The Network of Wellbeing’s new vision is of ‘people and the planet thriving together’. Here, as part of a series of blog posts that explore the thinking behind our new vision, mission and values, we’d like to explain why the idea of thriving is so important to us – starting with why we think it’s important for people. To explore these ideas further, please join us at our upcoming Building Wellbeing Together events series.
We all, as human beings, have needs. Many of these needs stem from our bodies. We’re complex organisms that only feel comfortable if we’ve been watered and fed and if the temperature is right. But many needs stem from our brains too. We’re social beings who need love and affection, respect from others and the freedom to pursue our own destiny. And we need meaning in our life, perhaps a sense that we’ve achieved what we’re capable of or that we’ve lived for a purpose and made a difference toward a higher end.
So what’s all this got to do with thriving?
Well, for us at the Network of Wellbeing, people thrive when they meet all these needs. So thriving is more than just being alive. It’s about living life to the fullest – enjoying oneself and feeling that one’s life has been and still is worth living.
Debate over what constitutes a life well lived goes back all the way to Aristotle. More recently, psychologists and progressive economists, such as Abraham Maslow and Manfred Max-Neef have put forward many different models of human needs. We don’t seek to choose between them but to recognise the many ways in which they overlap – and to point to their implications for the way we live.
We know that many people struggle even to meet their basic physical needs. We, like many people, feel that this is wrong and that society should be structured so that people should not suffer, for example, from hunger or cold. This is increasingly relevant today as the cost of living crisis bites, and struggles to meet basic needs intensify.
We also believe our mutual duties to each other should go further. We believe society should be structured so that everyone can meet their needs for love, for friendship and for respect, as well as agency, meaning and purpose – in short, their ‘higher needs’ as well – so that everyone feels that their lives have been worth living.
Why does this matter?
It matters because, despite decades of economic growth, hundreds of millions of people still struggle globally to meet their basic physical needs – and many, many more can only do so by working long hours or in other ways that degrade their lives. Millions more still cannot afford a social life and risk becoming isolated or socially excluded.
It also matters because – in climate change and ecological collapse – we now face an unparalleled global threat to our wellbeing. The traditional means by which governments have helped people meet their needs – by stimulating economic growth – is fuelling these problems and is no longer increasing people’s incomes in many countries. A debate is underway between people who believe further growth is needed and those that want a planned and sustained reduction in economic activity but increase in wellbeing.
Some researchers have argued that action to tackle climate change and unsustainable consumption will compromise the subjective wellbeing of key groups in society and prove “difficult to implement” while others question whether it is even possible for us all to meet our higher needs on a finite planet unless we change the way we organise our economies.
We believe we can do better. We want to explore how people can have a good life, which meets all their needs, in an affordable way, without it costing the Earth. Our Share Shed is a case in point. By enabling people to borrow things they only use occasionally, we help them achieve what they want at lower cost and with a lower consumption of natural resources.
We believe that by doing so, we can rebuild hope that a better world is possible and encourage action for the many social and environmental reforms that are needed to make our societies fairer and more sustainable.
We are not alone. As the economist, Kate Raworth, has argued: “Today we have economies that need to grow, whether or not they make us thrive. What we need are economies that make us thrive, whether or not they grow.”
That is why we talk about thriving.
In our next post in this series, we will talk further about how, for us to thrive, we need a thriving natural world.