International Peace Day 2014: 10 Ways to Improve Happiness

September 21, 2014 Updated: September 21, 2014

Despite more people around the world having access to more riches than ever before in human history, it seems this doesn’t lead to increased happiness.


There are many theories on what constitutes ‘happiness’, but the general consensus is that happiness is an evolved trait that optimises our behaviour for successful living and therefore survival. We are usually happiest when we eat, sleep well and have sex, for example.  So it’s no surprise that behaviours that harm ourselves and the planet are increasingly lowering our well being and vice versa.The good news is that by identifying key areas where sustainability and well-being meet, easy gains in happiness can be made.
Here are 10 simple ways to be happier, and guess what? They’re all eco-friendly!
Go through the numbers to see 10 ways to improve happiness, all of which are backed by science, of course.


1. Live More Locally  


The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet – James Oppenheim
Modern transportation in general and the car in particular were expected to result in a new era of individual freedom. However, the way our society has restructured around the car has resulted in a range of unforeseen social problems.


The car is blamed for pollution, noise, stress, congestion, the demise of local communities and urban sprawl as well as obesity, respiratory problems and traffic accidents.  By spending less time travelling on a day to day basis people have more time for their families and leisure pursuits, and they also gain greater safety, improved city air and better health, as well as happiness.
Living la vida local isn’t just about reducing transport use though. If it’s impossible not to commute, you can still more locally consuming local produce. This can contribute to happiness in many ways:  children grow up with a better understanding of how food is grown, food is fresher, and small, local food supply chains can thrive. 


Shopping more locally also increases your regular contact with people in your community, and of course, better  interpersonal relationships are consistently found to be the most important correlation with human happiness. Since the 1950s, modern societies have become more atomised and communities have broken down, and this is one reason well being has declined.


The good news is, the more you stay in an area, the more you’ll get to know your local barista, newsagent, and neighbours–and building those relationships will lead to increased happiness 


2. Get Moving! 


Happiness consists in activity. It is running steam, not a stagnant pool. – Oliver Wendell Holmes


The consensus that regular physical exercise is a vital part of maintaining health and wellbeing has existed for at least a decade. Walking, cycling and/or using public transport instead of car travel can have dual health benefits by providing the required physical activity levels and reducing the adverse health effects of motor vehicle transport.


Active transport is more important now than ever before, as obesity is increasing globally. Most adults in England are overweight, and one in five—around 8 million in total—is obese.  Globally, obesity has nearly trebled in the last 20 years. 


The most likely causes are increasingly sedentary lifestyles combined with changes in eating patterns, which are now more solitary and random, as opposed to joining a family or friends for three meals a day.Ultimately, this impacts happiness: obese people are more likely to become depressed, but many studies on well-being have shown that active people show improved well-being, higher self-esteem and also greater confidence in their ability to perform active tasks, along with better mental functioning.


3. Connect to Nature


If you want to be happy for an hour, get drunk;
If you want to be happy for three days, get married;
If you want to be happy forever, make a garden. 
– Chinese Proverb




Edward O Wilson’s Biophilia Hypothesis proposes that as a consequence of evolution, humans have an innate tendency to focus on life and life-like processes. However, modern ways of living as prescribed by Western industrialised culture stand in stark contrast to our evolutionary history, and as such, happiness.


Being out in nature brings pleasure to us on a primal level, and focuses our attention away from material goods, which helps to avoid the angst and self obsession that is a by-product of our individualistic consumer times.


So what can you do if you live in a city and can’t imagine moving to the countryside? Plant a garden, grow herbs in a window box, visit a local park and admire the beauty of the trees and flowers. Visit the countryside at weekends, walk barefoot in the grass, hang a birdfeeder from your balcony…the possibilities to enjoy nature are endless, and will be beneficial to your state of mind.


4. Limit Your Choices 


Can anything be so elegant as to have few wants, and to serve them one’s self? – Ralph Waldo Emerson


The expansion of Western capitalism has successfully sold us the ‘myth of choice’–it’s presumed that the more choice we have in what to wear, buy, eat and do, the more prosperous and better off we are. However, as illustrated in this sensational TED talk this proliferation of choice is actually a very mixed blessing. Some choice is good; too much choice paralyses us and makes us anxious.For people who care about the environment, choices are greatly reduced, offering some relief, and happiness in the knowledge that they’re making the best choices they can in the circumstances. Such people shop less, eat locally, work ethically, travel responsibly–those choices are easy. Making decisions based on a higher principal (rather than marketing or peer pressure) is liberating and satisfying.


5. Appreciate What You Have


Affluenza‘ is the term for the pursuit of always wanting more, and as societies get richer, it becomes worse. The hedonistic treadmill means those afflicted will never be happy with their new possessions or money; they adapt and need more. Status Anxiety pitches them in unending competition with their peers in an unwinnable race.Francois Lelord, a leading French psychiatrist, has caused a sensation with his book ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’. He says “in Western countries material affluence has increased threefold but our life satisfaction has not increased… in the West we live in fear that we may lose everything; there is more apparent freedom and choice but it increases our anxieties.” In a Times interview, Francois mentions three key needs we must fulfil to be happy: to feel useful and recognised; to have friends and to feel an excitement about life. And none of those can be bought.Those who truly appreciate what they have an see how material wealth is a constructed, corporate illusion of plenty, are undoubtedly the happiest people.