Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Munchable Soapbox: Growing Happiness

Take a moment, close your eyes, clear away any outside concerns for just a moment. Then think, dig deep inside, what makes you happy? Is it a friend or a loved one? Is it a material possession or a particular activity? So why am I asking these random questions? Today actually marks the first annual UN International Day of Happiness (I even have a link to prove it)! And while I'm not sure we necessarily require a dedicated day to recognize "the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives", it is good to devote some thought to happiness.

As I was listening to a recent story on NPR about how local agriculture is all well and good but it doesn't pay the bills, I couldn't help thinking about what makes people happy. It is true that none of the small-scale farmers I know are particularly wealthy, and many even have one or more sources of income off-farm. But they farm because it is what they love. There has been a recent move, championed by the country of Bhutan, to measure human well-being in ways other than economic growth. In fact, the World Happiness Report, launched around this time last year, found that political freedom, strong social networks, an absence of corruption, good mental and physical health, job security, and stable families all factor into happiness.

So bringing this back to the farm - for one, studies have shown that interaction with nature contributes to health and happiness. A New York Times article from a few years ago suggested that "we thrive in the presence of nature and suffer in its absence." In agriculture, particularly the lower-tech, small-scale, labor-intensive model, contact with the natural world is inevitable. Physical activity that boosts endorphins also helps. But even more importantly, I think there is a sense of community, support networks of fellow farmers, and the simple doing of something out of love and not for the financial gains, that sets farming apart. 

 Whether you are an eater, a market vendor, or a farmer yourself, take the challenge I offered at the beginning - what makes you happy? Hopefully, it is something you have been doing all along. 

Also, check out the Happy Planet Index, which takes into account life expectancy, perceived well-being, and ecological footprint.

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