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An Ecology of Happiness

Anna Lena Phillips

AN ECOLOGY OF HAPPINESS. Eric Lambin. Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan. The University of Chicago Press, $26.

Among the arguments for persuading people to make changes that will protect ecosystem health—beloved species will become extinct, climate change will cause higher-intensity storms, the food supply may be disrupted—happiness doesn’t show up that often. In An Ecology of Happiness, Eric Lambin piles up nearly all of those dire warnings and calls to action and views each through the lens of happiness.

As might be expected, Lambin draws on studies of how natural environments improve people’s psychological health to support his case. But his analysis goes much further, encompassing three major components: “the subjective perception of a happy existence, health, and security.” Each of the book’s nine chapters offers a broad survey of research relevant to one of these factors, treating such subjects as microbes, war, urban planning and the relation between material wealth and happiness. He encourages readers to weigh not only their own happiness but also that of people living in areas with less economic privilege, who tend to bear the brunt of both environmental change and the unequal distribution of resources. He concludes by listing five choices we are confronted with, each of which links happiness and environmental integrity.

Lambin covers a great deal of sometimes-dense material in just 174 pages, but the explication is punctuated by delightful sentences. In a chapter on meat production, he tells us that 46 percent of small fishes harvested from the world’s oceans are used as fodder for land animals. He goes on, “To deprive oneself of a plate of grilled sardines or an anchovy salad in order to be able to consume an industrial chicken with white and tasteless flesh is hardly a boon to gastronomy.” Given such a choice, what meat eater could resist the little fishes?

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