By: Lykke E. Andersen*
“That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest. ”
Henry David Thoreau
In honor of World Environment Day, I have compiled a list of delightful activities that bring great pleasure at little cost and with very little environmental impact. Consider doing more of the following:
- Time travel and teleportation. The moment you dive into a good book you will instantly enter another world at another time and get to know fascinating people and cultures in distant places and different eras. You will temporarily forget about everything that bothers you in your contemporary world, and while snug in your bed with a good book, you can do little harm to the environment. If you happen to live near a public library, you can read all the books you want for free with virtually no environmental impact. Even if you don’t, in this electronic age you can download books almost instantly and at very low cost. Amazingly, although more than 86% of the people on the planet are now literate, only a small percentage of them have discovered the profound pleasure of reading. By the way, we will be launching the INESAD Book Club today at 6 pm, so if you are a book lover in La Paz, come along and present one of your favorite books (it is the first Friday every month at 6 pm at INESAD).
- Love, friendship and kindness. In terms of pleasure efficiency (maximizing pleasure with minimal inputs), nothing quite compares to being head-over-heels in love with the right person at the right time. In this situation, no expensive or contaminating inputs are needed, just the presence and embrace of the loved one. Unfortunately, this is quite an elusive situation, so that is not an effective and sustainable strategy. But plenty of pleasure can be derived from friendships of all kinds, if we make sure to create room for it. Sometimes work, family, laziness or shyness prevent us from fully enjoying the pleasure of catching up with old friends or making new friends. Research has shown that just being kind to your fellow beings will give you much more pleasure than buying stuff for yourself.
- Creativity. We are all born artists and it gives us great pleasure to create things out of almost nothing, whether that being a sculpture, a dance, an event, a video, a house, or just about anything else. Some artistic activities are more environmentally friendly than others, but in general, the main ingredient in art is creativity, and creativity is highly sustainable. In the near future, when robots will be taking over most menial jobs, creativity is going to be highly valued, so we should all start cultivating and enjoying our inner artist.
- Sports, games and exercise. Exercise is crucial for our physical and mental health, but when combined with play, it is also great fun and usually doesn’t require much in terms of environmentally damaging inputs. There are obvious exceptions, though, like sky diving, skiing in Dubai, and monster truck rallies. But running, dancing, hiking, tai chi, neighborhood ball games, etc. constitute very environmentally friendly and healthy pleasures. Again, work, family, laziness or shyness often prevent us from fully taking advantage of these healthy pleasures, so we should really appreciate and support the people who try to organize these activities for the rest of us.
- Enjoying nature. Our modern lives are hectic and often deprived of contact with nature, which causes problems of stress, anxiety and obesity. Nature has been scientifically shown to have a soothing, healing and restoring effect on us, so we should try to get out in nature more. Not everybody is lucky to live close to spectacular natural areas to enjoy, but most people do at least have access to parks and gardens. If you don’t, you should seriously consider growing your own tiny forest, create a window garden or, at the very least, create a miniature garden in a broken pot.
One day per year is clearly not enough to change the world, but maybe we can use this World Environment Day to initiate some small changes, and with a bit of persistence, these changes will become habits, and eventually these habits will become our destiny. We are not talking about big sacrifices here – just meet a friend for coffee or beer, plant a tree or flowering plant together with your kids (or any other kids you can find), organize a game for your friends, or lend your favorite book to a colleague. And then repeat these enjoyable activities as often as possible.
* Dr. Lykke E. Andersen is the Director of the Center for Economic and Environmental Modeling and Analysis (CEEMA) at the Institute of Advanced Development Studies (INESAD), La Paz, Bolivia.