Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things

HappinessSummertime is often the season that invokes many memories and stories because of the adventures we take. Whether it’s camping, hiking, neighborhood picnics, bike rides, swimming, going to camp, taking a road trip to see family, friends, and historical places, these experiences can stay with us for a long time and offer a fulfillment that a new pair of shoes cannot. When NWEI staffer Liz Zavodsky saw the latest article from Fast Company Exist on the science behind why we should spend money on experiences and not things, she was reminded of her own experiences that have led to great memories, funny stories, and valuable learning moments. For the full article, click here.

Most people are in the pursuit of happiness. There are economists who think happiness is the best indicator of the health of a society. We know that money can make you happier, though after your basic needs are met, it doesn’t make you that much happier…”One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.” So rather than buying the latest iPhone or a new BMW, Gilovich suggests you’ll get more happiness spending money on experiences like going to art exhibits, doing outdoor activities, learning a new skill, or traveling.

Gilovich’s findings are the synthesis of psychological studies conducted by him and others into the Easterlin paradox, which found that money buys happiness, but only up to a point. How adaptation affects happiness, for instance, was measured in a study that asked people to self-report their happiness with major material and experiential purchases. Initially, their happiness with those purchases was ranked about the same. But over time, people’s satisfaction with the things they bought went down, whereas their satisfaction with experiences they spent money on went up…While the happiness from material purchases diminishes over time, experiences become an ingrained part of our identity…”We consume experiences directly with other people,” says Gilovich. “And after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.”…

Gilovich’s research has implications for individuals who want to maximize their happiness return on their financial investments, for employers who want to have a happier workforce, and policy-makers who want to have a happy citizenry. “By shifting the investments that societies make and the policies they pursue, they can steer large populations to the kinds of experiential pursuits that promote greater happiness,” write Gilovich and his coauthor, Amit Kumar, in their recent article in the academic journal Experimental Social Psychology. If society takes their research to heart, it should mean not only a shift in how individuals spend their discretionary income, but also place an emphasis on employers giving paid vacation and governments taking care of recreational spaces. “As a society, shouldn’t we be making experiences easier for people to have?” asks Gilovich.

*For the full article, click here. For more information and inspiration on living a simple life, check out NWEI’s Voluntary Simplicity discussion course book.

Join Us July 7th: Tips for Success When Using an NWEI Ebook

Change Is Our Choice - CoverNW Earth Institute recently released our latest discussion course ebook, Change Is Our Choice: Creating Climate Solutions, a five-session discussion course that offers up inspiration on taking action to increase resilience and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Many of you have jumped right in and started discussion groups in your communities and organizations and we look forward to hearing about the actions you are beginning to take.

Some of you have been in touch requesting more information on our new ebook format, and we’ve been listening! To help you get the most out of this new course and ebook format, we are hosting a free thirty minute webinar Tuesday, July 7th at 11amPST/2pmEST.

The webinar will go over:

  • Why NWEI is offering ebooks
  • Tips for success when using an NWEI ebook
  • How to use and navigate your ebook
  • How to access the integrated video, audio and printed content, including action plans
  • How to take notes and bookmark your ebook

We hope you’ll join us to learn more! For more information and to register, click here.

6 Tips on Working for Peace, Justice and Sustainability

Raworth-donutJust this week, NWEI completed its first-ever online discussion course where 45 people (several from other countries!) journeyed with us for an online exploration of the intersections between peace, justice and sustainability – drawing from NWEI’s Seeing Systems: Peace, Justice and Sustainability course book.

Here are a few key highlights from our sessions:

1. In working to effect change in any arena, ‘dancing with systems’ is essential. Donnella Meadow’s article ‘Dancing With Systems’ (found in Session One) offered reminders of the importance of paying attention to relationships, patterns and dynamics in the systems we are working to change. Systems are indeed unpredictable and not controllable – but, you can ‘dance with them’ nonetheless. A few places to start: Watch how systems behave, focus on facts instead of theories, and don’t define problems by the lack of our favorite solution (such as, “the problem is we need to find more oil”). We can also work to make what is invisible visible by challenging assumptions and asking for feedback.

2. Awareness is the key, and don’t forget about people, justice and equality. Dr. Robert Bullard reminded us in Session Three that, “Awareness is the key. Legal action is important but it has to go hand in hand with education, training, organization and mobilization.” In our work to protect the environment, we need to include the natural world AND where we live, work and play. We should not leave people out. And, as Dr. Bullard and the environmental justice movement remind us, “once we talk about people we have to talk about justice and equality.”

3. Consider the ‘rights of nature.’ If corporations can have the same rights as individuals and be protected by laws, why not rivers and mountains? Session Three explored how a New Zealand landmark agreement made the Whanganui River a legal entity with a legal voice and how Ecuador was the first nation to recognize the legal rights of mountains, rivers and land in 2008. We need new environmental laws which move us beyond focusing on how much we can use or exploit. How can giving rivers and mountains voices change the conversations around environmental justice?

4. Remember, there does not have to be a conflict between raising the standard of living for the poorest people and preserving the environment. According to Oxfam, we can and should be working to create a safe and just space for humanity, and it is possible. In Session Four we learned that meeting the food, energy and income needs of the poorest would require only 3% of the global food supply, a 1% increase in CO2 emissions, and 0.2% of the global income. The problem to address is the excessive resource consumption by the wealthiest 10% and the production patterns of companies producing the goods they buy. And consider this: 50% of global carbon emissions are generated by only 11% of the global population.

5. Bring difficult issues into the light. Then, foster empathy. Session Six reminds us that “Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment but as an endless succession of surprises,” as Howard Zinn says in his article ‘The Optimism of Uncertainty.’ How did the British Slave Trade end in only 20 years? It was spurred by the empathy of a small group of people who understood what was behind the sugar in their tea, followed by actively raising awareness, organizing boycotts, raising funds and writing letters. So too can we dig deeper into issues today, remembering empathy for all of the people and places affected by our lifestyles. What of Coltan from Eastern Congo, found in our laptops and cell phones? What of the working conditions of the people making our consumer goods?

6. Don’t rely on someone else to fix all the problems. Be a Host! Margaret Wheatley reminds us that you can lead by “inviting people to come together to explore a good question.” We can create the means for problems to get solved by hosting meaningful conversations. (Just like we do through NWEI’s discussion courses!) Where could you play host in your community and what specific issue would you want to address?

Finally, start with a personal practice. We need to translate our understandings regarding the vast and interconnected issues of peace, justice and sustainability into action through daily practices of humanity, empathy, and sustainability. As Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly…We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.” From this ground of awareness, we can act in service of the world.

*Want to dive deeper? You can organize or participate in your own Seeing Systems: Peace, Justice and Sustainability discussion course. Looking for ways to take action? Sign up for our upcoming annual EcoChallenge this Fall and join our community of people and organizations working to make change for good. 

NWEI’s Executive Director on How to Create a Better World

NWEI Director, Mike Mercer
NWEI Director, Mike Mercer

Recently the Grouptrail Blog interviewed NW Earth Institute’s Executive Director, Mike Mercer. Read on to get a peek into how NWEI’s small team is “leveraging big ideas to create a better world.” For the full interview, click here

Over the past 20 years, more than 160,000 people have participated in Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) discussion courses and their EcoChallenge. We’ve benefitted from their programs at Grouptrail. And we wanted to get an inside peek at how their small group is leveraging big ideas to create a better world by talking with their Executive Director, Mike Mercer:
What are the key skills you look for in your team?

While we do look for employees who possess the skills we need to be successful, we focus on character to a much greater degree. Our team is made up of critical thinkers who have also drank the Koolaid. That may seem a bit paradoxical, but we want team members who are completely committed to a sustainable future, and expect they can stop to consider a view point very different from their own.

We don’t look for a homogenous team, but rather a complementary team. Some are cheerleaders and make the team feel energized. Some do a great job of modeling inquiry before advocacy by starting with great questions to better understand. Some are super practical and keep a bunch of idealists grounded. We look for a variety of characteristics in a variety of people, and those differences have to lead to synergy, rather than dysfunction. The skills we are looking for mirror the needs of the organization…

What have been the keys to NWEI’s success and what tips and tools have helped you implement ideas?

Our thinking should always start with our mission and our theory of change in mind as the filters through which we view our work. Our mission is, “Inspiring people to take responsibility for Earth.” Our theory of change follows a closed loop process of Connect, Reflect and Act. By this we mean, change and learning are fostered through social means and our connection to others. By helping participants reflect on the altruistic, self interest and social norming values they already hold, we’ve hit the sweet spot in promoting the desire to change. We then work to trigger positive action. Our belief is people are open to and actually like change. What they don’t like is being changed by external forces. Connecting and reflecting are critical precursors to change, but change is actually measured in action.

Other big ideas that inform our work are advocacy and flexibility. We expect and foster advocacy, in all its manifestations among NWEI participants. Advocates who share and demonstrate the outcomes of their NWEI experience with others and support social norming. Advocates who are civically engaged to encourage policy and elected officials toward supporting a thriving future. Advocates who support our work through volunteerism or financial means. And advocates who move from being a participant to an organizer of others.

For us flexibility doesn’t mean trying to be all things to all people, but rather understanding our competencies, hearing needs and then delivering solutions to address those needs. This may not seem like a big idea to most, but coming from an organization who primarily developed and delivered effective programs that were static in nature, this view of flexibility is huge!
*Want to learn more? Check out NWEI’s Model for Change, discussion course books, and annual EcoChallenge.

4 Simple Actions You Can Take For World Oceans Day, June 8th

imagesToday is World Oceans Day, a United Nations-recognized day of ocean celebration and action. Did you know that oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97 percent of the Earth’s water, and represent 99 percent of the living space on the planet by volume? Unfortunately, only a little over 1 percent of the ocean is protected. The ocean absorbs approximately 25 percent of the CO2 added to the atmosphere from human activities each year, greatly reducing the impact of this greenhouse gas on the climate. Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. According to the United Nations, as much as 40 percent of the world oceans are heavily affected by human activities, including pollution, depleted fisheries, and loss of coastal habitats.

Here are four actions you can take to protect our oceans:

1. Take the Better Bag Challenge: Promise not to take any disposable plastic bags for a whole year. An estimated 80% of the plastic trash in the ocean comes from people on land – carried out to the ocean by rivers, streams, and the wind. Plastic trash chokes and kills animals like sea turtles, whales, and sea birds, as animals think that the plastics are food. More than 8 million tons of plastic trash end up in the ocean every year, including millions of disposable plastic bags. Reducing the plastic we use and discard is the first step to stopping this. Challenge your friends, family, coworkers, or club members to join you.

2. Choose Sustainable Seafood. Marine environments are under pressure from overfishing and environmental degradation. However, fisheries can recover or stabilize via responsible management and regulation. Choosing sustainably caught seafood can help minimize harmful impacts and protect the health of fish populations.

3. Reduce Your Plastic Use. According to the One World One Ocean Campaign, 50-80% of marine debris is plastic, which breaks down into smaller pieces, but never fully goes away. “The ocean’s five major gyres, giant swirling currents, often trap this debris, turning the ocean into a toxic plastic soup.” Some ideas to get you started: refuse single-use plastics, use reusable bags, cups, etc. And of course, recycle the plastics you do use. *For more info on how plastics are adversely affecting our oceans, click here. 

4. Sign the Petition to Ban Toxic Microbeads in Cosmetic Products. Did you know that personal care products sold around the world contain micro-plastic particles used as exfoliants? According to the Five Gyres Institute, these tiny plastic beads, used in face & body scrubs and toothpaste, are washed directly down the drain and into our water systems, where they harm our waterways and the animals that live there. It is one of the most dangerous sources of plastic pollution, and you can help to ban these products from commerce completely by signing on to this petition.

*Want to dig deeper into issues pertaining to water? Session three in NWEI’s Seeing Systems: Peace, Justice and Sustainability course book takes a close look at water issues – and offers many ways to get involved and take action.







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