Why Doing Good Feels Good

Making sustainable food choices can be difficult. But there is good news!  New research shows that people who choose sustainably can benefit directly from this: behaving sustainably actually makes people happy. This is not a new phenomenon. Aristotle claimed in ancient times that ‘doing the right thing’ is an important source of happiness.

A recently published meta-analysis by Stephanie Johnson Zawadzki, Thijs Bouman and Linda Steg analyzed 78 previous studies of sustainable behavior and subjective well-being with the aim of making more precise statements about the relationship between the two elements. They looked at different types of behaviour, such as purchasing behaviour, food choice, energy use and recycling. The meta-analysis shows that there is a consistentl and positive relationship between the different types of sustainable behavior and well-being.

Warm glow

The research also shows that the relationship between sustainable behavior and happiness is stronger if one acts consciously and is therefore not an automatism or habit. Researcher Stephanie Johnson Zawadzki: “Suppose you have two options for dinner in a supermarket: a regular option and a sustainable option. If you consciously choose the sustainable option in such a situation, that choice will feel more meaningful. There is a greater chance that you will experience a so-called warm glow – a nice feeling because you have done the right thing. If you make such choices more often, it can contribute to a deeper sense of purpose, which in the long term leads to more happiness.”

Emphasis on the positive

One of the main implications of the research is that sustainable behavior not only costs money and effort, but also pays off: it makes people feel good immediately. Marketers and policymakers can use this information to their advantage by highlighting these positive aspects of sustainable behavior.

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