Could being happy make people nicer to the environment?

It makes sense that if people are happier, they’re more likely to be kind to other people, but feeling good could well make us nicer to the environment, too.

That’s according to psychologist Miriam Tatzel from Empire State College, who gave a presentation on the links between mental wellbeing, consumerism and environmentalism at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention, based on an overview of current research.

One theme the studies she analysed returned to was that a greed for money and status symbols is detrimental to personal relationships and emotional health. Nobody’s saying you should throw out your Marc Jacobs tote or knock the iPhone 6 off your wishlist, but we all know that it takes more than a flashy gadget or beautiful bag to provide lasting happiness.

Still, as Tatzel points out, our tendency to believe that these things will fulfil us drives us to spend more than we can afford and use up too many of the earth’s resources.

In fact, she says, most of the habits proven to make people feel good (including spending less, using money for experiences rather than more stuff, and being grateful for what we have) would also benefit the environment.

In other words, maybe the wake-up call we need in order to save the earth for future generations will have more impact if we emphasise the selfish mood-boosting benefits in the here and now.

Image via Andrei Taranchenko’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley