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Happiness: much more than a state of mind

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Colleen Thorpe, Équiterre’s Executive Director, shares her vision of happiness - as a leader, mother and citizen.

Question: We’re hearing more and more about the “happiness economy”. But what exactly is it?

The idea behind the happiness economy is to fundamentally rethink our ways of doing things, our relationship with time, and our notions of growth and money in order to refocus on what truly makes us happy. That means viewing everything in a completely different way, to build an economy that enhances our well-being and quality of life, while also fostering a true connection between human beings and our natural environment.

Unfortunately, our current system is based primarily on infinite economic growth, profit and consumption. But we know that after a certain point, money does not contribute to our happiness or well-being. That’s why we must act collectively to rethink our system in order to put conditions in place that will contribute to our happiness, while respecting the limits of our ecosystems. But for many, it’s difficult to see how the economy can and even should contribute directly to our happiness…other than in a material way.

It may seem unrealistic or even unfeasible to change the system, but history tells us that we are capable of changing our society and building a better one in its place. We’re actually living this reality right now. What seemed impossible yesterday is finally possible and even necessary today.

Q: What is our role, both as individuals and as a community?

The happiness economy is a social construct and, as such, must be driven by society itself. That means that in order to achieve it, we all have a role to play. As individuals and members of society, we share a responsibility for the system in which we live. A first step toward change is to be aware of our share of the responsibility, to then take action.

At the individual level, we should ask ourselves what we value in our lives and what makes us profoundly happy. Sometimes we lose sight of what truly matters, to such an extent that we put our work before our family and friends, and value money over our well-being. We don’t always give enough importance to the things that are necessary to our happiness. At a minimum, we must dare to shift our priorities and put happiness first.

At the collective level, we need to take back control of our systems. The economy is complex, yes, but it should be accessible to all - accessible enough so that everyone can understand how it works and feels that they have the power to contribute.

Building a more humane and resilient system, while also dealing with both the public health and climate crises, is a significant challenge that the government cannot address on its own. We must be involved.

Q: How is Équiterre involved in the happiness economy?

Having worked at Équiterre for over 12 years, I’d say that it’s the very essence of Équiterre’s mission: to create a more just and equitable society (and a greener one, of course) built on an economy that’s focused more on happiness than on growth.

In everything we do, Équiterre strives to help individuals, organizations and governments rethink their perspectives and incorporate behaviours that can change our system and re-centre our economy around values that are more humane.

From Équiterre’s very first projects, we’ve worked hard to achieve these objectives.
The Family Farmers Network, for instance, was designed to offer Quebec farmers better living and working conditions at a time when big agribusiness was not allowing them to live their values. Farm by farm, we’ve supported them so that they could make a decent living from the land. And that directly benefits the rest of society, which now has easier access to healthy local food.

Today, we continue to work on the obstacles that threaten to make our planet and our communities more vulnerable.

Our vision for institutional food focuses on the importance of getting back to basics: re-establishing the urban-rural connection, understanding our ecosystems, relying on short supply chains and making quality food more accessible to all.

Our transportation projects encourage the transition to human-powered and zero emission mobility. Considering that on the one hand pollution is taking millions of lives across the world, and on the other that biking and walking have proven benefits for our bodies and minds, transportation has become a pivotal issue and fertile ground for timely solutions.

Responsible consumption is also front and centre in our efforts. Going beyond just being “responsible”, the intention is to voluntarily reduce our consumption so we can prioritize our happiness over the accumulation of material goods.

Q: As a leader, but also as a citizen and a mother, how does this all fit into your daily life?

I feel that a person’s commitment and their connection to others and to nature are keys to being able to change our system and to create a society that reflects who we are. My commitment grows out of forging ties, connecting with people, building bridges with those who are different from me and being open to those differences.

Professionally, it ties in with how I live my life on a daily basis. I try to impress upon our employees that performance and productivity at work stem from their motivation to bring about change and from the connections that they establish each and every day. I also remind them that it is important to strike a balance between their personal and professional lives. Without this balance, I don’t think we can give our best.

From a personal standpoint, I have a long history of involvement in my children’s daycare centre and schools. That’s one way I have tried to instill my values in my children and to encourage them to get involved in their own right to create a more just and humane world, a greener world, and above all a happier world.