Environment and wellbeing

New research explores nature of wellbeing

The natural environment is essential to our wellbeing, yet its role in this regard is often underappreciated, says Lincoln University researcher Dr Lin Roberts.

The Department of Conservation has commissioned Dr Roberts and a group of her colleagues to write a report which raises awareness of the role ecosystems play in our happiness.

The report highlights the fact that nature provides us with the air we breathe and the water we drink, as well as offering countless opportunities for recreation and leisure.

However, our belief that material wealth and possessions will make us happy is putting our ecosystems at risk, and this could have an adverse effect on our comfort in the long term, the report indicates.

“The more we consume, the more damage we do to the environment, but we assume that if we have more material things, we’ll be happier,” Dr Roberts says.

“An enormous amount of expenditure goes into creating advertising that encourages us to consume, but studies show our most satisfying experiences don’t tend to require commercial goods or services.”

Dr Roberts says we get our best happiness return from things like close relationships, helping others, savouring small pleasures, setting our own goals and experiencing time in nature.

“And the good news is, these ways of seeking happiness have much less impact on the ecosystems that our long-term wellbeing depends on,” she says.

The report, entitled The nature of wellbeing – how nature’s ecosystem services contribute to the wellbeing of New Zealand and New Zealanders, also aims to promote the message that the environment’s contribution to our wellbeing should play a greater role in public decision-making.

On a global scale, governments and researchers have been exploring how best to measure the wellbeing of a nation in an effort to address the issue.

“We have traditionally relied on GDP to measure progress, but the limitations of this are being increasingly recognised,” Dr Roberts says.

“For example, some situations that are detrimental to our wellbeing – such as car crashes and natural disasters – increase GDP, so it is a mistake to think that a rise in GDP will always mean we are better off.”

In fact, studies show that the more we focus on money, the less happy we are, she says.

“Obviously, we need enough money to meet our basic needs, but once we get beyond a certain point of wealth, more money brings little additional happiness.

“This could be due to wealth being relative, in the sense that the more money you have, the more you feel you need to buy.”

Dr Roberts says we also compare ourselves to others, and it is our relative standing rather than absolute levels of income that matters to most people.

“We adapt quickly to situations too, so having a lot of money becomes ‘the new normal’ after a while and doesn’t necessarily contribute to our happiness in a lasting way.

“However, if we can get better at identifying and choosing ways to meet our needs that bring us more happiness, while at the same time causing less damage to the natural systems we depend on, we’ll be happier now and future generations will be able to enjoy a good life as well.”

Ends

For the full report, see www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/science-and-technical/sap258entire.pdf.

For further information please contact:

Dr Lin Roberts, Senior Lecturer

Faculty of Environment, Society and Design, Lincoln University

DDI 03 423 0438

M 027 2544 524

E lin.roberts@lincoln.ac.nz

W www.lincoln.ac.nz

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