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Open Access Publications from the University of California

It’s About Time: Linking Happiness and the Pursuit of Sustainability

  • Author(s): Kantenbacher, Joseph William James
  • Advisor(s): Kammen, Daniel M
  • et al.
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In the United States, typical patterns of consumption have substantial, negative environmental impacts, including but not limited to greenhouse gas emissions. While consumption and affluence levels have steadily increased in the last several decades, the well-being of the average American has, by many measures, not improved concomitantly. Indeed, certain sacrifices – including of leisure time – made to support greater levels of consumption undermine quality of life. Changing patterns of time use in favor of having more discretionary time can reduce environmental harms while improving quality of life. This dissertation considers the potential for interventions based on time use to bring gains in terms of both the environment and personal well-being. I first examine the relationship between time affluence – one’s available discretionary time – and well-being. I find that more time affluence is hedonically valuable, up to 14 hours of daily discretionary time, and that the average American is living in a condition of time poverty. I next ask whether increases in time affluence that are characterized by spending more time on leisure and happiness-promoting activities could affect consumption patterns. By way of investigation, I estimate the lifecycle energy and carbon intensities of 15 routine activity categories. These calculations indicate that activities have substantially different intensity values and that highly discretionary activities tend to be less consumptive than average. I finish by examining three different policies that can expand employees’ control over their time. I find that there are multiple policies that can coincidently foster greater happiness and achieve environmental gains, each with its own form of change and likelihood of stimulating significant changes in behavior. The time-use lens on consumption developed by this dissertation offers a new way of pursuing the synergistic goals of environmental welfare and improved quality of life.

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This item is under embargo until May 14, 2020.