Sustainable Well-being

Well-being encompasses our physical and mental health and the term is often interchanged with happiness or flourishing within positive psychology. People with higher levels of well-being experience more positive than negative emotions, satisfaction with their lives and a sense of meaning.

There are many things we have in common with other people that help build personal well-being – these include aspects of life such as positive relationships with others, activities we enjoy, objects we own and success in our jobs. Of course, the minute detail of what creates these factors is unique to our situation and personalities.

Sustainable well-being could refer to maintaining this desired level of happiness within an individual; however, this blog post presents sustainable well-being as a bigger picture and suggests that changes to our thoughts and actions could bring more lasting well-being for both ourselves and others.

The dominant modern attitude towards well-being has a heavy focus on the needs and wants of the individual. What gives us pleasure and makes us happy drives our thoughts and actions. It’s questionable whether we place enough consideration on how the events that create our personal well-being impact on others or, indeed, what we can do to actively enhance other people’s wellbeing.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

While the quotes above are open to interpretation – guided by cultural values and perceived societal needs – they embody the concept of sustainable well-being. This aims to bring together the fields of sustainability and well-being; it goes beyond the individual – viewing our personal well-being as inclusive of and interdependent with the well-being of others and the wider environment. This is an important point to consider when many of us go into autopilot each day, making choices driven by personal pleasure and convenience.

The need for sustainable well-being is evident when we turn on the news/read a paper. We’re reminded that there is increased global concern regarding numerous issues – currently climate change, plastic pollution and the mass movement of displaced, impoverished people dominate the headlines. For those of us not in the midst of it, it’s easy to switch off and get back to our lives. Sustainable well-being asks us to stand up and engage –to consciously make changes to our behaviour so that our lifestyles are more environmentally sustainable, and our notions of well-being are more inclusive.

Active change can begin with small everyday actions.  A leading researcher in this field, O’Brien (2008, 2012), uses two examples that really stuck with me – the first is a cup of coffee, a simple pleasure many of us enjoy multiple times a day. Sustainable happiness asks us to continue enjoying our coffee but also to consider whether the people that picked it got a fair wage and if it was grown with respect for the environment. We can make the active decision to spend our money on a brand that does make these conscious efforts. The second example discusses commuting patterns, with research suggesting those who actively commute (walk, cycle) report higher levels of positive emotions than those who use cars or public transport. Their behaviour both increases their well-being and is environmentally sustainable.

These examples from O’Brien give us a concrete view of what a starting point for sustainable well-being can look like in practice. We’re not being asked to ignore our personal well-being, rather we’re encouraged to reframe what creates this and to consider the impact of our choices on other living beings and the wider environment.

The concept of sustainable well-being will take time to become established in our minds and our actions. It’s not a change that will happen quickly, but it is a change that needs to begin. As seen above, we can start to actively engage by making small, deliberate changes to our thoughts and behaviour.

With time, these could lead to a more sustainable lifestyle, an inclusive approach to well-being and an increased awareness of our interconnectedness with the wider world.

Thanks for reading!


Abdallah, S., Michaelson, J., Shah, S., Stoll, L., & Marks, N. (2012). The Happy Planet Index—2012 report: A Global index of sustainable well-being. London: nef (the new economics foundation).

O’Brien, C. (2008). Sustainable Happiness: How Happiness Studies Can Contribute to a More Sustainable Future Canadian Psychology, 49, 289-295

O’Brien, C. (2012). Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being: Future Directions for Positive Psychology Psychology, 3, 1196-1201

Published by Improve My Well-being

Laura is an experienced mentor and teacher, with a MSc Applied Positive Psychology (Distinction). She enjoys living and working in multicultural environments and is passionate about promoting social well-being. Blogging is her outlet to share and explore well-being initiatives and practices with as many people as possible.

13 thoughts on “Sustainable Well-being

  1. Loving this piece! This is a wonderful view of love and sustainable well being. The idea about the coffee is an eye opener. This is teaching us that sustainable well being is living a life that not only focuses to ourselves. Sustainable wellbeing is considering your impact to humanity and nature before making an action towards your goals and happiness. I agree with the walking or physical movements. If i do running or walking regularly i feel better and not too grumpy. Loving it! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Great article 🥰 I remember when I was struggling with mental health issues, my psychologist suggesting I do some work to help others (interpreting in local Red Cross centers). There was no way I could have done that back then as it felt like ‘too much’ (it was a struggle to just go about the daily tasks needed to bring up a family). And I felt I’d got to where I was by always doing things for others and never myself. But once I’d learned to really look after myself (again), it really does feel like the more you can give, the better you feel. So you’re giving to others (and caring about our shared world) and getting so much back in return. I’ve gone off-track a bit here but your post just reminded me of that. Love the quotes too 🥰

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent post! In order to achieve positive changes in this world, those changes begin with each one of us. I like the example you gave regarding the coffee. I actually do this! And I also attempt to purchase products not made in China. Finding USA products is tough and even finding small Mom and Pop businesses is even tougher but it can be done. If we don’t support these businesses they will not grow. Focusing on those changes we can make and then bringing those changes within our lives, hopefully those around us will see our example. Others’ choices are not our responsibility however. Frustrating as that is, it’s not. We can only HOPE that our changes are seen and others will follow. Again thank you so much for writing this post!!

    Liked by 2 people

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