Sustainable Happiness

So, what’s your view on the quotes above? What are our needs today and how do they differ from our wants? What’s a ‘good’ life? Should we be worrying about ‘future generations’ or should we be living for the now?

In my experience, many people have different answers to these questions; if you bring this topic up with friends be prepared to have a debate!

Sustainable well-being bring together the fields of sustainability and well-being; it encourages us to see our personal happiness as inclusive of and interdependent with the well-being of others and the natural environment. It challenges us to stand up and act when it’s easier to sit down and switch off.

Instead of making ‘autopilot’ choices driven by personal pleasure and convenience, sustainable well-being asks us to start to make changes to our thoughts and actions and reminds us that we can all make a difference to wider well-being.  

Of course, to make sustainable well-being a reality, changes to our personal behaviour and attitudes are just a starting point. Increased awareness and change are essential at a wider government and global level – some examples of this are outlined below.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

The Happy Planet Index (HPI) was created with the purpose of mapping sustainable well-being and exploring the links between national life satisfaction, life expectancy and the ecological footprint of nations. Costa Rica regularly tops the list with high levels of life satisfaction and life expectancy and a low ecological footprint. Many wealthier nations rank lower as they have a high environmental impact.  If you’re interested to know where your country falls on the HPI, you can check using the link above.

Bhutan was the first country to establish happiness and well-being as a national development goal; viewing Gross National Happiness as more important than Gross National Product. This sees true development as spiritual, social, environmental and economic change working together. Bhutan took this view to the United Nations and, in 2011, member states were urged to give greater attention to happiness and well-being in their economic and social polices/reforms.

The very next year, the World Happiness Report was introduced which identified strong links between the interconnected areas of happiness, well-being and sustainability. In connection with this, in 2018 the Global Happiness Policy Report set out best practice to help countries establish policies to increase happiness and well-being.

Most recently, in 2019 New Zealand has become the first western country to announce a ‘well-being budget’ solely designed to target and tackle well-being issues such as mental health, child poverty and domestic violence as well as creating government policies to improve well-being across the country.

This growing global awareness of the need for the incorporation of sustainable well-being into national policies is encouraging.  Economic and social policies impact on many areas of life, such as the ways our cities are designed, access to public transport/safe areas to actively commute, protected green spaces and our health and education systems.

We, as citizens, could help push these issues further forwards in our governments’ priorities. Policies which value sustainable well-being will help change our lives for the better. Combined with changes to our personal thoughts and actions, ‘well-being’ will be slowly reframed to mean something more inclusive – something that considers both the environment and other people, as well as the self.

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.

5 thoughts on “Sustainable Happiness

  1. Me and my husband are just talking about Bhutan the other day, on how they are the most happiest country on earth. 🙂 I hope these big countries will start implementing policies about climate change.

    Liked by 1 person

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