Health and Happiness

One Planet Cities Durban
8 min readJan 28, 2021

At last, it has finally happened — the chance to write about Health and Happiness this week. That makes me happy. And hasn’t it come about at a most poignant time, with this year of pandemic slamming the human race to hopefully realise once again, actually, we are not in control of this planet, far from it. Indeed, what are our actions, as the human race, doing to the Earth — and are we learning so that something good can come from all of this, to step into this ‘new normal’ as it is seemingly now being called? Do the majority of us even know what this is? Ah ha, we know One Planet Living can help here… but I digress.

The importance of health and happiness has taken such priority around the world, that the first National Happiness and Wellbeing conference was set to take place in the U.K. this year (BC — Before Covid), to showcase actions and interventions that can increase happiness and improve mental health and wellbeing in the home, the community and the workplace. How has your health and happiness fared, during this period of lockdown?

At Bioregional, we champion Health and Happiness through One Planet Living, by ‘encouraging active, social, meaningful lives to promote good health and wellbeing’.

Dipping in an out of an ethics book recently, and so tied in with the definition of Ubuntu in our country (I am because we are, or more formally as a noun ‘a quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity’), I found an intersection of thought again — we exist as part of a context and we have this marvellous ability to be conscious. Our own human life form is inextricably embedded in its context — which means that we cannot thrive if we act as individuals and no more. Isn’t this one thing this Corona year has taught us? We cannot thrive without a thriving context — a context made up of our fellow human beings and also, in the end, made up of the whole cosmos from ‘grub to galaxy’. We have so much to do in SA, to do better by our fellow human beings as we are reminded every day as we pull up at traffic lights and see desperate people on the streets.

Human life is interdependent with the sustenance that the planet provides for us in the form of energy, water, food, nature — and the ability to absorb our wastes. The very definition of ecological footprinting. On that note, the 2020 Living Planet Report has just been released this week by the Global Footprint Network and makes for some disheartening reading. Turning to our other needs already touched on — those of equity, local economy (SMME support), the need for transport, culture, community and materials and products to clothe and house us. We have the package to keep us all mindful of this — this we know. In fact, isn’t that the beauty of One Planet Living, it aims to help create a culture of innovation and exploration of opportunities and collaboration, to enable flexible systemic responses and rapid progress. This is what we believe will drive deep sustainability and enable ecosystems to be protected and to regenerate. Inspiring change through a ‘minds’ AND ‘hearts’ approach, as researchers have found we tend to form opinions and make decisions based on our attitudes, values and personalities, however rational we consider ourselves to be. Then we look for ways to justify our views and decisions. So in seeking real and lasting change it is vital to engage hearts as well as minds — hence pictures and stories being as important as quantitative targets to measure and communicate progress.

Enough of ethics, however! Perhaps I am shying away from giving examples of happiness as it is such a personal thing… ‘whatever blows your hair back’… but to my mind it usually involves something you are PASSIONATE about.

For me it is generally the simple things — a full tummy, walking in nature, the most amazing seedhead of the Brunsvigea plant (mine pictured below), music, o music — what a multiplicity of happiness there. For some silliness…and music show out last weekend… We were introduced to the crazy band Cat Empire [sorry, Australian] and this song. This ties in with being social, of course, and having positive human contact).

Happiness is also in giving, and helping, and being a part of something bigger than ourselves — something we South Africans on the whole are so good at. The number of NPO’s in this town are too numerous to mention — who do so many good things.

Health? Not sure if I want to touch too much on this here, after our Covid months — other than to say I know the older I get, how important exercise is for me (don’t stop ever, at least three times a week) — with doctors now ‘prescribing’ a walk in the park in the UK to test the theory that exercise could be an effective treatment for a range of physical and mental ailments. And lucky us, living in Durban …. research again from the UK suggests visits to coasts, beaches and rocky shores boost happiness and health compared to other landscapes. Or this in the US — a university in Houston building nine big new classrooms, all of them outdoors — open sided circus tents or semi-permanent structures in an open field that students and professors are decorating with murals and video projections. The construction project is a statement to the community ‘We’re creative. We’re resilient. And we do what matters.’ Now that’s thinking outside the box — which in our lovely climate we can do too.

As an aside, did you know there is actually a classification of dis-ease known as ‘eco-anxiety’ — a fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster? This sense of anxiety is largely based on the current and predicted future state of the environment and human-induced climate change, with around 51% of a 2018 US study group reporting on feeling ‘helpless’. C’mon people, get out there, do something! We have a methodology: what are your desired outcomes, what actions are you going to take to get there, and how can you measure progress? (does that sound familiar ….she does go on…).

No article on happiness would be complete, of course, without mentioning Finland. They have been doing ‘outside learning’ for years, with children, and have a lot to teach the world about happiness. What bounced out the page at me from this article was the sentence ‘the underlying reason Finns are faring so well is because we have a different mindset about success — one that is based on equity and community’.

In Finland, success is a ‘team effort’ …. Now isn’t that refreshing. And making a linkage for us on two One Planet principles — equity and community. The Finns are good at converting wealth into well-being, it seems (more about this best left for the Equity and Local Economy newsletter). And the more equal a society is, the happier its citizens are, with much evidence that as income inequality rises a country’s overall well-being goes down. Hmmm, lots of work for us to do in SA …. And more for our next newsletter.

Health and Happiness closer to home — our One Planet Durban school, Danville Park Girls High, supports health and happiness by cultivating a pleasant and peaceful outdoor space full of indigenous gardens and benches for quiet reading or interactive learning and discussion. They also have a P.E. merit system and healthy vegetarian tuck-shop options for learners. Another One Planet school, Eden College, champions health and happiness by encouraging learners to participate in the school’s dance and sports teams, the East Coast Radio big walk, Durban’s parkruns, college colour runs and the Midmar Mile.

Singita Grumeti in Tanzania which has been using One Planet Living since 2012 when they introduced health and happiness into the work ‘ethic’. October annually is Health Month which focuses on employee wellness and health, and free health checks are offered by the on-site Clinic. They have introduced a weekly 5km Park Run for all staff and have special staff ‘health giving’ events, such as local soccer matches and a Grumeti team that participates in the Kilimanjaro marathon sponsored by the company each year.


Happiness as related to food! I think we all know about ‘comfort eating’ …. And we have said enough about reducing our intake of meat, dairy and sugars in other newsletters while still tasting delicious. A few more tips are given here — have you heard of the world’s Blue Zones? Eating this kind of diet can be cheaper, as well as being healthful. Speaking Singita again, since adopting One Planet Living staff menus are much more balanced and nutritionally diverse, with less reliance on meat. Meat-free Mondays are a regular calendar item with fruit included in at least one meal each day.

Zooming back in on SA though, dare we mention the A-[lcohol] word, though, that has been so scarce during our SA lockdown — see here for a sensible ten point plan suggested by our eminent professors from the SA Medical Research Council and SA Alcohol Policy Alliance. Overconsumption is a scourge on our society across socio-economic classes and does nothing to promote community wellbeing. Is 2020 providing our country with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in which government can institute and implement policies that promote public health, safety and wellbeing, unequivocally putting people before profits?

A final poem that caught my eye and my heart as being so relevant:

What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?
What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw –

That it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us
From our ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accept the need for change.
Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.
A year we finally band together, instead of
Pushing each other further apart.
2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather
The most important year of all.

Let’s make it just that — all good things in Health and Happiness to you.



One Planet Cities Durban

Part of the ‘One Planet Cities’ project, funded by KR Foundation, with five cities piloting an online platform to make sustainability action planning easy.