photo: Bodiou Arnaud/Creative Commons via flickr


There's a really good piece over at Elephant Journal which I want you to consider today as it deals with the central philosophical problem of the entire environmental movement. Not how to live on planet with finite resources; not how to address climate change; not how to ensure that we don't sent this species or that species into extinction—those are all symptoms.

Jennifer Hunt asks us to consider happiness, lasting happiness versus relative happiness.

Here's the crux (read the original linked above if you want the Buddhist underpinning of all this, which could just as easily be a Hindu underpinning or any of the Dharmic paths):

Stripped down to the core, we innately desire ourselves and others to be happy. This desire is impatient, driving us to seek instant gratification—resulting in a relative happiness that

We have allowed ourselves to subscribe to a belief that power, money, status, and belongings bring happiness, even though we are well aware of their impermanent nature. These choices not only masquerade as happiness but add a set of stresses of their own.

The irony is, the more we look outside of ourselves for the easiest, fastest and most attractive way to be happy and not suffer, the less happy we become and the more we suffer. All these self-gratifying actions clutter our minds and life by forming habits and physical and material clutter.

I couldn't have said it better myself—which is why I quoted it at length—and here's why this is the central issue of environmentalism:

Overconsumption of Natural Resources Rooted in Manufactured Unhappiness

Overconsumption of natural resources, that is beyond the natural carrying capacity of the planet, is the overarching problem that manifests itself in habitat loss and poaching pushing animals to extinction, pushes oil companies to drill baby drill and spill baby spill, pushes the fashion industry to constantly reinventing itself in facades of newness, pushes more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, from industrial farming and factory farms.

While for far too great a number of human beings—a greater level of natural resource consumption could do plenty of good—for the majority of readers of Planet Green the issue is consuming beyond the fair and sustainable share. And that in a great many ways is rooted in perceived unhappiness.

Sometimes this comes unintentionally from society and our peers—thinking we don't have enough stuff to be happy because our neighbor has more—and sometimes this comes intentionally in the form of advertising exploiting these fears. Without product w, x, y and z you aren't happy. Without thighs or abs or a butt that look like this person's you are inadequate. If only you upgrade to the new iPhone you'll be that much more productive.

I call it the shiny thing make monkey happy syndrome. The bouncing monkey mind ever distracted by the new thing, ignoring the centered core of happiness that is always there if one chooses to seek it out.

If You Feel Like You're Giving Up Something, You're Still Attached to It

The fact of the matter is that products w, x, y and z may be useful but they won't make you happy; that person's physique may be an outward sign of better health (or not, depending on the lengths traveled to get it), but it's not happiness; a new gadget may make you slimly marginally more productive, but in reality probably never enough to justify its purchase on the criteria of its environmental impact—and victims of Gear Acquisition Syndrome unwittingly illustrate, lasting happiness doesn't come with a rechargeable battery pack.

In fact, lasting happiness comes with detachment. That doesn't necessarily mean getting rid of possessions and leading the life of an ascetic. It just means not identifying with the external objects as things that are required for your happiness and satisfaction.Though it often does naturally lead to a sloughing off, a reducing to the minimum, it doesn't mean renouncing, denying anything. In fact, if you feel like you are being denied something, are giving up something, you are still attached to it.

There are lots of ways to phrase that, but I'll leave it with this: Step outside the mental spiral of seeking happiness in external objects and you effortlessly step outside of consumerism. All those shiny goods are there and you can partake of them when they serve a function, but that is all they are, functionary; they are not who you are.

Happiness is what you are. Compassion is what you are. Love is what you are. Limitless consciousness is what you are. What all of us are. The great personal challenge (and now planetary as well) is to clear away all the mud and debris and clutter to realize that.