Well-Being, Happiness and Sustainability
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We know that climate change will most likely have detrimental effects on the well-being of future generations, but here the focus is on how the well-being of present people might be affected if we decide to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to a more sustainable level. The central question is how a more sustainable lifestyle would (most likely) affect our well-being, but I am also concerned with whether it is possible for us to live lives that are both good and sustainable. It is assumed that well-being can be understood in terms of happiness, and that these questions can be specified in these terms. There are several considerations that might give cause for “optimism” in this area, many of which are inspired by findings in empirical happiness studies. I critically examine seven such considerations, e.g. the idea that reduced consumption would not make us less happy, that the most happiness-inducing activities require little use of energy, and that shorter working hours is beneficial both from a sustainability perspective and from a happiness perspective. The conclusion is that most of these considerations are invalid, and that most people would probably be less happy if they lived more sustainable lives, at least in the short run. (We might adapt hedonically to such lifestyles over time, however.) This suggests that we should not appeal to people’s self-interest if we want to get them to live more sustainably. Instead, we should appeal to the interest of future generations and the world’s poor.
KeywordsClimate change Consumption Happiness Hedonic adaptation Materialism Sustainability Well-being
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