Sustainability as a Path to a More Meaningful Life

If I’ve learned anything over the last four years of earning my psychology degree it’s that humans are obsessed with meaning making.

Many things that are good for our mental health are things that drive a sense of meaning and purpose. Routines help life feel less random. Social connections moor us in an interconnected web of other people so we don’t feel alone. Volunteering and work let us feel helpful and fulfilled. Having hobbies and passion projects allow us to create and accomplish tangible things. And we’ve developed complex spiritual practices throughout all of history that help us make sense of our world, feel connected to it, and create meaning.

Having something to do and some kind of purpose beyond ourselves is a central aspect of the human habit of meaning making and integral to our mental wellbeing. Experiencing existential dread is essentially the opposite of experiencing meaning and is a major red flag signaling depression.

Personally, I’ve had plenty of experience feeling depressed and full of existential dread and I know that worrying too much about climate change is usually considered quite depressing. And sure, just sitting around and worrying about it is probably going to make you feel bad.

However, when you decide to start doing something about climate change every choice you make is suddenly an opportunity to do good by the planet and be part of the movement.

Picking up bamboo toothbrushes isn’t just a boring chore but your opportunity to vote with your dollar and tell companies you’re no longer interested in plastic. Every meatless meal or plant based substitute for an animal product is help in the fight against deforestation and animal cruelty.

The weekly grocery trip becomes a challenge to be as sustainable as possible and take advantage of as many low waste foods as you can. As you switch more of your conventional beauty and personal care products to eco friendly ones you’ll feel the pride within you grow by starting each day with a reminder of your sustainable commitment.

You’ll relish in the opportunity to mend something broken and feel a sense of stubborn pride when your friends and family roll their eyes at your insistence on buying your clothes and electronics second hand.

While your loved ones might think you’re strange, you also might see them change their behavior after a while too. A few folks might start using reusable shopping bags, wrap your Christmas gifts in old newspaper, and even come to you for advice on environmental issues.

You learn that every choice you make has an environmental impact. From what you eat, wear, and do to how you dispose of you things you don’t need. Therefore every choice you make is an opportunity to be good, or bad, to our planet.

This fact is at once overwhelming but the precise reason that sustainability is an ideal lifestyle change to help make your life more meaningful. Mundane and boring everyday activities now become a way to be part of a movement and help save the planet.

Beyond that, making your lifestyle more sustainable will naturally lead you to become more interested in other areas of sustainability. You might find yourself communing with nature, doing DIYs, or learning new skills as a result of your sustainable lifestyle.

I’m of course not saying that sustainable living is going to cure anyone of their existentialism or depression. However, sustainability is usually discussed as something that is just going to bum people out or make them depressed when that just isn’t the case.

If you’re able to focus on the positive impact you can have, rather than only the scary aspects of our climate crisis sustainable living might help you find some greater sense of purpose like it’s done for me.

I still have bad days, and like I said above sustainable living hasn’t fixed all my mental health problems. But overall it has helped a lot. Now, my actions align with my values and I don’t feel so guilty about things. I still worry about climate change, but I know that I’m doing something about it and am part of the solution and not the problem.

Trying to be as sustainable as possible also brings some excitement and little challenges to my day. I feel good about myself when I resist purchasing something I’m tempted by, bring my own container somewhere, or choose to buy the more sustainable version of something. All these little boosts in mood add up and living out my values creates a satisfaction unachievable through other means.

Overall, making my lifestyle more sustainable has helped my mental wellbeing and I can honestly say that I’m happier now than I was before. And this basic idea that aligning your lifestyle to your values improves your mental health can apply to pretty much any lifestyle changes you want to make.

As with all changes, there will be challenges. You’ll have to learn new things and it’s easy to beat yourself up when you make mistakes and slip into old habits. But if you get past these slumps and pitfalls you’re not likely to want to go back to your old ways when you experience all the positivity that comes with going green.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. How has sustainable living effected your mental health? Do you feel that sustainability or other lifestyle habits have provided you with more sense of meaning? Let me know in the comments below.

Green Gifts Guide

Happy holidays all!

Welcome to part two of my holiday gifts series.

Today I’ll be giving you a variety of resources and ideas for how you can buy more sustainable gifts this season. This post can help you if you yourself are trying to be more green and aren’t sure what to buy for other people or if you’re trying to buy gifts for someone who is environmentally conscious.

This post will be split into three parts. First up is marketplaces, these are online websites I’ve found that either only sell sustainable goods or have a lot of sustainable options. Second is the brands section, I will be sharing specific brands that I believe are sustainable and have good gifts.

Third is the alternatives section, which will feature alternative methods and styles of gift giving that are more sustainable than buying brand new, mass manufactured products. This section is important to me because I never want this blog to become only about giving brand recommendations for companies that produce new goods sustainably. I feel that this isn’t true to the tenets of sustainability and additionally isn’t accessible to most people price wise.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

Marketplaces

Earth Hero

Earth Hero is sometimes referred to as the “eco-friendly amazon” of online shopping. Their goal is to carry at least one sustainably made option for every type of item you would need in your daily life and to take the guesswork out of figuring out if a product is greenwashed. They have a 5 step process to evaluate a product’s sustainability and only carry items that “pass”. Bonus, Earth Hero also has the guaranteed lowest prices for the goods they carry and they are having a site wide 20% holiday sale as well as planting five trees per order until Cyber Monday ends.

Etsy

Etsy is an online marketplace for small craftspeople and artisans to sell their goods. While Etsy the company has no particular sustainable mission, many of their sellers offer zero waste and eco-friendly products and their prices are generally lower than sustainable products from larger companies. Plus most sellers are small, women-owned businesses and most are having holiday sales right now.

Package Free

Package free is a zero waste online marketplace designed to carry anything you need to start and maintain a zero waste lifestyle with guaranteed plastic free shipping. The site was started by Lauren Singer, whose trash jar was one of the first to go viral and she has since been involved in a variety of media projects as well as opening a physical package free shop in New York City. The site carries everything from vibrators to candles to office supplies to items for babies. The selection is not as wide as on Earth Hero however they carry different brands so it’s still worth checking out.

Brands

Lush

Lush, need I say anything about them? Credited with inventing the bath bomb, this zero waste UK based company is known for their high quality, vegan, and cruelty free personal care products. Their lineup features body wash, shampoo, conditioners, lotions, cleansers, moisturizers, makeup (currently only in the UK), most recently fragrances, and more. Many of their products are in the “naked” line, meaning the product needs no packaging. Lush also has an in-store recycling program for all of their product packaging and reuses it for future products. I’ve been gifting their products for years and I can personally vouch that everyone has loved their products.

Sunski

Sunski is a company that creates lightweight, stylish, sunglasses from recycled plastics. Their frames come with a lifetime guarantee and they have a program to replace broken lenses and repair the glasses in order to extend their life as long as possible. The full price on their glasses tends to be high, anywhere from 58USD-89USD. However I’ve been watching their site for a few months and they run constant sales and always have options between 30USD-40USD as well.

4Ocean Bracelets

4Ocean will pull one pound of trash from our oceans for every bracelet sold. The cords and beads of the bracelets are made from 100% post consumer recycled materials, 4Ocean will even pay for you to ship your bracelet back to them when you’re done with it so it can be recycled. They release bracelets in new colors monthly that support slightly different causes such as jellyfish or the everglades. You can even sign up to volunteer at their clean ups so there’s no doubt that the operation is legit.

Kind Socks

Kind Socks prides themselves on creating socks that are fun, fashionable for every day, and ethical. Their founder Stephen Steele was inspired to start the brand after being frustrated that most sustainable socks were very plain and not fun at all. The socks are toxin free, made with certified organic cotton, and manufactured in safe factories with fair wages.The brand is based in Sweden and ships internationally.

Ten Tree

Ten Tree is an apparel brand whose name leads you quite intuitively to the business model, they plant ten trees for each item purchased. They even give you “tree codes” so you can find out exactly where the trees your purchase funded got planted. They have a full lineup of casual apparel and accessories including socks, hats, wallets, dresses, jackets, and of course the usual t-shirts, hoodies, and pants.

Stasher Bags

Stasher bags are an alternative to disposable plastic sandwich bags made from 100% silicone. I personally own a set that my mother found for me at goodwill, and I absolutely love them. Stasher has been blowing up lately and I’ve suddenly started seeing their bags everywhere, as a result they’ve been able to expand their line to include a variety of shapes and colors. The bags can withstand extreme temperatures  meaning they can be boiled and baked, the silicone zipper creates an airtight seal making the bags an excellent option for freezer storage as well. I recommend these as gifts partially because they are a bit expensive, so it’s something people may want but not be able to spend the money on for themselves.

Elate Cosmetics

Elate Cosmetics is a low waste, cruelty free, and ethical beauty brand. Their packaging is the most sustainable I’ve seen for make up and is made with renewable or recyclable resources. They also sell reusable magnetic palettes with refills sold in aluminum pans. They carry essentially every and any type of makeup you need, though their color range definitely will not be able to provide you with a full glam look.

Alternatives

Homemade Gifts

Another option is to make gifts at home! This can take it’s form in many ways, perhaps you create a piece of visual art, write or parody a song, make baked goods, write poetry, or give them coupons for different types of chores like cleaning the bathroom or doing meal prep. Sentimental crafted gifts like songs or poetry tend to really great for close family or significant others, chore coupons are great for friends, and baked goods are great for people you’re not sure what else to get! Even if your homemade gift isn’t made from totally sustainable materials it’s still likely to be more eco-friendly that the majority of mass produced goods.

Local Gifts

Shop local! Local goods are overall more eco-friendly because they did not need to be shipped from far away and therefore getting the item to you required less fossil fuels. Additionally, many artisans are environmentally conscious and have much more eco-friendly manufacturing processes than conventional companies. You can use Etsy to find locally made goods online but there’s also a variety of in person locations you’re likely to find locally made goods such as: any hippy dippy grocery store/bar/establishment, craft markets, flea markets, farmer’s markets, and literally any type of festival. I’ve gifted locally made coffees, keychains, soaps, candles, lotions, cards, and salsas with great success. Another bonus to locally made foods is that they are usually preservative free and therefore have better and fresher taste than conventional goods.

Second Hand Gifts

Second hand goods are another great way to decrease the carbon footprint of your gift shopping this season. This is especially good for tech and luxury fashion goods that have strong resale markets, this is also a great way to save money on these items or be able to buy a person something nicer than you would be able to if the item were new. Of course know your audience, some people will feel disrespected by a second hand gift so be careful. I personally have both given and received second hand gifts and it’s always gone well!

Wrap Up

I hope that these ideas and recommendations will be helpful to you this holiday shopping season. It can be difficult and overwhelming to figure out how to greenify your shopping habits so I aimed to provide straightforward options and easy to use advice.

As always, thanks for reading!