A new study in the Science Journal says that this is true for people living in both rich and poor countries, raising the tantalising prospect that people could live better (for both planetary and personal wellbeing) by consuming less.
The idea that being green means sacrifice and going without was epitomised by Boris Johnson’s denigration of the “hair shirt-wearing, tree-hugging, mung bean-eating eco freak”. When the UK prime minister said that in 2020, the message was clear: a sustainable lifestyle may be worthy, but it represents a pretty dreary state of affairs.
Look at the evidence, though, and you’ll find a different story. A wide range of research now shows there is a positive relationship between environmentally friendly behaviour and personal wellbeing. This may be because taking steps to protect the environment makes us feel good by fulfilling basic psychological needs, such as the sense that we are making a useful contribution to the world or acting on our own values and concerns.
The effect can run the other way too: people in a positive frame of mind are more likely to pay attention to the environment and to act in a manner which benefits more than just themselves. As it becomes ever clearer that a lifestyle geared towards consuming ever more energy and natural resources is not much good for the planet or our own wellbeing, there is the tantalising prospect that people could instead live better by consuming less.
A landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that abandoning fossil fuels and the high-emission lifestyles they afford must begin immediately. The good news is that there may be a lot more gained than lost in the process than people realise.
Today's OGN Sunday Magazine articles