Don’t Read This Blog Post and You’ll Be Happier

Posted on Mar 30, 2016
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Happiness and what makes people happier has always been a keen interest of mine. You might think it’s because I started my career in Plantscaping and green building working in a flower shop. Because flowers make people happy, right?

It actually goes back even further for me, a generation further to be exact. My father, Bob, has always loved nature and it definitely rubbed off on me. When he took up nature photography as a serious hobby and then a second profession, it reinforced all those lessons from my childhood. Check out his website here, you’ll love it as much as I do.

My stepfather, Dr. Raymond Fowler, and my mother. Ray's work on positive psychology was a big influence on my professional thinking.

My stepfather, Dr. Raymond Fowler, and my mother. Ray’s work on positive psychology was a big influence on my professional thinking.

My stepfather, Raymond Fowler, was involved at the earliest stages of the modern positive psychology movement. He, Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Mike Csikszentmihalyi met in Acumal, Mexico and created the concept of positive psychology and decided it must be a research based discipline. It took off and struck a chord with people around the world.

So it isn’t much of a surprise their son and stepson ended up blending these influences into my lifelong work, improving our well-being by introducing nature in the form of plants into our working and living human environments, putting the principles of biophilia to work. We can positively influence our capacity for happiness with plants.

In the nearly forty years (yes, that’s not a typo!) since I started Good Earth Plant Company and then GreenScaped Buildings, I remain fascinated by what makes people happy. Of course, every business owner wants to be happy , make his or her clients and employees happy. But happiness should and needs to go deeper than a simple business transaction. What can I do as a human being to encourage and educate people for the long term about actions and attitude they can adopt to generate more happiness and a happier life?

It turns out there are a lot of people interested in the same topic, more than ever in our modern 24/7 always connected energized world. Serious research is now being done treating the concept of happiness itself as a science. There is a “Happiness Index” developed at Columbia University in New York. “Gross National Happiness” makes more sense to many leaders and economists than the traditional concept of  “Gross National Income.” Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been our standard for prosperity and economic progress in the United States. Is this really what makes the average person’s life better?  This measurement now seems outdated. Simple production and consumption without any regard to the consequences is doing damage to our happiness.

Engaging with our natural environment and with other human beings is critically important to our happiness and well-being.

Engaging with our natural environment and with other human beings is critically important to our happiness and well-being.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, “Gross National Product (GNP) has long been the yardstick by which economies and politicians have been measured. Yet it fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress. We need a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental wellbeing are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.”

What we are finding out as individuals is being confirmed through social science: the more we acquire and consume, the unhappier we are. The more we live a sustainable life connected to nature, the more happiness we generate.

In successful, vibrant communities, progress incorporates the economic, social, health, cultural and ecological dimensions. If you describe a livable city, it is a sustainable city embracing many aspects of well-being, no matter what country on Earth you live in. They provide green spaces and access to nature, clean reliable water, transportation and energy sources, access to affordable and healthy foods, places for social gathering and interaction, and minimal to zero waste.

Something as simple as a community garden can greatly increase your general happiness daily. Photo: Courtesy Karen Contreras, Urban Plantations

Something as simple as a community garden can greatly increase your general happiness daily. Photo: Courtesy Karen Contreras, Urban Plantations

Community gardens, green spaces, and green homes have all been shown to increase happiness. Good design helps people to connect, enhancing and strengthening our social networks – and I’m not talking about Facebook, but the traditional, real life, face to face kind of social networks. We used to call them personal relationships, friendships, you get the idea. Connected people live longer and consistently report being happier.

But here is a warning: Connecting in this sense does not mean using social media. If you use Facebook and Snapchat to get together with family and friends, this is great. But browsing the accounts of people you follow Facebook and other social sites actually has a negative effect on your happiness. When you look at all the happy photos of kids, pets, vacations, parties and good times, studies show it makes you feel envious, lonely, and depressed, and decreases your happiness. So in the same way you shouldn’t binge on ice cream, chocolate, or beer (ahem!), you need to put yourself on a social media diet, and consume social media in limited ways to get the most enjoyment out of it. Maybe you shouldn’t even be reading this blog post!

So I’ll do you a favor and stop here. Get outside and you’ll be happier. You’re welcome.