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Monday, October 22, 2007

Bill McKibben Makes Us Happy

FROM KARL GIBERSON: Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing Bill McKibben for the first time, at Derby Academy in my hometown of Hingham, Massachusetts. He made a familiar point, but there was something about his pastoral sincerity and understated physical presence that drove the point home. Studies show, he said, that Americans’ self-reported “happiness” peaked in 1956 and has declined steadily since, despite our rapidly rising standard of living. This rising standard of living—bigger cars, bigger homes, bigger vacations—has squandered much of the world’s energy, created a dangerous political environment, and initiated global warming. But we are less content, having created a culture of affluence in which playing with expensive toys has replaced meaningful human interaction.
McKibben’s simple but compelling point: If we change our lifestyle to conserve energy, we will end up doing things that make us happier—shopping in local farmer’s markets, commuting on public transit with other people, carpooling, walking more. In short, we need to be more European, like we used to be. Not surprisingly, Europeans report a much higher level of personal happiness than we do—despite driving toy cars, taking the train everywhere, and living in tiny flats.