All posts tagged: happiness

International Day of Happiness

In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which recognised happiness as a “fundamental human goal.” The following year the International Day of Happiness was born and from 2013 onwards it’s been celebrated every year on the 20th March.

Unsurprisingly it’s got us all talking about how we can be happier, individually and as a society

This year the UK has been ranked 19th with countries such as the US, Germany, Ireland and Israel ranking higher. The author of the World Happiness Report, Jeffrey Sachs commented that “The predominant political discourse in the United States is aimed at raising economic growth, with the goal of restoring the American Dream and the happiness that is supposed to accompany it. But the data show conclusively that this is the wrong approach.”

The report highlights that much more research is needed to understand the interplay of factors that determine the social foundations of happiness and consider alternative ways of improving those foundations. Here at Common Cause Foundation we know that values are crucial to the well-being of society and influence wellbeing, civic engagement and peoples feelings of social alienation.

Values are the guiding principles we hold in life, most people hold compassionate values to be most important, these are values such as broadmindedness, social justice, helpfulness, forgiveness and love. When these values are ‘engaged,’ brought to mind by certain communications or experiences, this tends to affect our attitudes and behaviours in positive pro-social ways. For instance, we are more likely to respond positively to requests for help or donations.[1]

Unfortunately there is a disparity between the values that people themselves prioritise and the values they believe their fellow citizens hold to be most important. Most people believe that others care most about self-enhancement values such as wealth, social status, dominance and popularity. It’s not difficult in the current climate to think of examples of why people may believe this to be true.

When we’re talking about happiness this perceptions gap becomes more than just interesting – it becomes crucial to our understanding of happiness. The more we underestimate the importance that others place on compassionate values, the less inclined we are to volunteer, the less responsible we feel for our communities, and the more socially alienated we are likely to feel. This suggests that this perceptions gap could be in part responsible for our constant search for happiness.

The report concludes that ‘changing the focus from the material to the social foundations of happiness will improve the rate at which lives can be sustainably improved for all, throughout the world and across generations.’

The work of Tim Kasser, professor of psychology at Knox College (Illinois) and a great help in developing the Common Cause work, agrees with this conclusion.

Tim discusses how America’s culture of consumerism undermines our well-being. When people buy into the ever-present marketing messages that “the good life” is “the goods life,” they not only use up Earth’s limited resources, but they are less happy and less inclined toward helping others.

Our social institutions have a part to play in this. Most people said that schools universities, the media, businesses, government and cultural institutions do little to encourage compassionate values. By working to stimulate and engage compassionate values of the communities and audiences they engage with, these institutions can work together to counteract this misconception. Ultimately helping to create a society that is more aware of what they have in common, come to rely on their fellow citizens and be more civically active, connected to their community, less socially isolated and ultimately… happier.

Check out how Common Cause Foundation are working with Manchester Museum and the work that’s already under-way there.

[1] Maio, G.R., Pakizeh, A., Cheung, W.Y. and Rees, K.J. (2009). Changing, priming, and acting on values: effects via motivational relations in a circular model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97 (4), 699–715; Burgoyne, C.B. and Lea, S.E.G. (2006). Money is material. Science, 314 (5802), 1091–1092; Vohs, K.D., Mead, N.L. and Goode, M.R. (2006). The psychological consequences of money, Science, 314 (5802), 1154–1156.

Shanna LennonInternational Day of Happiness
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Campaign Case Study: 
City of Sanctuary

This first Campaign Case Study is part of a series of stories that will share the experience of organisations that grasp the importance of cultural values in third sector campaigning. We hope that these real-life examples of transformation inspire and empower you to push organisational boundaries and improve how we campaign together.

If you’d like to discuss these stories, or find out more about them, come along to the Campaigning with Common Cause get-together every second Wednesday of the month.

“Creating spaces of safety and a culture of welcome”

City of Sanctuary seeks to build a culture of hospitality for people seeking sanctuary in the UK. Over the last six years, they have created a network of towns and cities throughout the UK where asylum seekers and refugees can contribute and participate fully in the life of their communities. Have a look at this video to get a sense of what City of Sanctuary are all about:

I spoke to Sarah Eldridge, one of two part-time staff in Sheffield, about building community, changing attitudes and engaging values in her work.

What did City of Sanctuary set out to do differently?

Sheffield had a number of organisations providing services for asylum seekers and refugees – everything from volunteers who give up spare rooms to legal assistance. What City of Sanctuary wanted was to bring about a cultural change within the city – to appreciate the situations asylum seekers and refugees find themselves in, and to welcome them into active participation in community life.

The aim of City of Sanctuary is that those seeking sanctuary can easily build relationships with local people as neighbours, friends and colleagues. Through these relationships, local people come to understand the injustices refugees face, and become motivated to support and defend them.

How are the organisational values expressed in the way they work?

  • Inclusion: Much like Transition Towns, the network grew out of one initial hub. Now that there are more than 20 towns and cities, a new national governance structure was needed. The new National Committee of seven people includes representatives from local government, human rights law and faith organisations – but most importantly two refugees.
  • Empowerment: Resources created are shared on a public hub for any group to use. Logos, posters, checklists, and a handbook are all available. Although the logo is kept as a standard theme among different groups, local City of Sanctuary groups can choose their own colour combinations.
  • Independence: Each town and city focuses on fulfilling a local need, rather than rolling out a uniform project. The accreditation process has also changed over time to represent the on-the-ground reality.

What has most surprised the team?

As well as becoming a valuable community for those seeking sanctuary, City of Sanctuary has also become a center of social contact for people who have lived in Sheffield for a longer time but who have felt socially isolated.

Local ‘conversation clubs’, events where everyone shares their traditional food (including Yorkshire puddings), have been central to building bridges amongst communities – especially once the music and dancing starts! Young families and elderly people have especially benefited.

They’ve also heard back from destitute asylum seekers who have been supported by partner organisation Assist that it makes an extra difference to know that the individuals coming to help them are doing so as a volunteer – because they want to, rather than because they’re being paid to do it.

What would they do differently if they were doing it again?

At the beginning, there was a real focus on scale – especially the number of organisations involved in each new City of Sanctuary. Now, the emphasis is on what signed-up organisations will actively do to create a welcoming city.

What does this mean for us as change-makers?

City of Sanctuary’s approach is rooted in community feeling – which we know is part of a constellation of values that underpin systemic expressions of concern about a wider range of social and environmental issues. By building stronger communities and enabling people to be kind to one another, City of Sanctuary is also encouraging values of equality, freedom and social justice.


Sarah Eldridge

A City of Sanctuary Social

Casper ter KuileCampaign Case Study: 
City of Sanctuary
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Green shopping

This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

What is the role of shopping in meeting the challenge of climate change?

Today I came across a note on the West of England Climate Change project, written by Ian Preston from the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE), and disseminated as a link in Chris Rose‘s Newsletter. The West of England Climate Change project put together a model home exhibition for use in shopping centres in Bristol, highlighting innovative ways to save electricity – from buying the latest Brabantia clothes-line, to filling the dishwasher before using it, or donating your used mobile phone to Oxfam.

The CSE write on their website: “The 100 Ideas House is kind of ‘show-home’ – a life-sized model of the interior of an attractive modern home that shows how easy it is to incorporate small energy-saving measures into a normal and aspirational lifestyle…As well as being comfortable and stylish, the house also incorporates 50 energy-saving measures that are within everyone’s reach and that do not detract from the cool look… The 100 Ideas House will show our audience that living more sustainably does not require huge sacrifices and that they can make a difference without changing who they are.”

Ian Preston writes: “George Monbiot and others are adamant that you ‘can’t save the world by shopping’ and like many of the ‘dark green’ movement they have a vision of a future society made up of people acting, thinking and behaving like them! To reach a wider audience we shouldn’t simply dismiss the role of shopping as George Monbiot has done. Informed shopping has a role to play. For example, a Nintendo Wii is both an aspirational product and uses a tenth of the energy of a Play Station 3 or an Xbox 360.”

Is this true? Or is ‘green consumption’ a dangerous distraction?

Material goods contribute importantly to the construction of our self-identities, acquiring importance that extends beyond their mere practical utility. So, for example, our cars are not simply things that enable us to get from A to B quickly and relatively comfortably. Rather, the cars we drive have addition ‘symbolic’ meaning: they represent some part of who we consider ourselves to be. As Tim Jackson puts it, in the The Earthscan Reader on Sustainable Consumption, in a modern Western society, “the symbolic project of the self is mainly pursued through the consumption of material goods imbued with symbolic meaning.”

“No purely functional account of material consumption is going to be able to deliver a robust model for influencing consumption patterns or changing consumer behaviour: because functionality is not the point (or at least not exclusively the point). We consume not just to nourish ourselves or protect ourselves from the elements or maintain a living. We consume in order to identify ourselves with a social group, to position ourselves within that group, to distinguish ourselves with respect to other social groups, to communicate allegiance to certain ideals. To differentiate ourselves from certain other ideals. We consume in order to communicate. Through consumption we communicate not only with each other but with our past, with our ideals, with our fears and with our aspirations. We consume in pursuit of meaning.”

In itself, this does not necessarily pull the rug from beneath ‘green consumption’ as a means of addressing the environmental crisis: we can work to make greener products and services more socially desirable. But the critical question, for the role of green consumption as a means of addressing the environmental crisis, is whether this entails that we must necessarily continue to consume more, or whether, in the course of consuming ‘to communicate allegiance to certain ideals’, this might actually entail us consuming less, or making do with what we have.

Unfortunately, there is evidence that our preoccupation with material objects, as mechanisms for us to establish meaning, necessarily entails that we will continue to consume more stuff, for so long as we find meaning in this way. In a chapter in the Earthscan Reader, Grant McCracken argues that, at both as communities and as individuals, we must develop strategies to cope with the discrepancy between how we find society in reality, and our hope that an alternative society is possible. One such strategy, he argues, is the displacement of these ideals “allowing us to sustain hope “in the face of impressive grounds for pessimism”. Hence, we may remove these ideals “from daily life and transport them to another cultural universe, there to be kept within reach but out of danger” – somewhere that they cannot be contradicted and that they avoid the undue scrutiny that could declare them ultimately unattainable. Examples of places to which ideals can be moved in this way include an historical ‘golden age’ in which social life is imagined to conform to our ideals, or a utopian future. Alternatively, this displacement may occur spatially – by reference to a distant country (whose inhabitants live an idyllic pastoral existence, perhaps), or to the lives of others (celebrities, for example).

It is essential, however, that we “both collectively and individually” have access to these displaced meanings; they are, after all, what give us hope. But this access must be achieved without risking undue scrutiny: it was to remove them from undue scrutiny that these meanings were displaced in the first place. How is this delicate process negotiated? What bridges can we find to our displaced meanings that simultaneously provide us with this access, whilst safeguarding them against undue scrutiny? The prospect of ownership of particular goods offers such a bridge. In prospect, a convertible car, for example, offers the prospect not just of the car itself, but an entire idealized way of life. Certainly, marketing strategies encourage the perception that the car stands for something more than its functional value. The apparent possibility that the car can confer an idealized way of life offers substance to this ideal, making it seem more plausible, and more easily within grasp. The ideal of this lifestyle, however, is not tested – unless, of course, the car is eventually bought. Then, the ideal becomes vulnerable to contradiction (what happens if life on the open-road with the roof down isn’t found to be as ideal as expected?). Here, the individual “simply discredits the object obtained as a bridge to displaced meaning and transfers this role to an object not yet in his or her possession”. This is easily achieved: “for most consumers there is always another, higher level of consumption to which they might aspire… [serving] as a guarantee of safe refuge for displaced meaning.”

“When goods serve as bridges to displaced meaning they help perpetually to enlarge the individual’s tastes and preferences and prevent the attainment of a ‘sufficiency’ of goods. They are, to this extent, an essential part of the Western consumer system and the reluctance of this system ever to allow that ‘enough is enough’.” (McCracken, 2006).

So green marketing may enable us to persuade more people to consume more things that are more energy efficient; to buy a Nintendo Wii rather than a Playstation 3. But, aside from the power that the Nintendo Wii requires to use, it also takes energy to manufacture. And we will soon discard it for the next model.

When we are faced with the trajectories of a growing world population and the rapidly growing middle classes in emerging economies, and the simultaneous need for 90% reductions in carbon dioxide production, it is very bold to assert that can we improve the ‘efficiency’ of our consumption rapidly enough, and indefinitely, in order to allow us each to continue to consume ever more. Far from being able to meet our environmental challenges without changing who we are, as the CSE asserts, we must begin to address exactly thits issue. We must engage our sense of who we are, in relation to one another and our environment, and reassess what we understand it to mean to be full alive.

Tom CromptonGreen shopping
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