International Day of Happiness: New Research Topic on wellbeing in the era of climate catastrophe

By Jodie Birch, Frontiers in Psychology

International Day of Happiness, held March 20th, is a global celebration which recognizes the relevance of happiness and wellbeing as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world.

To shed light on this international event, Frontiers in Psychology launched the Research Topic “International Day of Happiness: Happiness and Wellbeing in an Era of the Climate Catastrophein the journal’s Emotion Science section. 

Happiness and wellbeing are two concepts that are frequently discussed and misunderstood. Definitions of happiness now expand beyond positive emotions, encompassing individual happiness, wellbeing of others, and sustainability of the planet. According to social ecological models of wellbeing, individuals are viewed in the context of the communities and settings in which they live. The primary purpose of this special collection is to answer whether these definitions are sufficient for achieving happiness and wellbeing in an era of climate catastrophe.

As we approach International Day of Happiness, it is interesting to consider whether the celebration of happiness is a thing of the past, given that society is confronted with several serious issues such as loneliness, the rising burden of chronic disease, inequality and inequity, the threat of nuclear war, and climate devastation. There is an increasing body of research that shows spending time in nature improves health and happiness. Yet, some would argue that it is ethically dubious to focus on nature to improve wellbeing while ignoring the looming climate catastrophe. Therefore we are left pondering several questions:

  • Is it now the purpose of only self-absorbed individualists to pursue happiness and wellbeing in the face of such challenges?
  • Should we now be concentrating on the practical realities of surviving in the face of a possible society collapse?
  • Are happiness and wellbeing worthwhile goals in and of themselves, goals that are connected with chances to overcome such obstacles?
  • Is it possible to combine the promotion of individual health and wellbeing through nature-based initiatives and at the same time provide people with the skills to confront ‘business-as-usual’ practice on both individual and collective levels?
  • Are individual, collective, and planetary wellbeing incompatible, or are there ways to promote wellbeing while avoiding the inherent drawbacks of western neoliberalism? And how might those opportunities be realized? Are there examples of best practices?

Leading this article collection is Professor Andrew Kemp, from Swansea University. Kemp’s research interests span from cognitive and affective neuroscience through to epidemiology, bridging the gap between biological mechanism and public health. His research activities and contributions to the literature have been recognized internationally including the award of Doctor of Science (DH-SC Melb) degree from the University of Melbourne in Australia (2019), Fellow from the British Psychological Society Fellow (FBPsS) (2019) and also from Association for Psychological Science (FAPS) (USA) (2017) for sustained outstanding contributions to psychological science.

The specialist team further comprises:

  • Dr. Zoe Fisher (Swansea University). For the past five years, Fisher has been working with service users affected by brain injury, community providers and academics to develop and evaluate a range of community based neuro-rehabilitation programs. The programs make use of co-production, positive psychology and task shifting principles to improve resilience, wellbeing and facilitate community and social integration.
  • Dr. Panu Pihkala (University of Helsinki). His interdisciplinary research deals with the psychological and spiritual dimensions related to environmental issues and especially climate change. Pihkala has become known as an expert in eco-anxiety. This year he launched a successful podcast named Climate Change and Happiness, which he co-hosts with Dr. Thomas Doherty.

Debates about how far we’ve missed the chance to improve our social, political, and economic structures to better manage the expected climate-related disasters lead to interesting questions over whether we are sufficiently prepared to cope with challenges that await us as individuals, communities and nations. If you are interested in answering these questions, Frontiers in Psychology welcomes contributions to the Research Topic that include climate psychology, environmental psychology, clinical psychology, social ecology, environmental theology and eco-philosophy. Please find the topic here if you would like to explore this further.

Research Topic included in this post: