#HappySustainable: the genesis

Tue, 01 aug 17

It all started when I was 19.  I had secured a well-deserved place in a top-notch Law University in Lisbon and had moved from my Atlantic bubble in the Azores to the bright lights of the capital city. After a dazzling honeymoon period (full of rookie feelings of achievement and righteousness about changing the world by knowing the system from within), I started seeing the cracks on the wall from a much closer angle than before. Things really were not what they seemed and what, to my young mind, they ought to be. I did not learn how to protect the weak against the strong but rather that the strong argue their way out of anything while the weak succumb to their inevitable fate of vulnerability. I did not learn how to save the world by levering justice to improve things for people and the environment, but instead how the rich and powerful use law to lever ongoing destruction and disrespect.  Law had very little to do with Justice. It was about people becoming professional argumentative machines whose holy grail consisted of being proved right - in the eyes of the law, and not our own. Being an argumentative person by nature, and having always  know this was not one of my most lovable traits, this prospect did not make me happy in my soon-to-be lawyer shoes.

So I decided, after a long period of introspection (which, when you are 19, consists of a few evenings watching the sunset, playing drums on the beach and just hanging out discussing the meaning of life with whoever will listen to you), that I would pursue HAPPINESS. Yes, I wanted to be happy. Simple as that. The world did not make me happy, injustice did not make me happy, Human suffering did not make me happy, rainforest loss and climate change did not make me happy...  And I quickly realised the establishment machine would not be an easy one to disassemble, so I had to find some other way to make myself happy.

I had read or heard somewhere, in a transactional analysis context, that being at peace was better than being right. As law had not offered me the short-lived pleasure of being right (by my standards and not those of an easily corrupted code of old-fashioned conduct), I decided I ought to go in search of this "being at peace" alternative... So the introspection followed a relatively straightforward rational pathway: cannot change others and the world - ought to change myself and live the way I believe is right - take the future into my own hands - learn how to live sustainably and have a positive impact on the world and myself.... therefore: study sustainable agriculture and learn how to become self-sufficient in food and energy and thus bypass the craziness of the world's ways and any personal dependency from them, on my part or my future children's. 

Of course this was somewhat naive and wishful thinking, but it was certainly not the whimsical flight of fancy almost everyone took it for. It was my turning point. My D moment. Or my H moment:  the finger snap split-second in which I chose happiness over comfort. And so I went, on a one-way ticket and a pocketful of change, to England - the land of all hopes and Organic Dreams. I studied, I worked, and I blossomed. I built a career on sustainable agriculture, then tropical forests and people, then sustainable development policies as better-written guidebooks to a better world. I went through theory and practise, across the academic and intellectual spectra as well as across the globe in my search for purpose and happiness, which I found everywhere and nowhere. I built on knowledge and experience, only to often find that something was missing. Organic farms in Europe were highly productive mimic models of conventional systems with a fancy feel-good stamp (but where social aspects, for example, were often overlooked), while subsistence farming in the tropics fell (steeply!) short of agricultural crop potential - but people seemed happy and lived in tight-knit communities. These are of course polarised examples that cannot be seen without the broader contexts of positive change in the European Common Agricultural Policy or the heartbreaking daily reality of children dying from treatable diseases... or any other of the so many shades of any colour the world offers us.  

The point here is that I was always juggling between these two key concepts: happiness and sustainability. I wanted both, and they seemed hard to reconcile. It's hard to be happy when you take full responsibility for your actions, when you are no longer allowed the frivolous carelessness of living for the here and now, as if there was no tomorrow. It's hard to acknowledge that our behaviours may compromise "tomorrow" for our children, who may not enjoy the beautiful planet we have known ourselves. Rising oceans and desert-like scorched land are not happy visions, nor are those of fleeing people in panic, hunger and thirst. But this is what our everyday behaviours are mapping out for our children and their children. And no amount of technologic quick-fixes will relieve us of the individual burden of responsibility we all carry, regardless of the degree of denial we choose to be in. Denying reality is irrational, and does not provide us with true inner peace or happiness. Hard as change may be, it is only when we embrace it that we are able to reach the so-desired happy feeling: the fully justified, proud moment where you are fully aware and in control and you know you have done your best - and that is always enough. 

This is the "no pain, no gain" route that most of us need to start trekking.

On the other hand, for those obsessed with sustainable behaviour and living, it can also be hard to be happy. It's never enough: there is always more rubbish to collect, more lights to turn out, more taps to close, more people to feed, more sewage to treat, more vegan to eat, more justice to do, more compost to make, less travel to indulge in, less choice, less life, less happy... there is always more world to save, and the achievement of inter-generational justice can become a mirage in an endless desert that we cannot escape from alive. Focussing solely on this is stripping ourselves of our selves. We have a moral duty to be happy and free - what else are we alive for otherwise? To slave and dredge through existence only to decompose at the end? nah... without entering the realm of faith and individual beliefs (a slippery slope I always avoid), and to keep it simple, I say: the laws of physics show us that everything boils down to energy. Pulsating, vibrating energy which is common to us all and cares not about north or south, past or present, rich or poor, black or yellow.... So let's do our best to keep that energy positive by feeding it with our wellbeing. Hard is it may be, acceptance and forgiveness are indispensable conditions for happiness: we must accept people and the world as it is, forgive others as we forgive ourselves, and enjoy life in the knowledge that we are doing all that we can to live in a better world, without compromising our personal balance. And if that sometimes means you have to drop by for a late night munch in a drive-through, or allow your kids to enjoy some electronic gaming time, then do either with a guilt-free smile on your face. Enjoy that indulgent moment, knowing it is an exception to your well-grounded life rules.

This is the "no pain-no pain" route that some of us need to remember to trek.

Bearing all this in mind, I decided that the concept of Sustainability should adopt a fourth pillar. To add to the existing Economic, Social, and Environmental spheres, I, Joana, propose the world that Happiness becomes the fourth pillar of Sustainability. And that is why we have chosen the hashtag #happysustainable for Quinta do Bom Despacho:  it conveys the dream we have about a balanced lifestyle and which we want to share with our community, both our globe-trotting guests and our local social fabric. Our vision is to become a reference in sustainable tourism in the Azores and the world. Our mission is to demonstrate how to be sustainable through everyday gestures and behaviours, whether we are on holidays or not. To make it easy for each and every one of us to understand that sustainability is not a long word from faraway political spheres, but rather a daily choice and a result of individual decision-making. Sustainability is well within our reach - as is happiness. We hope this can inspire all of us to vibrate positively, wherever we are, and whatever we are doing in our personal and professional lives.

Enjoy the Tune the Universe plays to us all...

...and live a #happysustainable life!