Sustainable development and happiness in times of crisis
Aleksander Zidanšek * Jožef Stefan Institute, Jamova cesta 39, Ljubljana, Slovenia Jožef Stefan International Postgraduate School, Jamova cesta 39, Ljubljana, Slovenia Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, University of Maribor, Koroška 160, Maribor, Slovenia e−mail: email@example.com
ABSTRACT Scientific studies of happiness multiplied following the creation of world database of happiness by Veenhoven . It has been shown recently by Lyubomirsky and Sheldon, that the best way to achieve sustainable gains in happiness is to change the actions, and that this is more important than circumstances . Many different measures of sustainable development exist, and a positive correlation between various measures of happiness and indicators of sustainable development has been demonstrated . In this contribution the interaction between happiness and sustainability is analysed in respect of the recent interconnected crises of economy, society, finances, energy, ethics and environmental sustainability. Taking into account that the observed social system is very complex, a simplified analysis has been attempted, which searches for dependences between happiness and several indices, which measure sustainability. Possible solutions to these crises are suggested, which would simultaneously improve both happiness and environmental sustainability. Keywords: Happiness, sustainability, crisis INTRODUCTION Happiness research [1-8] has found that happiness is positively correlated with many indicators of well being . Among others there is also a clear positive correlation  between various measures of happiness such as happiness and life satisfaction (HLS) index and typical measures of sustainability such as Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) , Environmental Performance Index (EPI)  and many of their components. However, there is also a strongly asymmetrical effect, so that for example crisis has a much stronger negative effect on happiness than prosperity has a positive effect on happiness . It has also been shown that happiness has been improving in most of the developed world in recent years . A positive correlation has also been found between happiness and sustainable consumption . A lot of data on sustainability and progress in millennium development goals has also been collected by the Dashboard on Sustainability  and we will use these data to test the dependence between happiness and different indicators of sustainability. Happiness in different countries has also been measured with a questionnaire within the World Values Survey  and there are also some other surveys that measure happiness or similar indices of life satisfaction and well being. There is also a country which measures happiness in a similar way that other countries measure GDP. The king of Bhutan introduced this concept as Gross National Happiness in 1972, and there seem to be a positive effect of this concept on the development of the country . Bhutan was actually found to be world
8th happiest country, and the only one with a low GDP among the top 20 happiest countries . This concept attracted a lot of attention and there are even international conferences on gross national happiness  with the goal to replace GPD with an indicator that would measure happiness instead. Unfortunately however such the concept of Gross National Happiness has not yet been developed, that could be used on national scales. Namely, the index used in Bhutan is rather arbitrary. It includes many components which are not necessarily related to happiness, and is also country specific, so it can’t be directly transferred to other countries. Another important disadvantage of such an index is that it is not directly reflected in the life of an individual as GDP, which is strongly correlated with salaries. If these obstacles are removed, the concept of Gross National Happiness will play an important role in the future economy. As long as we still wait for a comprehensive Gross National Happiness index, which could be measured for all countries, data from the World Values Survey offer the best available alternative for measurement of happiness. In this contribution we therefore use only data on happiness obtained by subjective measures, mainly from the World Values Survey . Usually these measures are obtained as answers to questionnaires. It is in principle also possible to measure happiness objectively, either with analysis of chemicals in the brain which is very expensive or with software for facial recognition . Namely, from facial expression it is possible to recognize person’s current emotions. Some psychologists believe that there exists a set of basic emotions, which is usually composed of happiness, surprise, sadness, fear, anger and disgust , although some researchers use different names for these emotions or a different set of emotions or don’t even agree that basic emotions exist . Most of these sets do however include happiness (sometimes called joy or joyfulness) as the only positive basic emotion. When subjectively measured happiness is used, one has to be careful in particular for cultural differences which cause people in different cultures to express emotions differently . Taking these limitations into account let us proceed with analysis of interplay between happiness and sustainability with emphasis on crises and possible strategies to mitigate negative effects of crisis on both happiness and sustainability.
SUSTAINABILITY AND HAPPINESS Happiness researchers have found that in addition to a personal genetic setpoint of happiness, which account for about 50% of happiness, and environment, which account for about 10% of happiness, there is also an additional contribution of 40%, which is difficult to explain . These 40% are usually explained as individual intentional activity, which is independent of both environment and genetics. Lyubomirsky suggests that each person can increase their own happiness, if they cultivate activities which promote happiness, such as expressing gratitude, cultivating optimism, nurturing relationships, practicing acts of kindness etc . This means that external factors such as economy, state of environment and possible crises influence only 10% of happiness. In the following we will therefore focus on these 10%, and we will also include some ideas to use the other 40% from individual intentional activity.
It has been shown that environmental sustainability is positively correlated with different measures of happiness such as HLS , where the Environmental Sustainability Index  and Environmental Performance Index  are used as typical measures of sustainability. While there is a positive correlation between Environmental Sustainability Index and many of its components on one hand and measures of happiness on the other hand, the cause and effect of this relation is not clear. One could argue that people who live in a nicer environment are happier. This is in agreement with findings that environment influences happiness . It might also be possible that happy people live more sustainable lives. Madjar and Ozawa for example developed a checklist approach with an evaluation and assessment table, which seems to support the possibility that happiness could make consumption patterns more sustainable . In order to test complex relationship between environmental, economic and social measures of sustainability on one hand and measures of happiness we searched for a complete set of indicators from different aspects of sustainability. There exist many different indicators of sustainable development, however most of them are not calculated for a large set of countries. United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development accepted a set of sustainability indicators from economic, social, environmental and institutional aspects. These indicators have been evaluated by Ispra JRC and are available in their free tool Dashboard of Sustainability , which also calculated aggregate indexes of economic, social and environmental sustainability as well as the aggregate sustainability index. A wide collection of data on happiness has been collected by the World Values Survey . In order to observe the influence of environmental, economic and social aspects of sustainability on happiness, we checked correlations of several indicators from World Values Survey  with those collected in Dashboard of Sustainability . It is interesting that there is not much correlation between happiness and most of the indicators, which measure the state of environment. It is also interesting that there is no significant correlation between happiness and environmental sustainability index. This is in apparent contradiction with the finding the happier countries have a better value of environmental performance index EPI. From these results it can be concluded that those indicators that measure current state of the environment are not positively correlated with happiness. Only indicators which measures environmental performance (such as EPI), are positively correlated with happiness. This is consistent with the findings of happiness researchers that improvement in environmental factors improves happiness only for a short time, after which happiness returns to the natural setpoint. Current state of environment is therefore not expected to significantly influence long term happiness. Good environmental performance is however expected to make continuous improvements in the state of environment, which can influence happiness throughout the time of these improvements. There are many other approaches in measuring happiness and sustainability. Happy Planet Index (HPI)  is an example, where a combined measure of happiness and environmental sustainability has been created. It is proportional to life satisfaction and life expectancy, and inversely proportional to a sum of ecological footprint and an arbitrary constant. While some results of this index for individual countries are interesting, its definition is rather arbitrary. Nevertheless, this index demonstrates that it is possible to live long and happy with a small
environmental impact. It also shows that island nations in general score very high, and among regions Latin American countries are the best . Some distinction between happiness and life satisfaction can be found. In the following figures, the most recent available data have been used, happiness data from Inglehart et al  and other data including GDP per capita in USD from EPI 2008 . Figs. 1 and 2 show a difference in correlations with EPI as a standard sustainability index between happiness and life satisfaction measured together (HLS) and happiness alone without contribution from life satisfaction (H), which is defined in an opposite scale so that 1 is the best value and 4 is the worse value . In Fig. 1 we plotted a linear line to demonstrate the trend as a guide for an eye. HLS and EPI are obviously positively correlated. Also happiness is positively correlated with EPI, however there is also a small U-shaped effect as seen from the parabolic guide for an eye curve. Apparently, both very unsustainable and very sustainable countries are very happy, while countries in the middle are less happy. In order to better understand this behaviour in Fig. 2, we compared dependence of EPI and happiness on GDP per capita (Figs. 3 and 4).
Figure 1. Happiness and life satisfaction (HLS) as a function of EPI.
Figure 2. Happiness without life satisfaction as a function of EPI.
Figure 3. EPI as a function of GDP per capita (in USD).
Figure 4. Happiness as a function of GDP per capita (in USD). European and third world countries are shown separately, because there is a big difference in their behaviour, mainly due to low happiness in low income Eastern European countries. While people in low income European countries mainly from Eastern Europe are very unhappy and happiness increases with increasing GDP per capita, in third world countries happiness seems to decrease with increasing GDP per capita. It is therefore possible that U shape of the relation between happiness and sustainability is caused by the relation between GDP per capita and happiness as observed from Fig. 4. Here there is a clear U shape with exception of low income Eastern European countries on the top of this graph. A strategy that improves happiness could therefore be most useful for sustainability for countries with medium and high level of GDP per capita. While cause and effect relation between happiness and sustainability is not clear, there are good arguments that this relation works in both sides, so that improvement in one parameter causes improvement of the other parameter. Namely, a nicer environment in a more sustainable country can help people feel better as it effects the 10% of happiness caused by environment , and also improved happiness could effect consumption patterns and make them more sustainable . We therefore assume that a strategy which would improve happiness, could also have the same effect on sustainability, at least in cases where both indicators are positively correlated. However, taking into account the effects of happiness on consumption patterns, it is possible that improvement of happiness would be beneficial for sustainability for all countries.
SUSTAINABILITY AND HAPPINESS IN CRISIS While there is a clear positive correlation between happiness and sustainability, there is also a disproportionate loss of happiness during crises as has been observed from recent crises in Russia and Hungary after the fall of Soviet Union . Also the financial crisis in 2008 had a significant effect on public mood and Gallup measured an observable decrease in happiness in US in September 2008 . The observed decrease in happiness was however only temporary and after some oscillations happiness returned to similar levels as before crisis by April 2009 . In Russia during the fall of Soviet Union happiness decreased a lot . Trends in happiness and life satisfaction for Russia are shown in Fig. 5. In Russia during the economic crisis and the fall of Soviet Union life satisfaction and happiness deteriorated. When Russia recovered with fast economic growth after 1999, life satisfaction and happiness improved back to similar levels as before the crisis.
Figure 5. Life satisfaction (LS), happiness (H), happiness and life satisfaction (HLS)  and World Bank GDP per capita purchase power parity in Russia during crises and recovery. Happiness is defined in a different direction, so that lower levels are better.
While HLS is positively correlated with wealth for low income countries, it saturates and after about 10000 USD GDP per capita there is a very weak dependence of HLS on income . This finding is called the Easterlin paradox, and is usually explained with rising aspirations which increase at a similar rate as the income, so that people don’t get happier with increasing income . This means that for developed countries the negative effects of crises on happiness and life satisfaction can’t be compensated with increase due to economic growth after the crisis. Crisis therefore has a net negative effect on happiness even if it is followed by a much stronger economic growth. Also, during crisis the short term correlation between HLS and sustainability is lost, because crisis usually slows economic activities and related environmental stress. So, for example both Russia and Argentina have excellent values of EPI in spite of the temporary decrease in HLS during the recent crisis . DISCUSSION Declaration of independence followed ideas of John Locke and announced in 1776 “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” . Philosopher Jeremy Bentham developed a principle of greatest happiness, which states the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation . It is important to understand that happiness has a stronger correlation with those more “dynamic” indices of sustainability that measure progress (such as EPI) than with those more “static” indices that measure the current state of sustainability (such as ESI). The correlations does not imply the causal direction, which can thus be in both directions. If there is a causal connection from happiness toward sustainability, this finding shows that happiness can have a positive effect on progress in sustainability (e.g. measured with EPI) and not on the current state of sustainability. This seems reasonable, as happy people can be motivated to improve their living environment. If happiness is measured with HLS, then after a certain level of development about 10000 USD GDP per capita  there is not much room for improvement. There is however a lot of room for deterioration of happiness in crises . Following the principle of greatest happiness it might therefore be better to sacrifice some economic growth in order to avoid crises . It is however not necessary to sacrifice development in order to achieve the greatest happiness for all. Namely, one can focus on the other 40% of happiness , which are attributed to individual activity. Therefore it is wise to search for innovative ways for improvement of happiness. This could for example be achieved with self organised social networks. Namely, Fowler and Christakis found that happiness spreads fast in social networks, almost like a virus . This type of a distribution channel  is usually cheaper than most of the established governmental responses to crises, such as bailouts and stimulus, which can cost several thousand USD or EUR per capita. Spread of happiness in social networks is therefore particularly attractive in times of crisis, when funding is scarce.
CONCLUSIONS Correlations between measures of happiness and sustainability show that there is a positive relation, which can be linked with causal relations in both directions. On one hand improvement in environment can make people happier via 10% of happiness, which is linked
with environmental influence. On the other hand happy people are more relaxed and in better health, so they have more ability to improve the state of their living environment. While the 50% of happiness from genetics seem difficult or impossible to change, the other 40% of happiness linked with individual activity can be addressed in different ways, such as expressing gratitude, cultivating optimism, nurturing relationships and practicing acts of kindness . These individual measures will of course have the largest effect when they are shared with the largest number of people, such as in social networks, for which the fast development of information and communication technologies provides plenty of opportunities. Additional benefit of solutions based on these other 40% of happiness is that they also have potential to improve consumption patterns  and health , which have both been shown to improve with happiness. NOMENCLATURE EPI ESI GDP H HLS HPI LS UN CSD Environmental performance index Environmental sustainability index Gross domestic product Happiness Happiness and life satisfaction index Happy planet index Life satisfaction United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development
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