March 18, 2019

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CSRlive Commentary

01.25.2011 - 08:26PM

Category: Community Development

All Happiness Is Local

Francescacsr

By CSRwire Contributing Writer Francesca Rheannon

What makes you happy? A new film says economics, not psychology, has the answer.

A lot of people are talking these days about Positive Psychology. It's grounded in the idea that if we assign positive meanings to our lives, we can be happy, no matter what our circumstances. We can view our cancer diagnosis as an opportunity for emotional growth, our pink slip as a chance to have more time for family and our foreclosure notice as a chance to be liberated from mowing the lawn. (OK, I'm being partly facetious.)

Undoubtedly it works in some situations, but I start to get suspicious when Positive Psychology experts consult with the US military or companies like BP about how to motivate soldiers or employees to adapt to deeply alienating situations - without challenging the underlying causes of that alienation, like killing people in the case of the military, or working in a disempowering corporate culture.

A new film rolling out this month and next, The Economics of Happiness, takes a different approach. It says our spiritual satisfaction, our sense of security, our joy, derive from our deep connections with others and our natural environment. It also states globalization destroys security by undermining community, subordinating local connections to the dictates of distant profits and creating dissatisfaction by replacing local cultures with consumer culture.

The Economics of Happiness gathers voices from six continents (including Bill McKibben, David Korten, Vandana Shiva and Juliet Schor) to talk about the impact of globalization--and grassroots efforts to forge a world that serves human needs for physical, social and spiritual sustenance. In other words, the film claims, happiness lies in creating real circumstances in the real world that support it.

Helena Norberg-Hodge co-wrote and co-directed the film with Steven Gorelick and John Page. The founder and director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), Norberg-Hodge has spent the last 25 years working with indigenous communities in the Himalayan region of Ladakh and is the author of Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh (also made into a film).

She witnessed how the advent of globalization brought unemployment to a region that had never previously known it, creating a cascade of impacts, including economic insecurity, competition and violence between ethnic and religious groups that had always peacefully coexisted, and psychological shame and depression among people who began to see themselves as poor and inferior when Western consumer-based standards of beauty and wealth were imported into their communities.

"The economic direction of globalizing is about supporting global businesses over local businesses. So we have a whole range of subsidies and taxes and regulations that support the giants and help them destroy the small. In that process we are also subsidizing business to always choose technology over human beings, with more and more jobs being destroyed - both by substituting human beings for technology and by looking for the cheapest sources of labor," Norberg-Hodge told CSRwire.

The toll is taken not just on traditional communities in the global South, but also in rich nations. In the movie Bill McKibben makes the point that the high water mark for personal satisfaction in the United States was reached in 1956 and has been declining ever since, even as an ever-swelling avalanche of products poured down on consumers.

Re-localizing economies strengthens resilience by increasing diversity, creating jobs, improving connections between producers and consumers and keeping wealth re-invested in the community, among other benefits. But is it incompatible with a global economy? What about fair trade mechanisms that support local economies, like Equal Exchange? What about people all over the world being able to gain access to products that are desirable and sustainable, too (say, organic fair trade dark chocolate, MRI machines or high speed trains)? Do we have to throw out the baby with the bath?

Not so, says David Korten. I spoke with him just a few days after my conversation with Helena Norberg-Hodge and posed that question to him. As one of the voices in the film, The Economics of Happiness, and as a personal friend of Norberg-Hodge, he clarified the point. "Local self-reliance is a framing goal. But if we're going to drink coffee or tea, those need to be imported. People trade for things they cannot produce themselves. If you're going to trade, it's better to do it through farmer cooperatives instead of through a predatory corporation."

Korten and others in the New Economy Working Group he spearheads are developing the concept of economies that mimic ecology. Local economies can be integrated into a "planetary system of interlinked self-reliant regional economies, each rooted in a community of place and organized to optimize the lives of all who live within its borders," as Korten writes in a still-unpublished draft paper.

The choice is not between global and local economies, but the purpose that guides them. The Economics of Happiness says we must put the moral values of environmental stewardship, the time and space to foster human connection, satisfying work for all, and cooperation at the center of our economic activity. We’ll all be happier for it.

About Francesca Rheannon

CSRwire Talkback's Managing Editor is Francesca Rheannon. An award-winning journalist, Francesca is co-founder of Sea Change Media. She produces the Sea Change Radio's series, Back to The Future, and co-produces the Interfaith Center of Corporate Responsibility's podcast, The Arc of Change. Francesca's work has appeared at SocialFunds.com, The CRO and E Magazine, and she is a contributing writer for CSRwire. Francesca hosts the nationally syndicated radio show, Writers Voice with Francesca Rheannon.

This commentary is written by a valued member of the CSRwire contributing writers' community and expresses this author's views alone.

Readers: Can global and local entrepreneurship coexist? Will this be a unifying factor toward building a sustainable, global community? Tell us on Talkback!

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