What makes you happy?

Last night, TransitionKW hosted a screening of The Economics of Happiness at the REEP House. If you weren’t able to make it out, check out the trailer below.

The film itself is fantastic, chalk full of great talking-head snippets of the world’s greatest thinkers and movers in the environmental and progressive economics space.

In short, the film unpacks the notion that wealth equates with happiness. Governments the world over typically do this by directing their policies toward stoking gross domestic product, or GDP. GDP, the film argues, is not a reasonable stand-in for happiness or human well-being because GDP sees growth when countries go to war, when cigarette sales rise, or when oil is pumped out of the ground. Do these things really reflect a rise in personal happiness or well-being? The Economics of Happiness dives into this question, arguing that the best way off of the globalization treadmill is by rebuilding our local economies.

Once the film ended, we broke into groups to discuss the barriers to localizing KW’s economy, and ways that we can work as a community to overcome these barriers. For me, the “as a community” part of that last discussion prompt is key. In the film, economist and sociologist Juliet Schor notes that individual actions, despite our best intentions, can only take us so far. This comment struck some of the people in my discussion group as near heresy. “We vote with our dollars, right?” To a certain extent, I agree with that sentiment. I agree that we should walk our talk. However, large institutions and businesses, as another participant in my discussion group noted, will almost always be the largest consumers, and these large players also often set the rules, either directly or indirectly.

This little conversation represents, for me anyway, one of the biggest tensions in this film, and one that I have struggled with personally in the past. Do individual actions actually matter, or is it really all up to government to rein in corporations and the big polluters? After some reflection, I’ve come to realize that this individual-institution dichotomy obscures the actions that take place at a scale that sits in between: the community scale. By working toward environmental goals with our family, friends and neighbours we become, I believe, much more powerful and can exert a much greater impact than by simply working alone.

This last point made itself particularly clear during last night’s discussion. As we discussed how to build-up KW’s local economy, it seemed that everyone in the room knew of an existing service or program, but no one person held all the knowledge. By having an open discussion and sharing with each other, you could see that we knew more together than we did had the discussion not occurred, or had we decided that we would each individually take on these actions by ourselves. We grew richer as a whole by sharing our knowledge. I think the same would be true should we all join in shared projects, using the individual talents of the group toward achieving common ends. These community-scale projects might, in turn, inform or inspire action in other communities, or at the municipal level (and up the chain), especially if they prove to be ‘wins’ for environmental sustainability and community well-being.

In light of all the great resources and programs that came out of last night’s discussion, I plan to build a resource list of all the community-oriented services that exist in KW that we can use and support to build a stronger, more resilient local economy and post it on this website, from rideshare to CSAs to bartering clubs (please send me your favourites!). And, if we come across any gaps, we’ll work to create an initiative to meet a need with your help! If you’re interested in taking part in any of our existing initiatives or would like to help start a new one with us, please get in touch! We’re all in this together.

The next set of movies in the Tools for Change series include Home, Dirt, and Dive.

Hope to see you there!

Nick

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  • bgdumbleton

    Well done Nick. It isn’t easy to write a reporter/participant/opinion piece. You killed it.

  • I agree with Bruce – great writing and reflecting on the event, and I’m eager to see that resource list!

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