Linking Happiness and Sustainability at AASHE 2013

By: Dana Schroeder, Sustainability Peer Educator Program CoordinatorImage

A few weeks ago, some of the Office of Sustainability staff had the opportunity to travel to Nashville, Tennessee for an annual conference hosted by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Since returning to Bloomington and jumping into midterm studying, I’ve barely had a spare moment to process all I learned at AASHE 2013. However one idea, echoed in many sessions, has crossed my mind at least once every day since the conference. It is the idea that sustainability and happiness are inextricably linked.

In 1987, the Brundtland Report produced a definition of sustainability as a way of living that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Then of course, when talking about human needs, we might picture the pyramid that represents Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. From this pyramid, we could see that in order to even start thinking about the world’s major modern-day challenges like climate change, overpopulation, and globalization, we must first achieve some degree of happiness with our own lives.

Luckily, Nic Marks, creator of the Happy Planet Index delivers a compelling argument for “why good lives don’t have to cost the earth.” He argues that nations (as well as individuals) can increase happiness while also decreasing impact on the planet. In fact, he emphasizes Five Ways to Well-being that encapsulate many of the recommendations given at the AASHE conference for how students can lead more sustainable lives:

  1. Connect – Students at IU and beyond can take part in movements (both formal and informal) where idea-sharing and optimism can abolish that “my-actions-can’t-make-a-difference mindset”. Share why composting, growing your own food, or finding new uses for old things make you happy so others can find simple environmental actions that make them happy too.
  2. Be Active – Opportunities abound at IU for students to stay active without using any energy. Try skipping the SRSC in favor of yoga, hiking, bicycling, running, or walking outside to build health, happiness, and appreciation for the outdoors.
  3. Take Notice – Avoid the condition known as “affluenza” by focusing less on the things in life and more on the people and experiences. Decompress from midterms by taking the time to notice the changing leaves! Spending a day away from the Xbox or social media can leave you feeling more at ease and more aware of your surroundings in the natural world.
  4. Keep Learning – Keep your mind sharp by learning to fix something instead of throwing it away, to cook a new recipe with seasonal veggies, or to play that guitar you’ve had in your closet for years.
  5. Give – Though college students may not have many dollars to spare, you can still give to others through small acts of kindness, volunteering around Bloomington, and just sharing your skills with others.

To learn more about working toward a Happy Planet and a Happy Bloomington, visit


2 thoughts on “Linking Happiness and Sustainability at AASHE 2013

  1. Also, I’d like to give a special thanks to Pete Wangwongwiroj from the University of Michigan for inspiring so many AASHE attendees to think positively about the challenges faced by those who dedicate their lives to furthering sustainability efforts!

  2. Great post Dana. I really like these 5 points you’ve touched on from your expereience at AASHE, its funny what a day focused on fall (and not on the notification waiting for you in your pocket) can do. Happy to see that the IUOS is still doing such great work. Keep it up!

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