Every March we are encouraged to act for two important days of action: International Day of Forests (IDOF) and the annual Earth Hour which this year falls on 26th March. It can be tempting to dismiss initiatives like this as paying lip service to the vast challenges we face. However, they are both fantastic examples of long-running campaigns that effectively engage people and have real potential to increase personal, social and environmental wellbeing.
How do they engage people?
Both these campaigns encourage people to take part in simple, achievable activities that are amplified through the simultaneous participation of many others. For IDOF, these include tree-planting and forest art exhibitions; for Earth Hour they might be night hikes, candlelit dinners or meditations. These campaigns are powerful because:
- Participants can combat eco-anxiety and feel positive emotions through taking meaningful action – and stepping towards ‘active hope’.
- There is solidarity, connection and meaning in the coordinated global efforts of everyday people to make a difference.
- By taking part, people implicitly commit to showing up for the greater good, activating compassionate values and leading to further action.
- They also see others taking action, providing ‘social proof’ that many others like them support positive change.
How do they make a difference?
These initiatives could be more effective than you think. Earth Hour is framed as a pause or break. By switching off the lights and being in darkness, one must think consciously about one’s actions during the hour. When so much of life is done on auto-pilot, this enforced mindfulness is potent – especially with optional guided meditations designed for the hour. Mindfulness is well known as an aid to wellbeing – did you know it is also linked to pro-environmental and pro-social behaviours?
Similarly, IDOF seeks to raise awareness of the value of forests for myriad aspects of human wellbeing, from providing building materials, food and medicine to the pleasures and health benefits of forest bathing. Nature visits and nature connectedness are both associated with either health or wellbeing benefits and also with increased pro-environmental behaviours – so encouraging people to try activities that foster nature connection and wellbeing could help the planet as well as the individual.
How do we go further?
Whilst these actions undeniably bring people together to take meaningful and hopeful actions for the wellbeing of people and planet. We also need systemic change. We need all kinds of organisations and all levels of government to honour these individual actions by implementing a shift towards a holistic understanding of progress that recognises that to improve wellbeing for ourselves and future generations we must also improve social and environmental sustainability. A powerful example of this redefinition of progress is the wellbeing economy approach, which Centre for Thriving Places has been pioneering since 2010.
How can individuals help to achieve this systemic shift? Well, what are all organisations and governments powered by?People! If you work for an organisation or government that could be thinking differently about progress, there may be ways you could champion the wellbeing economy approach in your role. We are already working with some forward-thinking organisations and local policymakers to support this shift, and some of the tools we have developed for them are freely available for you to help raise awareness about the wellbeing economy concept and how to embed it.
The Thriving Places Index is a powerful framework for place-based organisations and local authorities to understand how well they are doing in terms of what matters for wellbeing – including in terms of equality and environmental sustainability – and therefore where they could focus their efforts to have the greatest impact. We offer a wealth of other resources too, including guidance on adopting this approach for smaller places.
So, if you’re keen to join the thousands of others around the world taking an action this week but you haven’t picked one yet, think about who you know that could be thinking differently about progress – and send them a link to this blog.
If you’d like to talk with us about how we can support you to introduce wellbeing economy approaches at your workplace or in your community, drop us a line: email@example.com
Mel Cairns, Researcher, Centre for Thriving Places
Mel is the inhouse researcher at Centre for Thriving Places. She has a Masters in Sustainable Development in Practice and her previous research has explored nature connectedness, active travel and compassionate values.