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Sustainable living: buying less can make you feel happier, according to new research

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Lauren Geall
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Sustainable living: buying less could actually make us happier, according to new research.

Help to fight climate change and boost your wellbeing simply by cutting down on the amount you buy and consume. 

When it comes to confronting the looming threat of the climate crisis, it’s easy to feel like our actions don’t have the power to make a difference. After all, when the leader of one of the world’s biggest countries refuses to take action in the face of conclusive scientific evidence, what difference can one person really make?

While it can be tempting to give in to this kind of thinking, it’s important to remember that even the smallest actions can make a difference. In fact, according to new research, even grassroot climate movements are making a difference; when a team of scientists looked at members of grassroot climate movements which were focused on cutting climate impacts compared to non-activists, they found that the people involved in the movements were successfully able to cut their carbon footprints and therefore make a small but tangible difference.

However, that’s not the only thing that the researchers discovered. According to the research, which was carried out by a team from the Green Lifestyles Alternative Models and Upscaling Regional Sustainability (GLAMURS) project, when people involved in grassroots climate movements take it upon themselves to buy and consume less, they actually experience greater lifestyle satisfaction compared to the people who do nothing. 

Sustainable living: buying less stuff has an array of benefits for ourselves and the climate.
Sustainable living: buying less stuff has an array of benefits for ourselves and the climate.

Researchers collected the information by comparing the lifestyle choices and wellbeing of 141 people from 12 different grassroots movements to information gathered from 1,476 non-members. When they looked at all the information, they found that the people involved in sustainability programmes had carbon footprints that were, on average, 16% lower than people who took no action, and discovered that members of the climate movements were also 11-13% more likely to think positively about their own life.

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Why? The researchers didn’t speculate on the reasons why people who consume less are generally happier – but the research proves that there is a correlation between spending and buying less and higher levels of wellbeing.

“Typically, as people grow wealthier, they tend to upscale their material living standards, thus consuming more and emitting more climate-damaging gases,” said Gibran Vita, the co-first author of the study, told Norwegian SciTech News. “But members of climate initiatives keep their spending low key even if their incomes increase. And consuming less didn’t seem to take a toll on their joy.”

“It’s also something to think about with the upcoming the holiday season,” Diana Ivanova, the other co-first author, added. “The holiday season often encourages overconsumption, materialism and a work-and-spend cycle with negative consequences for environmental and human wellbeing.

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“Our study adds to the evidence on the high price of materialism – because even though we may believe otherwise, beyond a certain basic consumption level, filling our lives with stuff is generally corrosive for well-being.”

While buying new clothes or makeup may make us feel good in the moment, longer-term, it’s a slightly different story. At the end of the day then, there’s something to be said for reducing how much stuff we buy; after all, it’s apparently a win-win situation, both for the planet, and for our wellbeing. 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

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