I’ve been asking myself some pretty existential questions lately about all of this. Do I still want to work on sustainability? Does what I do matter? Isn’t it all a bit pointless anyway? It’s such an uphill battle, will anything ever really happen? Should I stop worrying about sustainability and find something else good to do with my time, like helping refugees? Should I just give up on the whole idea of working at all and either (a) travel the world or (b) go back to the land, and live sustainably on a small scale? And what was the point of life again anyway?
That last question is notoriously hard to answer unless you fall back on a religious answer, which I cannot do. But in thinking about it today, I concluded that the best answer I could come up with was that the purpose of life was to be happy. But what does that actually mean? There I turned to a book on happiness I’ve been reading lately, which says that there are two kinds of happiness, hedonistic and purpose-driven, that there is
a classic distinction, which goes back at least to Aristotle, between two views of the good life: a life of pleasure, contentment, and other positive feelings, or one that is well-lived and meaningful. A clear choice of one over the other has its problems. A preference for joy over meaning gets you labeled a hedonist, which is not a compliment. On the other hand, you are properly called a scold if you proclaim that pleasure is frivolous and that only virtue and meaning matter. How should you define happiness if you wish to be neither a hedonist nor a scold? (Happiness by Design, page 7)
His answer is the pleasure-purpose principle and that finding ones own mix of those two is the way forward. Hedonistic happiness, happiness from pleasure, that we know about – it’s taking pleasure in our experiences. I think I can handle finding that (most days). Purpose driven happiness is less well known – it comes from the things that we do that give us satisfaction and pride, the happiness we get from achieving our goals and doing good, and from our evaluations of these things. This is the one that’s a bit harder, because this comes all right back to the rest of the questions I’ve been asking myself. What goals and achievements do I need to reach to feel this sort of happiness? Can I be happy not working to try and make the world a more sustainable place?
And that’s where I started thinking about the saying which floats around the internet, that “what is seen cannot be unseen”. I cannot unsee the many ways in which the world is facing a crisis, climate change and energy, overuse and misuse of materials and the environment, huge disparities in standard of living and all the other parts of it and how they all link together, every thing I’ve seen and studied since my eureka moment with the toaster. If I hadn’t seen those things, I could probably be happy with different goals, but since I cannot unsee it, I don’t think I can be happy if I’m not trying my best to do something about it, even if it is only a small bit. Otherwise I’ll just feel like I’m wasting my time, even if what I am doing is still doing good.
This takes me a bit back to where I started, but with more conviction that I was right all along. I do want to still pursue working on sustainability, more specifically, local government and behaviour change. Now I just have to figure out how to make that remunerative.