Deep Economy and Happiness

Bill CoadyBy Bill Coady

As part of their wonderful “Affluenza” series, UWMC brought environmental author and activist Bill McKibben to town.  Starting with the title of his latest book, Deep Economy: the Weath of Communities and the Durable Future, he wove in something that is often forgotten when we speak of the economy and especially material wealth — happiness.

Now, it is true, as McKibben pointed out, that “happiness” is a tough thing to measure.  But it is also true that although we may not be able to define happiness, to paraphrase a famous Supreme Court wag, “we know it when we see it.”  According to McKibben, a fair amount of research has been done correlating the answers to a simple question (Are you happy?) to actual states of well-being that can reasonably be called happiness.  That is to say, if someone asks you, “Are you happy now?” the answer you give will actually mean something.

And it turns out that people have been asking whether or not we are happy.  McKibben stated that an annual poll has been asking exactly that question for well over 50 years, and the results over the years has not been encouraging.  Turns out that the happiness that we as Americans report has been declining over the years.  Alot of years.  In fact, the peak year for happiness in this country, according to this polling, was 1956.  Ouch.

Now, if happiness has been declining for 50 years, we know that material weath does not, in itself, bring happiness.  The material weath of this country has skyrocketed since 1956, you don’t need an economist or pollster to tell you that.  McKibben says that one big factor in the decline of happiness in Americans is what he called “hyperindividualism.”  He cited two trends that illustrate what he means.  The ubiquitous iPod being one, but also a trend in home building — dual master bedrooms.  Apparently the solution to spousal snoring in modern America is not some ear plugs, but to add another 1000 square feet to your McMansion so you won’t be disturbed in anyway.

McKibben feels that it is community that is lacking, and one of the main reasons for the decline in happiness in America over the last 50 years.  And his solution, though not unique, is not a Band-aid either.  McKibben feels it is important to rebuild our trully local economies — which will then rebuild our local communities.  He feels that this will both improve our happiness and save our ecology.

McKibben gave a number of examples of where local efforts could replace the huge, centralized economic structures, for example, rather than building huge power plants more people could generate their own power with solar or wind and both feed into and take from the existing power grid.  But two of the examples that he mentioned struck home with me, and I hope with other readers of this here blog.

It turns out that one of the fastest growing areas in the food “industry” is farmers markets.  It also turns out that while sales of recorded music is basically flat, ticket sales for live music — and music festivals — is the fastest growing part of the music industry.  McKibben cites these trends as part of the “Deep Economy” not just because they are local, but also because they really are a different way of doing “business.”

I don’t think anyone has to tell you that going to a concert is a different world from listening to a CD at home.  It is impossible to compare the two experiences.  The CD may be sonically perfect, but the shared experience of the concert is so much richer.  It seems that the farmers’ market experience has the same kind of richness built into it.

Researchers followed people around at the grocery store and at farmers’ markets.  What they found was quite interesting.  Turns out that people have 10 TIMES more conversations at the farmers’ market than they do at the grocery store.  You may be able to load up on calories at both places, but the farmers’ market truly helps build community at the same time.

This is what McKibben means by “Deep Economy.”  Truly working together not only to make a living, but also to build community in a real sense.  I know we can do that here in Wausau, and I hope this blog will continue to be on the “cutting edge” of our new deep economy.

I will have more to say about McKibben’s thoughts on global warming and other environmental issues in a future post.  That post may take a while as I will be out of town for the rest of the week.  Play nice while I am gone.


17 responses to “Deep Economy and Happiness

  1. Woow
    That is quite interesting. To me, that sounds neat. Anyway, I am going to give a plug to a guy I went to highschool with. Him and his wife(she is getting her PhD in sustainable agriculture now) bought the family farm in Athens. They just got certified this summer as organic.

    They put together a CSA(community supported agriculture), which is where you have members. These members pay dues and decide how much of the harvest they want, depending on the ammount you pay for your membership.

    They plant, and harvest every week and bring the vegetables to Wausau where you can pick it up every week. How ever the harvest goes that is your share of what you get. So if it is a good harvest, you get more.

    Anyway, anyone interested in hearing more, please contact me and I can call them and tell them to get you some info. If not fair enuff. Their names are Kat and Tony, and they have a booth set up at the farmers market every week also.

  2. I tend to favor large grociery stores and cd’s at home because I am not really a people-person and don’t like the large crowds.

    However, I would like to comment on the money does not equal happiness thing. This is so very very true.

    Right out of college, I went to work selling Long Term Care insurance. My parents were running a couple of CBRF’s and I was deeply involved in that, it gave me a perspective on the product that few other agents had.

    It showed, when most agents were hoping to sell one or two policies a month, I was averaging 3 a week (my end of the deal was normally over $3,000 a week)… but I hated it.

    Getting the appointments meant cold calling, telemarketing.. something I dreaded each and every day. So, after a little over a month, I just quit with no emergency back up plan. I was happier unemployed in a high-cost town like Madison than I was earning a butt-load of money doing something I hated.

    After about a month I was offered a job back in Wausau for a fraction of what I was making in Madison, but at this point I was pretty despirate. However, it turned out that I loved the new job. I spent the first few years living paycheck to paycheck (not always making it)… but all-in-all being very happy.

  3. That is perfect for you John. Woooow
    I did not know I would make such a hero. I was fearing the villan part. But not anymore.
    A CSA would be perfect for you (if you do eat any vegtables.) They harvest all the fresh vegtables of that week for you and bring it to a convient location somewhere in Wausau for you to drive(which you like also) and pick it up. I bet they would even cater to you further and it could be a silent exchange, maybe with a wink of a cough or something to signify approval or existence. 😉

  4. based on my weight, it is obvious I am not a big fan of healthy foods.. but the future mrs. rent is a HUGE fan of this type of stuff.. she checks in on this blog from time to time and this will probably be of great interest to her.

  5. Interesting topic and it has plenty to do with developing communities in both a cultural and an economic sense under a different model. In one of my several avocations, I recently had something in the Buyers Guide (of all places) that relates to this subject on the locally produced food end. There is a bill in the state legislature with a goal of retaining a larger (but still small) portion of our food dollars locally and within the state:

    I can’t wait for the return of the “Farmers Market” season.

  6. Of course we are not happy now the goverentment has made us afraid of our own shadows. (on another topic i tried to comment on the barn picture , but it was a no go.)
    I and friends from out of town spent about 2 hours buy jewerly from an indian stand, because it was so nice to talk to the people, much better than macy’s, and we ended spending a lot of money because of the friendly people.

  7. Of course we are not happy now the goverentment has made us afraid of our own shadows. (on another topic i tried to comment on the barn picture , but it was a no go.)
    I and friends from out of town spent about 2 hours buy jewerly from indian stands,(top of oak creek canyon) because it was so nice to talk to the people, much better than macy’s, and we ended spending a lot of money because of the friendly people. Just like a farmers market!

  8. Pingback: Qualifying For Success » Wordiness and Economy

  9. I think people want to just celebrate being alive. It’s just way more fun to wander through a venue where people feel relaxed and real.
    IMO, we don’t party enough…not the get drunk or otherwise high type of party, but the kind where participants get to be involved, making the food or decorations that celebrate and share creativity, possibilities, happinesses, and a hang loose attitude.
    I read once that in India, there are 300 festival days a year, with special foods and dances for each. True or not, I thought what a brilliant way to go.

  10. I recently had the opportunity to see the film 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama. The filmaker, Rick Ray, asked His Holiness what he thought would make the world more peaceful and HH answered “more festivals; more picnics” . The film then went on to tell us that he dislikes festivals, especially those held in his honor.

  11. That guy…the Lama…Dalai if you will…just taught in Madison.

    I love Chicago for its wireless.

  12. Yes, I went to Dalai Lama’s lecture yesterday at the Kohl Center, which was sold out. It was kind of neat to see him in person. It was his fifth visit to the UW-Madison, where he has a special connection.

  13. I heard the secret connection is his love of Steep And Brew, and Ellas Deli? Am I right about that?

    The Lama riding the Carousel at Ellas…

    or it might be…Red Letter News.

    Marcus, my friend, is painting a new mural at the Labor Temple in Madison. Its amazing.

  14. Actually, I can very easily imagine HH at Ellas. Or any other place that kids would like.

    Not so much Steep and Brew though, I am sure he gets good tea often enough.

  15. Christine and I saw the Dalai Lama back in 1989 when he was in Madison. His message of peace, love, and understanding is at pertinant today as it was 18 years ago. He truly is a captivating speaker.

    I have no doubts that we would be a fan of Ella’s. The man is certainly a child at heart.

  16. Thursday, May 17, 2007 – Route 51 program, 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio: 91.9 and 90.3 FM and AM 930 —

    Author Bill McKibben stops in for a visit to talk about the need for strong local communities and his latest book, Deep Economy: The wealth of Communities and the Durable Future.

  17. Pingback: Business » Deep Economy and Happiness WWW.Wausaublog.Org

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