Less is more – Why sufficiency makes people happy

By Kirstin Schild, 06.04.2016

Antoinette Hunziker-Ebneter

Kirstin Schild studied philosophy, German and religion at the University of Bern. She has been a research associate of the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) at the University of Bern since 2013. Together with Dr. Marion Leng and Heidi Hofmann she is working on a research project on the topic “The importance of sufficient lifestyles for a good life”, which is funded by the Stiftung Mercator. Further information about the project is available at: www.cde.unibe.ch

Resource consumption in industrialised countries is increasing steadily and the associated social and economic problems have long been known. Up to now, attempts at resolving these problems have mainly focused on efficiency (e.g. energy-efficient devices and appliances) and consistency (e.g. recycling), and the third dimension of sustainability strategy, sufficiency, has been largely ignored by policymakers. However, the fact that it will be almost impossible to overcome our problems without a change in the resource-intensive lifestyles that dominate in industrialised countries is an increasing focus of debate in research circles. Interventions that affect individual lifestyles are a sensitive topic in liberal societies. Ideally, humanity should not have to be forced to accept something that is clearly in its own interest and should accept the “force of the better argument”. But who should be happier with less when they can have more? Why should we want to live in sufficiency?

Sufficiency means less

The term ‘sufficiency’ derives from the Latin verb sufficere which means to suffice or be enough. A sufficient lifestyle aims to consume fewer resources and cause less damage to the environment. In concrete terms this means: consuming fewer material things, less flying and driving, eating less meat, and adopting a less energy-intensive lifestyle.

Sufficiency means more

People who live a sufficient lifestyle do not usually feel that they are depriving themselves; they see themselves as having enough, and even making a contribution to achieving a more satisfying life.

The Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) at the University of Bern decided to investigate why this is the case. It held qualitative interviews with 16 people from German-speaking Switzerland who consume low levels of resources in the areas of mobility and everyday consumption (and thus have a considerably lower footprint than the Swiss average) and who assess their life satisfaction as positive. The main aim of the study was to understand the values and attitudes behind sufficiency based on selected exemplary individual lifestyles. It did not examine the associated economic issues

The survey revealed that people who life in sufficiency, live in a way that is ...

  • ... self-determined
    Due to their consciously low material needs, people who live in sufficiency can afford to work part-time or pursue an occupation that is considered useful but is not particularly lucrative. For this reason, and because they have relatively few material possessions that they have to look after and maintain, they have a lot of time at their disposal which they can spend as they please. They often use this time to do things that are very important to them or are considered useful. Many self-sufficient people are involved in interesting projects, for example community gardening, repairs and maintenance, or courses in vegan cooking. Living a self-determined life also means that you have lot of independence. Standing in front of a supermarket shelf and realising that they do not need anything it contains to ensure their satisfaction with life generates feelings of happiness in people with a sufficient.

  • ... conscious
    People who have plenty of time at their disposal can think about what is really important and what they should spend their energy on. Many people who live sufficient lives feel it is important to live consciously and to be able to focus their mental and physical energy on the moment. This approach increases the quality of our experiences: interactions with other people become more intensive and more satisfying. Even activities like cooking, eating and travelling gain in terms of quality when they are carried out and experienced in a conscious way. Many people who make an effort to live in the moment succeed in feeling relaxed and manage to prevent themselves from being infected by the general bustle and stress of modern life.

  • ... fosters relationships
    People who spend less time working for a living have more time to establish and maintain their personal relationships. This is something that is highly valued by many people with a sufficient lifestyle. Moreover, working on projects and initiatives and, particularly, the fact that there is a lot of sharing and exchange in sufficiency circles creates opportunities for interesting encounters. Living in bigger communities is also identified as enriching and stimulating. People feel that their own quality of life is enhanced when they can collaborate to do something for others or can make the world a bit more sustainable.

  • ... well
    Last but not least, people who live in sufficiency also live well. Getting around in the fresh air by bicycle or on foot instead of driving is seen as pleasant and good for health and fitness levels. Many people with sufficient lifestyles enthuse about the taste of fruit and vegetables from their own gardens. However, they do not miss out on the joy of owning a consciously selected, high-quality and enduring object (e.g. a stylish piece of furniture, a great bicycle or an unusual pair of shoes). Apart from the aesthetic pleasure such objects can offer, they particularly value the joy of owning something for a long time, looking after it and allowing it to accumulate the patina of memory. Finally, the entire stress of securing a livelihood is eliminated when you can get by with very little money.

Thus, if we are interested in gaining more time and achieving greater self-determination, mindfulness, and better relationships, health and enjoyment, it might be worth thinking about our own lifestyles and reflecting on areas in which less could be more. Or we could simply pay greater heed to a wise insight already expressed by Epicurus many centuries ago: “Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.”


Will be published with your comment.
Will be published with your comment.
Will be published with your comment.
Will not be published.

* Click here to access the Netiquette and Editorial principles. Your data are stored on a federal administration server for 60 days so that we can process your comment.

Last modification 06.04.2016

Top of page