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Whether living sustainably makes me happier: on smugness

* In response to the video Call for submissions for documentary on pursuit of happiness.

First of all, I wouldn’t say I live sustainably.  I don’t really make a conscious effort to do it, other than recycling and composting via our city-sponsored program which makes it really easy.  I do buy organic produce and more often than not buy locally-raised meat, but that’s more for my own health reasons – and flavor – than about being “green.”

I also live in a 900-square-foot house on a small lot, because it’s cheaper that way. But anyone living in almost anywhere else in the world would laugh their head off at the idea that I, or almost anyone else in this country, live “sustainably.”

We have a two person household and have two cars.  We also have two dogs, and I read somewhere that having a dog is less “green” than driving an SUV.  Oh, and I drive an SUV.   Most unsustainably of all, I fly a hell of a lot.

I walked my dogs to the store today.  It’s about a mile and a half each way.  This wasn’t because I was trying to save the environment, but because I wanted to kill two birds with one stone – I needed to go to the store, and the dogs needed to go for a walk.  Yes, halfway home, lugging a 20-lb backpack and trying to keep two 90-lb dogs from tangling themselves up was much harder than driving, I had a moment where I felt virtuous, but there’s no point in feeling virtuous about something I didn’t set out to do for a virtuous reason.

That’s the other thing: virtue and smugness.  I get the feeling that a lot of upper middle class people in American who are making an effort to change their lives to be more in line with what they think of as sustainable have a really easy time slipping over into the smug realm.  Maybe that’s because I live in Berkeley, one of the places that is most chock-full of that demographic.  And I feel a lot of smug vibes in the air around here.  But I sort of suspect that it’s a universal tendency.

Anyway.  One thing I know that makes me happy is having freedom and control over how I live my life and how I spend my time.  I think this is a pretty universal thing too.

So maybe by making changes in their lives, by forming an intention (reducing their carbon footprint) and sustaining that intention by taking steps to fulfill it (living in a smaller space, taking public transportation, recycling, buying less crap) actually makes people feel like they are directing their own lives, and ultimately that makes them feel that some control over their lives.

And then they feel happier.