Behaving environmentally responsible makes people feel happy. That is the outcome of research by the Dutch Groningen University. 

While it is often suggested that individuals’ pro-environmental behaviors may be linked with their subjective wellbeing, the strength and direction (e.g. positive or negative) of this relation is unclear. Because pro-environmental behaviors impact peoples’ everyday lives, understanding this relation is critical for promoting long-term environmental solutions.

Using a series of meta-analyses, we systematically reviewed the literature on the association between individuals’ pro-environmental behaviors and their subjective wellbeing. The researchers hypothesized that the relation between pro-environmental behavior and subjective wellbeing would be positive and strongest among types of behaviors (e.g. sustainable purchase decisions) and indicators of subjective wellbeing which more clearly reflect personal meaning (e.g. warm glow). The researchers sourced studies via PsychINFO, PsychARTICLES, GreenFile, SocINDEX, Web of Science, and Scopus, as well as professional email lists, direct contact with authors who publish in this domain, data from the authorship team, and the European Social Survey (2016).

The researchers included studies with quantitative data on the relation between individuals’ pro-environmental behavior and their subjective wellbeing, ultimately identifying 78 studies (73 published, 5 unpublished) for synthesis. Across multiple indicators of pro-environmental behaviors and subjective wellbeing, we found a significant, positive relation (overall r = .243), and this relation did not meaningfully differ across study characteristics (e.g. sample, design). As predicted, the relation was particularly strong for indicators of pro-environmental behavior and subjective wellbeing which clearly reflect meaning, such as sustainable purchase decisions (r = .291) and for warm glow (r = .408).

The researchers found a robust, positive relation between people’s pro-environmental behaviors and subjective wellbeing, and initial evidence that this relation may be stronger the more clearly behaviors and indicators of subjective wellbeing reflect meaning. Our results indicate that program and policy-makers can seek opportunities to design ‘win-win’ sustainability programs which could positively impact both people and the environment.

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