Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Radical Act of Defining Enough For Yourself

Not long ago, a colleague sent around some results from studies of human happiness which show that despite strong increases in the amount of stuff in people's lives in the developed world in recent decades, self-reporting of happiness hasn't increased all that much. The research shows that people tend to base their sense of what they need to be happy not on some absolute internal sense of well being, but instead on a sort of mental comparison between themselves and others. With such mental calculus, the feeling of "enough" is never constant, but instead is ever-rising. In systems terms, this way of searching for happiness has the same dynamics that drove the Cold War search for security through  assembling ever larger stores of weapons.

System dynamics teaches that there is one way out of any arms race, be it the race to obtain security by stockpiling more weapons than your enemy or happiness by acquiring more stuff than your neighbor. Arms races loose their fuel as soon as one party stops participating. The enoughness race, and its relentless impact on the Earth, would slow if more and more people found a way to set their own definition of enough and live by it.

Easier said than done, as seems always to be the case for true leverage points.

But, after a weekend of simple pleasures, from cheering for 8th grade basketball players, to walking in quiet woods, from listening to Christmas music, to cooking good food, it seems to me that defining enough may not be as hard as we sometimes think. And, not long home from the most recent UN climate conference, a simple fundamental solution, like defining what is enough, seems like it just might accomplish what geo-engineering, carbon markets, and new technologies might not. It might help us create societies that recognize and embrace the reality that our beautiful planet is also finite.

No comments: