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“Good Living” or “Living Well”: An Alternative View of Progress

As part of our recent celebrations of International Day of Happiness we have been sharing posts on happiness, wellbeing, and different approaches to achieving high quality of life. We have shared a post exploring the meaning of happiness and wellbeing here, and we have looked at the background of Gross National Happiness in an inspiring interview with Dr Ha Vinh Tho here. In the post below NOW’s Jesús Martin introduces the concept and philosophy behind of “Good Living” or “Living Well”, as it has originated from different indigenous cultures.

By Jesús Martin, Wellbeing Ambassador and Research Intern

“Good Living” or “Living Well” is a philosophy rooted in many indigenous cultures, which has become more well-known since it was introduced into the Constitutions of two Latin-American countries: Bolivia and Ecuador. The philosophy provides an in-depth approach to wellbeing, which in certain ways could be compared to Satish Kumar’s kindhearted words and ideas equating wellbeing to, “healthy people, happy communities and a sustainable planet”.

What is “Good living” / “Living well”?                    

Although the translation comes from the Spanish words “Buen Vivir” and “Vivir bien”, those were taken in turn from Quechua, “Sumak kwasay” and Aymara, “Suma qamaña”. However, we can find several different terms that include these principles and practices in more indigenous cultures from Latin America and from other parts of the world. What is underlying in these terms is a way of life that may differ depending on the culture, location and historical period. However, there are some common characteristics: generally it is acknowledged that in order to achieve “good living” / “living well” humans must embrace being an integral part of nature; being directly connected to and reliant on the natural environment. Furthermore, “Good Living” / “Living well” does not have to be oriented towards having more possessions, but is instead more focused on finding ways of living in harmony. This philosophy also acknowledges the importance of social context – it is shaped towards meeting collective needs and places an emphasis on the importance of community bonds.

Why “Good living” / “Living well?

In his book “Collapse”, the anthropologist Jared Diamond indicates that throughout the history of humanity several collapses of societies - like Easter Island, the Anasazi in North-America, and the Mayans - have occurred. Among the main factors which James Diamond identified as central in either bringing on collapse or enabling survival was the society’s response to its environmental problems.

The most widely used tool for measuring progress in most societies across the world today is still Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Yet GDP is a measurement that does not take environmental processes fully into account. In fact, it has often been proven that at times when we are damaging the environment this has actually caused rises in GDP.

Many are now trying to work towards a new paradigm “beyond GDP”. The evidence and research in the last year about this subject suggest that subjective wellbeing doesn’t rise in accordance with GDP figures. In fact, our wellbeing could fall in the search of more GDP. Many are now arguing that this path is not serving us, and saying “Enough is Enough”. This is why moving away from a GDP-focused model of progress, and looking towards other models such as “Good living”/ “Living well” can be useful.

How can we approach “Good living” / “Living well”?

Focusing on human connections with nature and with each other does not mean turning away completely from modern development and returning to the “cave”, as some people would argue. We don’t need to throw out science and progression in different fields, but we could aim to become more humble about the path our societies have chosen. We should try to use our collaborative intelligence and creativity - instead of forcing ourselves into competition - in order to face the new challenges we have ahead.

In attempting to meet these challenges human creativity has started to be inspired through nature in a relatively new discipline: bio-mimicry. This is based on the understanding that we don’t necessarily need to re-invent the wheel, but instead we can observe nature’s best practices to help us gain insight on how to solve human problems.

In the same way and with the same humility, why don’t we observe the wisdom of some indigenous people in lessons passed on about “Good Living” / “Living well”. I would argue that we should try to avoid stereotypical views of indigenous peoples – and of all groups of peoples – and instead try to see what all different cultures have to offer.

In the Constitutions in Bolivia and Ecuador they have chosen to integrate the perspectives of “Good Living” / “Living well”. Of course, at times the reality of living in an interdependent and globalised world can make it difficult for these nations to accomplish all of the points of this philosophy. However, they are actively introducing a new way of understanding and perceiving what it means to have a good quality of life. And this shift of perspective is not just something happening in Bolivia and Ecuador, but more internationally too (as we have explored on our blog previously).

At NOW, we also seek to encourage discussion and learning on different approaches to achieving high levels of wellbeing whilst living within the planet's natural resource limits. To help encourage engagement on these issues we have included some new reports in our Wellbeing Database about “Good living”/ “Living well”, as shown in the links below. We hope these resources will prove helpful for those of you who are aware of the connection between human beings and the environment and are open to new ideas and actions based on this awareness.

Relevant Resources and Further Reading

Credits for images used in this post: Photo 1: inyuchu and Photo 2: Cristian Ordenes

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