Blog Post

Small Choices, Big Impact: How Everyday Decisions Create Wider Positive Change

By Colin Beavan aka No Impact Man 

Back before I did the No Impact Man lifestyle experiment – in which I completely deconstructed my life and then put it back together, small choice by small choice – I worried mostly about getting the right job, the right relationship, the right home. It was all about making the right HUGE choice.

It was scary – because what if you get a huge choice wrong? – and hard – because the HUGE choices take so much energy to change. Then, I learned that life is lived just as much in the smaller choices as the big ones. And I could make smaller choices to make my life happy and helpful now (instead of later, when I could change the big choices).

During the No Impact experiment though, the project forced me to mindfully ask questions like how I took my meals, how I transported myself, what I spent my money on, where I got my clothes, who I spent my time with, what choices I made with my free minutes and hours and on and on. I thought I was learning how to live environmentally, but really I was just learning how to live. Period.

You might think, wait, why would I bother worrying about how my transport myself when the question of my career is hanging over my head? Well, because it turns out that research shows that the quality of our commutes have as big an effect on our life satisfaction as whether or not we have a life partner. That is huge, right?

Here is a an incomplete list of the types of little choices we can tend to ignore but which affect our health, happiness and ability to be meaningfully of service in the world:

How we take our meals? This includes the food we eat, yes, but also whether we cook it ourselves and eat our meals with others. Here is an excellent article by Michael Pollan on how to eat in the New York Times Magazine.

How we relate to stuff? Because the things we work our butts off for in our life have no intrinsic value. All that matters is how the *use of them* make ourselves or others happy. So… I don’t need to own a boat; I just need to sail in a boat. [Editors note: We’d recommend checking out James Wallman’s work on “experientialism”, which emphasises this point].

How we use our leisure time? Does sitting on the coach alone and binging on Netflix really make me happy? Once in a while, yes, but how often do I default to it instead of doing something social or something with my body? Or what about learning to make music? Here is an article from Stanford Business School about how time not money is our most precious resource.

How we relate to our society and government? Am I engaged with the world around me or do I just complain about it or deny it? The research shows that if we find channels for civic engagement we will likely be happier. Here is a great article about how civic engagement makes you happier.

How we transport ourselves? Being alone in your car in a traffic jam sucks. In general, car-poolers are happier, as are train riders, walkers and bikers. Here is a cool article that shows that even just walking part of your commute makes you happier.

Of course, there are lots of other smaller choices we make in life. The point is that we don’t have to wait for a better career or relationship or house or a better life to have a more happy, helpful life. Most of us can change one of these things to do and start having it now. What about you? What small choices make your life happier? Feel free to share ideas in the comments.

This post originally appeared on colinbeavan.com, and all photos are shared via colinbeavan.com. With thanks to Colin (pictured right) for kindly letting us re-share this post here on the Network of Wellbeing blog. 

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Comments (1)

  • David Green Colin,

    Admire your bravery and would be interested in hearing more about your approach.

    Best regards,

    David Green Mon, August 01, 2016 - 1:08:16

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