Wellbeing refers to an individual’s physical/mental, social, material, and existential/life satisfaction condition as well as the interdependent conditions of our communities and environment. When all of these dimensions are strong, we can say that we are thriving.
Yet countless individuals all over the world are far from thriving. They struggle simply to survive, to meet their basic needs for food, water, shelter, and health care, or to protect their families from conflict and war. Even in less desperate contexts, security—the reserves and safety nets that help weather storms—can be hard to come by.
Working up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, those who have less concern for survival and security may still have a lingering sense that life could be much better. In this modern, globalized society of ours, we face constant pressures of work, consumerism, distances between family and friends, and the general harried pace that can take a big chunk out of wellbeing. Like running a marathon, those last few miles can seem the longest. But with a clearly defined finish line, better strategies for getting there, and support from our fellow runners, we can all make it together.
Ecofeminist Vandana Shiva asks the pointed question: What should be the objective of the global economy: freedom of trade or freedom for survival? If the latter, changes are required in the way we think about economics.
Our challenge is to remember that economics is ultimately about people. With people’s wellbeing as our goal, we can begin to reshape our economies to reduce social and environmental costs and focus on what’s important: the freedom to survive…or better yet, the freedom to be well.
This is already happening all over the world. For inspiration, we can look to ethics-based approaches like Buddhist economics, community-based models such as those calling for localization, the explosion of social enterprises motivated not by making profit but by doing good, and countless other alternatives in the New Economy movement. This vastly varied, value-driven social innovation is the key to a vital global economy, in which a good life for all is possible.
There’s no doubt now that the scale, scope, and substance of human activity cannot be sustained. Our current rate of consumption is not only rapidly depleting our resource stocks, but is generating vastly more waste, including carbon, than the planet can absorb. An even more distressing consequence of environmental destruction is that impoverished people often suffer the most.
Thus we must focus our development efforts on sustainable living, bringing the extremes of over-consumption and under-subsistence to the middle of the spectrum. The United Nations has set forth 17 Sustainable Development Goals that developing and industrialized countries alike have committed to achieving by 2030. Our challenge as global citizens is to identify ways we can most effectively advance sustainability in our homes and communities, in our daily lives and our activism, to ensure a good life for all far into the future.