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Home / Articles / Columnists / On the Bright Side /  Sustainable Happiness
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Tuesday, March 6,2012

Sustainable Happiness

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  

It is ironic that the earliest known civilizations began in what is now known as the “developing” world.


The political structures and economies of the developing world are considered emerging, but it is actually more accurate to consider them recovering. I think of it as though our great (greatgreat…) grandparents suffered from a malignant diagnosis (colonialism) and after many centuries of fighting they are getting their lives back. While we young bucks are busy leading the modern world, is there not something we should garner from our wise ancestors before they toss aside their old ways and get on the industrialized band wagon? What if, in their efforts for material gain and progress, the cultural richness of indigenous peoples could be preserved and even “exported” to the west.

Studies by the World Values Survey ( indicate that most people in Africa do not report feeling less happy than people in developed nations, despite being the poorest people on the planet. This, juxtaposed against some of our famous disillusioned pop-stars, demonstrates that more money does not bring more happiness. Rather, happiness comes from connections with others, hope for the future, and a sense that you belong to something bigger than yourself. This notion of community is as an ancient concept. Ironically, the more “developed” a nation, the less community threads can be seen.

There is evidence abound that people in the west are seeking a deeper connection to the world around us and each other. Just take a look around at all of the yoga classes being offered, especially in urban areas. While on the surface it may seem that this is mainly for relaxation and keeping in shape, but goes deeper than that. Jagdish Parikh (author of Managing Your Self) says that yoga provides, “answers to a conflict that no economic model - from communism and socialism to the currently victorious capitalism-has resolved: the conflict between the individual as a human being and the individual as a tool for progress.” In yoga we stretch our minds along with our bodies as we share in the communal bond of taking time for ourselves before heading out into the world of responsibilities. And whether it is a yoga class, a runner’s club, an art class or even a book club, each of us has countless opportunities to engage with a community of likeminded people that offers us a break from what exhausts us and replaces that with what reminds us of what is personally important.

We are on a runaway train to “progress.” But there are more and more signs appearing that indicate that this train may be headed in a dangerous direction at a speed that is not sustainable. It is true that the progress made in the Industrial Revolution impacted the world for the better. However, it is also true that those in the margins, the many ecosystems and cultures of our vast planet, were at same time negatively impacted. Perhaps the time has come to take a look at what the past can teach us before it disappears. What culture traits might we want to preserve before they become extinct? For me, the value of community is one worth preserving. It is plain logic that when people feel supported they have a greater amount of faith in themselves. With faith comes hope, and with hope progress. But wait! Isn’t it “progress” that gets in the way of community? Not necessarily. People have always hoped for a better future, but “better” is a relative concept. It changes with the times. Perhaps today’s better is a world where we slow down and worry less about what new items we can create and more about how much more free time we can create. We worry less about how much money we can make and more about how much time we can spend with our families. I think the time is right to incorporate some ancient concepts of community to our post-industrial tapestry to arrive at a new age of sustainable happiness.


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