Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Economics of Happiness

Yesterday I turned on the radio and listened to a song. One of the lines was "when you don't know when enough is enough you'll lose everything". I was surprised. It was a deja vu. I have been thinking about this intensively over the last week and had some discussions with friends on this very topic. This is ancient wisdom. Have a look at these quotes:
  • "The secret to happiness is being satisfied with enough" Thomas Aquinas
  • "When there is no desire, all things are at peace" Lao Tse
  • "The secret of happiness is not found in seeking more, but in the capacity to enjoy less." Socrates
  • "Happiness is knowing when 'enough is enough.'" Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk
  • "Rather than make money to live the way you want, figure out how to live the way you want without money." One of my friends
A handful of economists started studying "the economy of happiness". The first book under this title was published in 1906. That's more than a century ago. Very recently a documentary was released under the same title. Wikipedia has an article on "Happiness Economics". Bhutan was probably the first country in the 20th century to introduce a Gross National Happiness index to contrast the standard GNP. Apparently since 1999 they are measure this quantitatively. Having it on a public agenda might have helped bring Bhutan to be considered the 8th most happy nation on our planet. Now other countries have picked up on this (e.g. Thailand) and others are currently discussing its introduction (UK, France).

Mark Anielski has written a more recent book with the title "The Economics of Happiness: Building Genuine Wealth". He uses a stylized 5-petal flower to visualize 5 factors of happiness or genuine wealth. For more details on what he means by that listen to his 80-min talk.

But back to the core: we need to know when enough is enough. A financial person would put it: we need to know when it is better to reduce spending instead of increasing income (in order to become happier). My friend calls it the dual problem. From a mathematical economics standpoint either approach from the dual sides should lead to a solution. From an isolated viewpoint one can balance a budget by either earning more or spending less. From a more holistic approach taking resource depletion and natural balances into account, it seems obvious that if spending or using less can lead to the same goal (of a balanced budget and a happy life) then this seems not only the preferred but the only true solution to the problem.

Socially we are far behind or far away from accepting this truth. The materially rich are admired, the ones who earn a lot of money are called successful, but the materialistically or monetary humble ones are disrespectfully called cheapskates. It is time to shift our attitude. Why not call the materially rich ones "spendthrifts" and the frugal ones "resource efficient"?

My friend also views the quote "A penny saved is a penny earned" by Ben Franklin equivalent to the above ones. I guess a penny saved can lead to happiness. This brings us (once again) to Voluntary Simplicity and Simple Living. Voluntary simplicity can work beyond the individual. The one fact that all happiness researchers agree is that happiness is relative. In other words, a poor amongst poor is as happy as a rich amongst the rich. Furthermore, a poor amongst poor is happier than a rich amongst the even more rich. If a whole nation or the whole of mankind were to make a step towards a simpler life we would all stay at least equally happy, if not become more happy due to the same factors that individuals attain happiness via simplicity (more spare time, less stress, less worries, less dependencies, more social time, more social ties, etc.).

The reverse is not an option. Voluntary wastefulness as many practice it today will lead us all into ruin, either socially or ecologically. We desperately need an attitude shift, we need to first recognize and accept, then embrace and cheer that less can be more satisfying.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Yesterday I stumbled across the site. Frank Aragona runs both a blog and a podcast. Podcasts are mostly 30-minutes episodes and the corresponding blog entries provide additional textual information as well as videos related to the individual podcast episodes. The podcasts are of extremely high quality. The Agroinnovations podcast is now in its 5th year with more than a 115 episodes published. His interviews include the who-is-who of thinkers in the permaculture, transition, and eco-agriculture movements and related fields. I urge you to browse through his podcast list. You will find interviews with Bill Mollison, Larry Korn, P.A. Yeomans, Rob Hopkins, Paul Stamets, and many more.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Money is such a crucial resource in our lives, yet nobody teaches us about money. There are no classes in high school. Most people have no true understanding where money is coming from. An expert on teaching about money is Bill Still. In 1995 he produced the classic documentary on money entitled "The Money Masters". This video is available here and here. He just released for free his updated version published in 2009 entitled "The Secrets of Oz". A must-watch video for anyone. Have a look at Bill's channel.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The One Straw Revolution

Mr. Masanobu Fukuoka is one of the key names in the creation of the permaculture movement. He himself would not see it that way. Several countries had a figure stand out in this field. They were visionaries that were decades ahead of their time. In Australia there is Bill Mollisson, in Austria Sepp Holzer and in Japan it was Masanobu Fukuoka. They are legends, rightfully so.

Already in 1975 he wrote the classic book "The One Straw Revolution" sometimes nicknamed "Zen and the Art of Farming". This book is an easy read, just some 100 pages. I had heard and read a lot about him and his techniques. I had some preconceived notion what the book would be about. But it harbored a few surprises for me. His point of view is that we cannot and will not know or understand nature. "When [we] think [we] are beginning to understand nature, [we] can be sure that [we] are on the wrong track." Basically his beliefs are that we cannot truly understand anything. Another key opinion is that he sees nature as something highly connected. Nothing can be seen in isolation. However, our world and society are too complex. He experienced that many scientists came to study his fields but each looked at it only from one very specific angle according to his research speciality. He knew that such a narrow-sighted approach would not lead to insights or results. According to his thoughts it would require scientists, researchers, politicians, artists, poets, philosophers, men of religion, and farmers to gather jointly to talk things over together.

He was on a search of effective farming that is simple. He always asked himself what can I remove from typical agriculture while still keeping it effective. Slowly and with many tries and failures he reduced agriculture to the bare minimum input while not losing and even increasing health and output. In his way of farming external energetic input is at a minimum. He says that putting "doing nothing" into practice is the one thing the farmer should strive to accomplish. The farmer is freed from useless or even countrproductive chores and free to take a midday nap or write poetry.

His method, he calls it no-method, is based on four principles.

  • no cultivation: no plowing or turning of the soil
  • no chemical fertilizers or prepared compost: For fertilizer Mr. Fukuoka grows a leguminous cover of white clover, returns the threshed straw to the fields, and adds a little poultry manure
  • no weeding, no herbicides: Straw mulch, a ground cover of white clover interplanted with the crops, and temporary flooding provide effective weed control in his fields.
  • no pesticides, no chemicals: The sensible approach to disease and insect control is to grow sturdy crops in a healthy environment (rather than weak - often laboratory made - crops optimized for size or color).

I liked this phrase a lot: "Before researchers become researchers, they should become philosophers. They should consider what the human goal is." He certainly views farmers as philosophers. "The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings." As you can see "The One Straw Revolution" is not only a book on agriculture or permaculture, it is a book on life. "In nature, there is life and death, and nature is joyful. In human society, there is life and death, and people live in sorrow." Isn't it time we change our objectives?

PS: Just found this video "The One Straw Revolution" that brings the book in context with Larry Korn , translator of the book, who worked for the old master for a total of 2.5 years. Here I also found the reference to the web site More videos and links are to be found there.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Awareness Test

Do this awareness test without any cheating. What does tell you about our perception and about what we think we know? Let's walk through life with our eyes wide open.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Monsanto and the US State Department

WikiLeaks reported that the US Ambassador to France planned pain-causing "retaliation" against France over the ban on Monsanto's GMO corn. Need I say more? Who are your friends? Big business? Governments? Nah, there is no difference between these two anymore.

Vive la France.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Start

Today, 1-1-11, is another opportunity for a new start. A TV-like internet channel was opened today that promises to cover these topics with a daily link to a short video:

  • local food production
  • permaculture
  • energy
  • transportation
  • community response
  • co-housing
  • enlightened simplicity
  • and positive transition initiatives of all kinds
Sounds interesting, today in its first "episode" the link was to a 5-min video with Geoff Lawton on a permaculture food forest in Vietnam. The TV-like channel is called "Next World TV". If you subscribe you get one email daily with a link to a relevant video or video segment.