Blog Post

Ethics as a Compass for Wellbeing

By Jesús Martín, Researcher and Wellbeing Ambassador

Ethics are personal to each individual, yet they also depend on the wider network of an individual’s culture, society, beliefs, philosophies and relationships. Examining our own ethics can therefore potentially widen our understanding and help to connect us with others. Ethics also has an interesting relationship to wellbeing, since it can help to guide our decisions and priorities when working towards improved wellbeing.

This is the eighth post in a series highlighting the best resources from each of the categories in our Wellbeing Database. The series has so far explored wellbeing in relation to the environment, education, food, economy, community, family and work.

This post follows with a summary of the best resources relating to ethics and wellbeing. In many ways ethics is inherently linked to the other categories of the Database, helping to guide us on how we take care of ourselves (affecting our health and personal development), and how we connect with others (in our families, work places, communities, and economies) as well as influencing what we see as appropriate ways to manage resources, such as our food systems, and how we engage with the natural environment more broadly. In this way, ethics can be seen as a cross-cutting category, and can also be seen as giving direction to work in different areas of wellbeing. 

Films and Videos

The film created by Ethics Online, “All things are connected”, and the talk “Sustainable Happiness” by Randy Taran both offer us a broad perspective of the commons as something shared by the whole of humanity. These videos are based on building understanding of the interconnectedness of humans with all life on Earth. They are well worth watching as they offer a broad contextual view, which can form a good basis to build upon when looking into more specialised areas of ethical enquiry.

In terms of personal ethics, the talks “Why not cheat? How our ethics alters our happiness”, by Jennifer Baker, and “How to let altruism be your guide”, by Matthiew Ricard, both offer direction for re-connecting ourselves with an ethical understanding that can increase our health and sense of personal development.

There are also some outstanding videos that could help in terms of re-connecting with others and with society in an ethical way. For example, check out Roman Krznaric’s work on empathy in this video “The power of outrospection”. In terms of our connections to each other in society, and particularly in our economies, a more ethical approach could certainly be useful. On this topic, I’d recommend a video from Richard Wilkinson in which he focuses on inequality as the cause for low wellbeing across different countries. Plus, a video from Diego Isabel, in which he suggests an “Economy for the Common Good” could be used as a tool for regulating society in a more ethical way.

When approaching economics from a more ethical perspective you see that what is needed is a stronger (re-)connection with each other and with the planet that sustains us. Kate Raworth’s “Doughnut Economics” is very helpful in this respect; sharing an economic analysis that considers both planetary boundaries and social boundaries. For wider economic wellbeing both of these aspects need to be taken into account.

On another topic, if you are interested specifically in an ethical approach to food systems, then I’d recommend “Seeds of Freedom”, by The Gaia Foundation & The African Biodiversity Network, as well as “The Global Food Waste Scandal”, a talk by the food activist Tristram Stuart. These are two great resources for building a better ethical understanding of the issues underlying the way we eat.

Videos can be a great way to introduce yourself to a new topic, or to dive deeper into specific issues, and I hope those highlighted above can provide you with the opportunity to do both.

Reports and Research

Ethics can help to guide our values, which in turn have a huge impact on how we shape our societies. Below, I have selected some of the numerous reports and research which provide a wide perspective based on building more ethical values, which can ultimately help us to improve wellbeing levels in wider society.

Guides and Toolkits

Our deeply held values are not necessarily easy to analyse and change when needed, however it is possible. As a first step, it is important to engage with issues around personal ethicsin a positive and constructive way. The following guides and toolkits could be helpful in this process.

The Common Cause Handbook by PIRC is probably one of the best guides for understanding and mapping our values and the values of others. Based on these foundations, one can follow with “Developing your EcoMind: A how-to guide” by Small Planet, and “Doing good does you good: A pocket guide to helping others”, by Mental Health. Both guides help share evidence that doing good actually makes you feel better, and they provide guidance on putting this understanding into practice.

Reflecting on the resources presented in this post, it is clear to me that it’s valuable to engage with an ethical perspective, to look at the “whys” within our own lives and behaviours. Tackling these questions has the potential to help us to (re-)connect with ourselves, with other people and with the natural world.

Feel free to explore the Wellbeing Database further, and if you have resources you would like to propose including then please submit your suggestions.

Credit for image used in this post: Puerto Vallarta compass shot 1 by Kolby.

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