Sustainable Happiness Basis of Danish Report

Imagine living your life in a way that not only makes you happy, but also contributes to the well- being of everyone and everything around you. The type of individual happiness that does not exploit the well-being of other people, the environment or future generations is known as sustainable happiness. Sustainable happiness goes beyond just being kind to the people you meet on the street. What if you chose to make your usual morning coffee fair trade coffee? What if you refused to wear clothes made by companies that employ sweatshops? While these changes may seem miniscule, you could impact the lives of people around the world in a positive way.

This concept of sustainable happiness was conceived by Dr. Catherine O’Brien, a professor in the Education Department at CBU. She defined the concept with the belief that people today need to promote happiness that encourages the well-being and sustainability of everything around us. It is a topic that is rapidly being adopted worldwide. Dr. O’Brien was recently interviewed by the Danish Happiness Research Institute. They were eager to discuss the applications of sustainable happiness.  As a result, the Happiness Research Institute collaborated with the Danish Ministry of the Environment to write a report about the benefits of understanding happiness through a sustainability lens. Their Sustainable Happiness report acknowledges the significance of Dr. O’Brien’s path breaking work.

But perhaps the connection between sustainability and happiness is best illustrated by the concept of “sustainable happiness,” which was coined by Catherine O’Brien, an associate professor of education at Cape Breton University, in Canada. Sustainable happiness is happiness that contributes to individual, community, or global well-being without the exploitation of other people, the environment, or future generations.

When perceived this way, it is no longer possible to imagine a future where the pursuit of happiness is not somehow connected to sustainability. As the human species continues its quest for happiness and well-being, more emphasis must be placed on sustainability and the interaction between sustainability and happiness (p.16).

It is important for us to realize that we are interconnected with one another. Today, people are able to easily connect and communicate with people around the world. That being said, communication is not the only thing that links people together. Our actions can also have a global effect. For example, the purchase of a popular brand of shirt may end up funding a sweatshop that utilizes child labor in order to cut down on production costs.  By understanding that our actions affect others around the world, we can begin to make the necessary changes to our way of thinking in order to avoid damaging the well-being of those around us. This is what sustainable happiness is all about – living with well-being for all in mind. 

Dr. O’Brien also teaches a sustainable happiness course at CBU. She states, “Future educators who graduate from our program will be well prepared to integrate sustainability into their teaching practice and to understand how we may have a high quality of life that contributes to our happiness and well-being, sustainably.”