There’s no doubt that the U.S. culture is famous for its promises of happiness. As age-old as the idea of the “American dream” is the idea that working hard and making money to create the life you want will lead you to happiness and bliss. It’s made painfully obvious in movies, TV shows, billboards and ads everyday: The best way to find happiness today, at this moment, is to buy it; whether it be a new shirt, a new car or a candy bar. As the level of affluence in the U.S. has grown, it would seem logical to assume that our level of happiness has also risen, but in reality, our general sense of satisfaction with our lives has been on the decline since the '50s.
This disturbing truth is behind the creation of a new film by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Steven Gorelick and John Page, entitled The Economics of Happiness. Through firsthand experience watching isolated communities become a part of globalization, via industrial agriculture, plastics, etc., the filmmakers have compiled evidence to show that our consumer culture has played a huge role in our loss of general happiness. Before this “Western modernization,” traditional communities had more leisure time, participated in work and labor that had a visible, meaningful impact in their lives, and relied on neighbors and community members for help when it was needed. Economic globalization replaced these qualities with conflict, financial instability, and the idea that nothing was ever quite good enough.
In order to work to repair the environmental and social damages brought on by unfair trade agreements and neocolonialism — as well as to restore our own sense of satisfaction in the global North — economic localization is key. As described by the filmmakers,
“The Economics of Happiness describes a world moving simultaneously in two opposing directions. On the one hand, government and big business continue to promote globalization and the consolidation of corporate power. At the same time, all around the world people are resisting those policies, demanding a re-regulation of trade and finance — and, far from the old institutions of power, they’re starting to forge a very different future. Communities are coming together to re-build more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm — an economics of localization.”
So it turns out getting to know your neighbor, heading to your local farmers market, and taking a stroll outside instead of a drive in a new car doesn’t just impact the environment and build stronger communities — both worthy goals in themselves. It will also make you smile.
A copy of this film was provided to us thorough a local branch of Films for Action, an organization dedicated to the development of community through the creation of alternative media channels to inform, connect, and inspire local action.
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely working in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can find Jennifer on Twitter or Google+.