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Towards a happiness economy, one action at a time

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For months we’ve been talking about an economic recovery... but do we really want to go back to the economic system that prevailed before the pandemic? Or should we rather make the most of what the pandemic has taught us and refocus our economy around the principles of happiness and collective well-being?

There is an alternative to our current economic model of consumption, inequality and unsustainable resource development. It’s called the happiness economy, and it’s as good as it sounds.

FIRST OF ALL, WHAT IS THE HAPPINESS ECONOMY?

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. Many academics and economists are studying the principles of the happiness economy, as it takes shape in various initiatives throughout Quebec.

So what truly makes us happy? It’s surely not the overtime hours at work or running errands at the mall that come to mind when you think of your fondest memories. We often think of meals shared with friends or priceless moments spent with family - moments that are not calculated in our GDP or other economic indicators currently used to measure a society’s wealth.

GDP growth does not correlate with increased happiness. So if our ultimate goal is to be happy, then the goal of our economy should not be to maximize GDP, but to maximize societal happiness. That, in a nutshell, is the idea behind the happiness economy.

It's not easy to change our habits or even to imagine a system that is so different from what we’ve been used to our whole lives. But countries have been using GDP to measure wealth since 1944, and the world has changed a lot since then. Is it time to upgrade the model? Serious food for thought in terms of our individual, collective and systemic choices.

So let’s get started, one action at a time…


 

AS A COMMUNITY: DISCOVER AND ENCOURAGE LOCAL INITIATIVES

There are a myriad of initiatives in line with the happiness economy in Quebec. These initiatives illustrate how happiness can be achieved when we prioritize human relationships, when we share, when we value everyone’s time and skills, and when we get closer to nature.

Here are a few examples that are worth a thousand words. Try to find similar initiatives in your own region and help promote them!

Les Comptoirs solidaires, to allow greater access to healthy food

The lack of local food services in remote communities has given rise to some wonderful initiatives across Quebec. For example, in the Maria-Chapdelaine area of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, a food counter is providing fresh produce and food staples at very affordable prices to those most in need. The organization is run by volunteers, and all the profits are pumped back into the community or into the food counter. It also features a café where people who live alone can congregate.

Solon, to encourage sharing, creating and innovating within the community

This organization helps citizens develop local community projects to make their living environments more welcoming, self-supporting and ecologically responsible. The initiatives, which include self-run community markets, transition workshops and neighbourhood committees, are aimed at strengthening community ties while fighting climate change. One of the organization’s signature projects, LocoMotion, is a vehicle-sharing system among neighbours.

Le Réseau Accorderie, a network for exchanging services free of charge

The Accorderies network allows residents of a city or neighbourhood to exchange services, with the only currency being time. For example, an hour of gardening can be exchanged for an hour of piano lessons or cooking lessons. The network has chapters across Quebec, from the Gaspé to Sherbrooke.

Touski s'répare, a do-it-yourself repair network

Touski s’répare is a community for sharing resources and expertise on how to repair objects. Open to all and originally launched as a Facebook group, this project now boasts its own “repair café” in Montreal’s Villeray district. Mon atelier de quartier provides an equipment library, training workshops and a zero waste café where residents can gather to give their items a new lease on life. The initiative encourages residents to find environmentally friendly DIY solutions to their repair needs within the community.

A few other notable initiatives throughout Quebec: La Patente in Quebec City, Bibli’Outils in Gatineau, initiatives run by the Repair Café and the Ruches d’art. Initiatives that can bring us closer, improve our well-being and contribute to our happiness!
 


AS A CITIZEN: GET INVOLVED AND SPREAD THE WORD

Getting involved in our neighbourhood affairs can be a significant source of happiness. Is there an issue in your neighbourhood that you’d like to have addressed? Bring it to your city council meeting. Or take part in public consultations or PTA meetings at your children’s school - an excellent way to make a difference in the community. Bring a friend along for support – it can make the process less intimidating!


AS AN INDIVIDUAL: WHAT CAN I DO TO ENCOURAGE THE TRANSITION TO A HAPPINESS ECONOMY?
 

● Rethink your relationship with work

“I don’t have enough money to pay for everything, so I have to work more.” What if we flipped that idea on its head? In certain situations, life can sometimes cost less if we work less. For example, we could take more time to cook instead of buying takeout. Instead of buying new, we could have more time to find second-hand items or to repair broken items. Working less might also help us save on transportation costs.

And by working less and therefore hopefully stressing out less, there’s less of a tendency to make compulsive purchases as a way to decompress. Reduced working hours also mean that employers can enjoy a more rested and committed workforce, more focused on their jobs.

On a societal level, people who are fulfilled and who have time to eat well and exercise are also less of a burden on the healthcare system. Mental health problems exact a $50 billion annual toll on Canada’s economy, in terms of both direct and indirect costs (such as employment disability).

That being said, clearly not all of us are able to reduce our work hours. But that’s why systemic reform is important in order to encourage, for example, a minimum fair pay for everyone and a more flexible work schedule.

What would you do with an extra five or ten hours a week?

● Rethink your consumption habits

Material goods have a short-lived impact on happiness, which is why compulsive shopping does nothing to address our well-being.

That doesn’t mean we should stop consuming, but just that we should think about consuming differently. There are many alternatives to buying new. You can get creative and use what you already have, you can borrow or you can exchange items that you’re no longer using. There are many possibilities that often cost little or nothing, but can make you happy - and proud!

Buying second-hand is getting easier, with more and more online platforms that allow us to exchange items safely. There are also countless do it yourself tutorials out there to teach useful skills, such as how to make your own household items or give your bike a makeover.

If there are no alternatives to buying new, try to go the +1 -1 route: If you buy something new, dispose responsibly of something you already have. Give it to charity, sell it or gift it to a loved one. Your generosity will fuel not only your happiness but others’ as well!


● Put happiness on your agenda

It can be hard to make time for things that aren’t part of our daily schedules. So make a habit of it: it’s easier to get motivated when you make a new activity part of your routine. Include activities that make you feel good in your agenda, to go along with your daily scheduled meetings and tasks.

Try to make time every day for outdoor activities, regardless of the season. A lunchtime walk - even 10 or 15 minutes of fresh air does wonders for the mind. It’s a proven fact that spending time in nature has a calming and beneficial effect on both our mental and physical health.

Or look at your to-do list differently. Have an errand to run? Why not walk there instead of driving? Or go by bike and take a different route than usual to explore new streets.

A few simple new habits that can make you happy and do you some good!

As citizens, we’re all responsible for creating a system that prioritizes and optimizes our happiness. Changing and improving things is a collective responsibility. And changing the system begins with changes in our individual lives.