Chapter 8: Rethinking the Good Life

Gary Gardner and Erik Assadourian


If you are very poor, there is no doubt that greater income can improve your life. But once the basics are secured, well-being does not necessarily correlate with wealth. Today, many discussions of sustainability focus on the ecological or economic measures needed for a healthy world. But the social and psychological needs of human beings also shape our cultures, and help to determine whether our civilization is sustainable or not.

Most governments make ongoing growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) a leading priority of domestic policy, under the assumption that wealth secured is well-being delivered. Yet undue emphasis on generating wealth, particularly by encouraging heavy consumption, may be yielding disappointing returns. Overall quality of life is suffering in some of the world’s richest countries as people experience greater stress and time pressures and less satisfying social relationships, and as the natural environment shows more and more signs of distress.

By redefining prosperity to emphasize a higher quality of life, rather than the mere accumulation of goods, individuals, communities, and governments can focus on delivering what people most desire. Indeed, a new understanding of “the good life” can be built not around wealth, but around well-being: having basic needs met, along with freedom, health, security, and satisfying social roles.

  • Wealth and Well-being
  • The Power of One
  • The Ties That Bind
  • Creating Infrastructures of Well-being
  • Getting to the Good Life