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Simply happy? Voluntary simplicity and subjective wellbeing

Dissertation for the Degree of MSc in Wellbeing and Human Development

Nadine van Dijk, September 2012

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Summary :

Recent evidence shows that an emphasis on materialistic values goes hand in hand with relatively low levels of subjective wellbeing. Key authors within the ‘new economics’ debate point towards the practice of ‘voluntary simplicity’ as a way forward towards more ecological and human wellbeing. As voluntary simplicity involves a relatively low consumption level, the benefits to the environment are clear. From a social perspective, however, the question of how such a way of life may contribute to human wellbeing remains to be further explored. This dissertation contributes to answering this question. Building forth on recent psychological research, it combines primary and secondary qualitative data to suggest how voluntary simplicity, as an expression of a Nonmaterialistic Value Orientation, contributes to subjective wellbeing. The findings suggest that although the experiences of voluntary simplifiers are very diverse, some common themes can be identified. Besides the commonly proposed experiences of autonomy, competence and relatedness, ‘doing the right thing’ is found to be a key experience contributing to the wellbeing of voluntary simplifiers. Public policy makers looking to promote human and ecological wellbeing are advised to make use of a grounded understanding, such as the one presented in this dissertation, of how relatively ecologically sustainable lifestyles may contribute to life satisfaction.