Trying to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle can seem–to the outsider–like all work and no play. You’re picking up someone else’s litter, driving less for someone else’s air quality, and taking the time to recycle for some unseen landfill far away. And is anyone thanking you? Not really.
Yet, as I’ve immersed myself more and more in the business of living lightly, I’ve found that–as with any pursuit that requires diligent application–it comes with its own personal rewards. I got into sustainability for the sake of the planet, but I’ve been experiencing a powerful side effect: happiness.
Need proof? Here are the top ten reasons why going green can help you live a happier, fuller life:
10. Your skin clears up. You’re eating less sugar and processed food, and drinking more water. You’re going to bed earlier instead of burning the midnight computer screen. Your skin rewards you with a new glow and less blemishes.
9. You feel like you have more control over your long-term health. Knowing what causes cancer can be frightening, but also empowering. Every time you choose to not eat chemical-laden foods, to go with BPA-free water bottles, and to get outside and breathe fresh air, you get a boost from knowing you are not helpless in the face of serious diseases like diabetes, cancer, and other conditions.
8. You buy less stupid crap. You save money. You stop wondering where all the stupid crap came from. You also stop wondering why such a large portion of your budget went to “uncategorized” instead of “drinks with friends,” and “killer restaurants,” and “vacation.”
7. You never feel useless. Because in any given day, you know every choice matters (turning off the light, choosing which foods to buy, getting to and from work), you’ll be hyper-aware of just how much you mean to those around you, strangers or not.
6. Selflessness is the quickest route to happiness. It’s a proven fact. The more you care for others, either by picking up litter, volunteering at the park, or choosing humanely raised meat, the more you find contentment. I want, I want, I want becomes, “How can I help you?” and the transition is such a relief.
5. You learn. A lot. Being green takes knowledge, and the path to being a green expert is never over. You’ll make mistakes (though, to be honest, it’s usually because companies can be duplicitous in how they market their “green” products) but along the way you’ll amass an impressive amount of knowledge about how the world works, including economic theory, food production and its cultural history, politics, and even psychology. The green world truly is fascinating.
4. Your health improves. You start kicking the microwave dinner habit and high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden soft drinks for water, tea, and more seasonal vegetables. You bike and walk more. You feel better and more like yourself.
3. You have principles. You find a reason and strength to say no to bad food, thoughtless presents, and lifestyles you don’t agree with, and you find the courage to make decisions that may be unconventional, but you believe in. You find yourself standing up for animals, pristine nature reserves, and the people without voices. It’s a gratifying feeling.
2. You start to prioritize what is important. Being green may sound like a superficial change that involves buying organic and turning off the lights, but with those changes comes small epiphanies about what makes you happy. In cycling or taking public transit instead of the car, you become more connected to your community, and you relax. In turning off the TV to go for a walk in the park, you feel a level of contentment you didn’t experience before. In choosing local foods, you talk to farmers and find meaning where you didn’t find it before. You become confident that your choices are building to a better you.
1. You get more creative. Not only is your mental health improving because your healthier habits, you’re starting to exercise your gray matter more. Every time you say “I don’t want to buy that new,” you start to think about how you can re-use, reconstruct, and refinish. You learn how to cook, can, grow plants, and repaint. You become an expert flea market shopper, and you might even learn how to sew. The fulfilling business of life is in its doing, and you’re no longer paying other people to do it for you.