelling, heating, cooling, and food consumption isn’t incompatible with high levels of wellbeing. In fact, Kasser names three reasons why there’s a positive association between sustainable consumption and subjective wellbeing:
- Simplicity: The experience of mindfulness and choosing a life of voluntary simplicity can greatly improve your wellbeing.
- Altruism: Happier people — people with higher subjective wellbeing levels — are more likely to behave altruistically; therefore, there’s a higher chance that they’re going to participate in environmentally friendly actions.
- Connection and control: Sharing, and reusing items, and reducing one’s own consumption can improve your ability to connect with others and have control over your actions, improving your subjective wellbeing levels.
Sustainable consumption can be divided in two groups: weak sustainable consumption — saving energy and using low impact products — and strong sustainable consumption — leading a life of simplicity and reducing the total level of consumption.
There’s empirical proof of the positive link between wellbeing and sustainable consumption. In fact, a 2017 study, conducted on more than 2000 people, investigated the effects of online shopping on one’s wellbeing. Online shopping is beneficial to the environment because it allows people to have access to more sustainable products and reduce transport costs and emissions. Results showed a positive correlation between online shopping and life satisfaction, therefore demonstrating that it is possible to engage in more sustainable actions while maintaining high levels of wellbeing.
The difficulties of a sustainable lifestyle
As we’ve seen throughout the article, leading a sustainable lifestyle can greatly improve your own wellbeing. However, achieving this goal can be hard for various reasons:
- Education: there’s a need for teachers and professors explaining to their students how and why they can reduce their impact on the environment, consequently showing them how to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. This shouldn’t start in university or even after that, but it should be implemented in earlier education. It’s never too early to take care of our planet.
- Environment: living a sustainable life means living in harmony with the environment that surrounds us. As much as our choices have a great impact on how we live our life, not all aspects of it are controlled by our own will. For example, leading a sustainable life can be much easier for people who live in a sustainable ecovillage. Moreover, it requires a greater commitment from consumers, especially older ones.
- People’s perception: unfortunately, leading a more sustainable lifestyle can be perceived falsely by people who aren’t acquainted with environmental concerns; in fact, it can cause social isolation of people who try to live in harmony with nature. Moreover, it can lead people to live more sustainably, not because they actually care for the environment, but because they want to look like they actually care about it: this is called competitive altruism, and it makes the person willing to pay more for particular ‘green’ products just to earn respect and admiration from others.
In conclusion, although it may seem hard to change your own behavior towards nature, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. You don’t need to change your entire lifestyle in one evening — it wouldn’t even be possible. Smaller changes for a longer period of time are much more efficient and can help the environment to a greater extent than one bigger change once in a lifetime.
My areas of expertise center around climate change and global health; Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH); environmental and occupational health; health education and promotion; and health risk communications. I have experience as a lecturer at both university level in the area of health psychology, health education & promotion, water supply & sanitation, biostatistics, epidemiology and research methodology. I have published several scientific manuscripts in various reputable journals on maternal & child health morbidities and mortalities in LMIC settings. I am a passionate digital health enthusiast with a special focus on holistic wellbeing at all levels.
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