Positive psychology and Environmental Protection: Sustainable Happiness!
Mis à jour : 20 sept. 2019
"We are used to saying that we must save our planet, but in truth, it’s humanity that we must save. Whatever we do, our planet will survive us (we humans are nothing to her); however the future of humanity is depending on what we do to our planet.”
- Albert Jacquard -
Why should we save the planet? Vast question, isn’t it? It's a bit of the "to be or not to be?" in modern times. A question with multiple possible answers. Today it is from the perspective of Positive Psychology that I would like to provide an answer. And what better time to talk about nature and the environment than at the end of the summer holidays!
The ocean as far as the eye can see, a majestic rock mass, a field filled with colorful flowers, a breathtaking concert, a magical exhibition of painting ... On vacation we are looking for awe! And we do it rightly because awe is one of the most beneficial feelings for human being according to Positive Psychology.
For my part, I experienced awe at the top of the Great Dune of Pyla in the Arcachon Bay overlooking the Banc d'Arguin and the ocean. Having spent all my childhood in the Arcachon Bay, this landscape is magical to me. So much beauty makes me feel very small.
Positive Psychology defines awe as the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world. We then experience a feeling of smallness that increases our feeling of interconnection with others and broadens our vision.
But the chase for awe has a cost: holidays on the other side of the world have adverse effects on the environment and the planet, and therefore on human being. Thus, the chase for awe is depriving ourselves from it little by little. The preservation of the environment and ecology are issues that have been particularly close to my heart since I published a paper on "The Case for an International Regime for the Arctic". That is when I discovered with fear the current and future consequences of our way of life on nature, and especially on the human being. I also realized that for me the holidays were more "zero stress" than "zero impact". So this year I decided to align beliefs and acts: a bike vacation and zero waste to take care of my feeling of awe so dear to Positive Psychology. Which means: no restaurant, no supermarket, no plastic wrap, no vegetables out of season, no hotel, no plane, no motorized water activities. The result: only three rubbish in five days, (two food labels and a paper towel) and an immense satisfaction. Mahatma Gandhi said, "Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony".
Nature makes us happier
In Positive Psychology we talk a lot about the importance of the quality of life in the professional environment. However, there is less talk about the need to take care of one's environment in the natural sense of the word. The holidays are an opportunity to disconnect work, phone, obligations of all kinds and reconnect with nature. Yes, because mother nature carries vital energy. First because the oxygen we breathe comes from nature, but also because nature has benefits on the body, the psyche and the emotional. Nature makes us feel emotionally connected to life. According to research, proximity to nature often predicts happiness independently of any other psychological factors in our lives (love, friends, work, community ...)..
Studies show that nature brings a lot of benefits to humans :
- Decrease of crime levels in cities with green spaces
- Increase of the sense of trust and security
- Increase of participation in the community
- Increase of the sense of satisfaction
- Stimulation of the creativity
- Increase of generosity, kindness and altruism
- Increase of sociability, decrease of egocentrism
- Reduces stress
- Decrease of the level of anxiety and depression
- Reduction of ruminations
- Increase of the level of happiness
The feeling of awe leads to greater satisfaction in everyday life, a perception of time slowed so more anchoring to the present moment, greater humility, a decrease of personal concerns. It encourages us to act in a more collective way, to be less narcissistic, more kind to others.
This feeling also has beneficial effects on health. Indeed, among all the positive emotions only the feeling of awe allows to biologically reduce the rate of cytokines, chemical messengers, responsible at too high levels of poorer health and disorders such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even Alzheimer's disease and clinical depression.
Nature is fundamental to humans, yet we are not always attentive to our impact on the environment in return.
Diffusion of responsibility or the Hummingbird effect: the two sides of the coin
Paying attention to its environmental impact, adopting a responsible consumption, reducing its waste are often seen as too restrictive or too time consuming. So we do not act, or we act when it takes us because we claom that others are doing it for us and that it is not our small action that will make the difference and have an impact on the planet. This is called the diffusion of responsibility. It refers to the decreased responsibility of action each member of a group feels when she or he is part of a group. For example, in emergency situations, individuals feel less responsibility to respond or call for help if they know that there are others also watching the situation.
On the other side of the coin, we find the hummingbird effect (see the hummingbird legend in the article on Growth Mindset on the blog). The humming effect is to consider that each action has an influence, as minimal as it is. Recycle paper has an inlfuence on the environmental impact, refuse plastic straws at the bar has an inlfuence on the environmental impact, buy local and national has an inlfuence on the environmental impact ...
As the ecological activist Greta Thunberg says,
“You are never too small to make a difference” 
My answer to take care of the feeling of wonder: a transition to zero waste
To protect the feeling of awe largely experienced in nature, there are millions of answers. Mine is this: zero waste. The zero-waste method is based on the observation that 99% of resources taken from the wild are relegated to waste in less than forty-two days. It is about reducing the amount of waste through five principles: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and claim.
I started my transition to zero waste at home about a year ago. After the resistances to this kind of transition (constraints, time, utility ...), I observe today that zero waste is no more restrictive than mass consumption, is more aesthetic at home, can make savings because we do not pay the price of packaging and marketing, and above all offers a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment well known in Positive Psychology.
Some simple tips for less and better consume:
- Zero waste in the kitchen:
o Glass jars to buy in bulk shops. You will not have to put a foot, or two, in supermarket full of people and plastic.
o Seasonal fruits and vegetables bought on the markets and to local producers. Warnings, wholesalers are not producers.
o A compost on the terrace where to throw peels, this will significantly reduce your trash and will make good fertilizer for the garden.
o Waste sorting
- Zero waste in the bathroom: compostable bamboo toothbrush; solid deodorant; solid shampoo; homemade soap; homemade toothpaste; washable cottons; ethical makeup.
- In the office: sorting of paper and cardboard; loose tea; washable cups
- Consumption and shopping: ask yourself the question of the necessity of this purchase compared to the need.
- Responsible search engines to install in place of google: lilo that supports solidarity projects or ecosia that plants trees at every search on the Internet.
“Be the change you want to see in the world” said Gandhi. Commit yourself, defend your convictions, preserve nature. Human beings have an emotional relationship to nature. It's up to us to give back what it gives us. We must take care of our sense of awe because it is vital for our heart, our head and our body. Do not underestimate the power of goose bumps: it's breathtaking!
"That thing about making the world a better place - it might seem a bit overwhelming to say- bu it is basically what it is all about.”
- Helle Illum Aagaard, Participant, Zero-Waste Project, Tversted, Denmark -
- Camille Lamouille -
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Camille Lamouille, “The Case for an International Regime for the Arctic”, Geostrategic Maritime Review n°7, 2017, https://www.editions-harmattan.fr/index.asp?navig=catalogue&obj=numero&no=52253&no_revue=934&razSqlClone=1
Zelenski, J. M., & Nisbet, E. K. (2014). Happiness and Feeling Connected The Distinct Role of Nature Relatedness. Environment and Behavior, 46(1), 3-23
“Influence of Forest Therapy on Cardiovascular Relaxation in Young Adults”, Volume 2014, Article ID 834360, 7 pages
Dacher Keltner, “Why do we feel awe?”, Greater Good Magazine, 2016
Stancato, D. M., & Keltner, D. (2019). Awe, ideological conviction, and perceptions of ideological opponents. Emotion. Advance online publication.
Yasmin Anwar, « Can Awe Boost Health ? », Greater Good Magazine, February 2015
For more information:
"Sustainable Happiness: Why hate prevention may lead to an increase in quality of life", The Happiness Research Institute, 2015, https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/928487_786775b3635a4b9cb7a359459019b6c8.pdf
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