The Other Climate Crisis
People often conflate the conditions of happiness with material wellbeing. There’s lots of evidence that there’s no connection at all.
Sir Ken Robinson, PhD is an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources in education and in business. He is also one of the world’s leading speakers on these topics, with a profound impact on audiences everywhere. The videos of his famous 2006 and 2010 talks to the prestigious TED Conference have been viewed more than 25 million times and seen by an estimated 250 million people in over 150 countries. His 2006 talk is the most viewed in TED’s history. In 2011 he was listed as “one of the world’s elite thinkers on creativity and innovation” by Fast Company magazine, and was ranked among the Thinkers50 list of the world’s top business thought leaders.
Sir Ken works with governments and educations systems in Europe, Asia and the USA, with international agencies, Fortune 500 companies and some of the world’s leading cultural organizations. In 1998, he led a national commission on creativity, education and the economy for the UK Government. All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education(The Robinson Report) was published to wide acclaim in 1999. He was the central figure in developing a strategy for creative and economic development as part of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland, working with the ministers for training, education enterprise and culture. The resulting blueprint for change, Unlocking Creativity, was adopted by politicians of all parties and by business, education and cultural leaders across the Province. He was one of four international advisors to the Singapore Government for its strategy to become the creative hub of South East Asia.
For twelve years, he was professor of education at the University of Warwick in the UK and is now professor emeritus. He has received honorary degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design, the Open University and the Central School of Speech and Drama; Birmingham City University, the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and Oklahoma State University. He was been honored with the Athena Award of the Rhode Island School of Design for services to the arts and education; the Peabody Medal for contributions to the arts and culture in the United States, the Arthur C. Clarke Imagination Award, the Gordon Parks Award for achievements in education and the Benjamin Franklin Medal of the Royal Society of Arts for outstanding contributions to cultural relations between the United Kingdom and the United States. In 2005, he was named as one of Time/Fortune/CNN’s ‘Principal Voices’. In 2003, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts.
His 2009 book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything is a New York Times best seller and has been translated into twenty-one languages. A 10th anniversary edition of his classic work on creativity and innovation,Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative was published in 2011. His latest book, Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life, was published by Viking in May 2013. Sir Ken was born in Liverpool, UK. He is married to Therese (Lady) Robinson. They have two children, James and Kate, and now live in Los Angeles, California.
I have fallen into using the phrase, “the other climate crisis.” And I think it has a resonance. What I mean by it is that we had become used to the fact now, I least I hope we have, that there is a crisis in the world’s natural resources. But I also think that there is a crisis in our human resources and how we use them.
We tend to think that we, because we live in cities like New York or L.A. or wherever, that we’re somehow independent of nature. And of course, we’re not. We’re organic creatures. We live and we die and we’re subject to the seasons of our own lives. And just like the earth, it seems to me, human resources are often buried deep beneath the surface. You can spend your whole life completely oblivious to some talent you may have because the opportunity never showed up for you to discover your resolve to develop it.
And the evidence of disaffection and disengagement is pretty widespread. There’s a lot of work being done now on positive psychology, which is interesting in that, for most of the history of the discipline of psychology there’s been a preoccupation with psychological disorders, emotional disturbance and so on. Most of the literature about the emotions is about emotional problems, about anxiety and depression and all the associated dysfunctions in behavior. It’s only relatively recently that psychologists started to think of emotions as positive things. And to talk about positive emotions like love and affection and compassion and the need to connect with other people, the aesthetic emotions and so on.
What it doesn’t illustrate as this research has gone on is though that there’s a very wide base of people who are suffering. And I was looking recently at some figures that are suggesting that depression – The World Health Organization has talked about how depression by 2020 will be one of the most significant causes of mortality among human populations. You only have to look at the most extreme analysis, at suicide rates. But apart from that, people who are kind of getting themselves through the week with prescription drugs, alcohol, abuse of food, whatever, the evidence is that human happiness, the total sum of human happiness isn’t promoted just by material wellbeing, we know that. We always did know it, and we shouldn’t have lost track of the fact that earning a lot of money doesn’t make you happy. And if you ask most people what they want from their lives, sooner or later in the conversation, earlier often rather than later, they’ll say happiness.
So it’s a universal value that people are pursuing. They want it for themselves; they want it for their children. But often they conflate the conditions of happiness with material wellbeing. There’s lots of evidence that there’s no connection at all. And that happiness is not a material state, it’s a spiritual state. It’s a state of internal fulfillment.
You’d expect that the more wealthy people become, the happier they get. If we all win the lottery, it’ll all be terrific. But actually the evidence is from lottery winners, they are as miserable as they were before after a while and not more miserable because they’ve got all these problems they didn’t have. There’s no evidence that people that are worth billions are happier than people who are earning far less than that, even at the minimum wage.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing for poverty. You know, I’m not saying if we could all be impoverished, it would be terrific. I’m not saying that at all. We all need a threshold of earnings so that our lives aren’t tortured by financial anxiety. But beyond a certain level there’s no direct giving. And the argument I’m making in Finding Your Element is that it’s important as part of the process of achieving something that we all want, which is sense of fulfillment, engagement and happiness. If we want to find that, we have to look in the right place for it.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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