Does money make you happy? It certainly helps, but how much do you really need?

In 1974, Richard A. Easterlin wrote a chapter in the book “Nations and Households in Economic Growth: Essays in Honor of Moses Abramovitz”. He discovered that there is a positive correlation between income and happiness within a given country. However, this correlation does not seem to exist in other countries, creating an apparent paradox. People living in rich countries are not necessarily happier than people living in poor countries.

How do you measure happiness?

Easterlin used a self-assessment that is quite common practice to measure people’s happiness. People were first asked whether they felt very happy, fairly happy or not very happy. They were then  asked to rate – on a scale from one to ten – their hopes and fears for the future and further questions followed. The happiness survey was conducted in several countries globally and always in the local language. Without going into detail, the following key priorities came out across all cultures: economic stability, health and family.

Rising income, rising happiness?

Easterlin’s paradox has been challenged by Ruut Veenhoven and Michael Hagerty. They concluded that a higher absolute income does lead to a higher happiness. It is true that certain basic necessities need to be met and also that a certain minimum income is needed for that. Once those are met and you meet the minimum income, the correlation between absolute income – measured by GDP – and happiness flattens. Veenhoven argues that there is a logarithmic correlation between absolute income and happiness. Whichever is true, the positive effect of a rising income on happiness slows down with increasing income; it seems that a lot more money does not make you a lot happier.

The Relative Income

In a way, you could state that happiness is linked to “keeping up with the Joneses”. This expression was first launched in a comic strip of the same name by the cartoonist  Arthur R. “Pop” Momand. Your happiness depends on how your income compares to the people around you. Easterling also pointed out that Karl Marx once quoted: “A house may be large or small; as long as the neighbouring houses are likewise small, it satisfies all social requirements for a residence. But let there arise next to the little house a palace, and the little house shrinks to a hut” (Karl Marx – Wage Labour and Capital). Easterlin refers to this in his paper as the relative income. People compare their income to their neighbour’s and this will determine whether they feel they have enough or not. Furthermore, the reference level that people use in each country is linked to the GDP.

The key to nationwide happiness

The important conclusion from the Easterlin paradox is that governments should not focus too much on the size of their GDP but on the relative income differences within a country instead. New research by Shigehiro Oishi and Selin Kesebir from the University of Virginia and London Business School shows that an increasing GDP can yield an overall higher happiness when the wealth is shared. For that reason, happiness has continued to rise in countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

So don’t get caught in the comparison trap. Your happiness does not depend on what you have. Think carefully about what you really need. The bigger house or the better salary won’t necessarily make you happier. It’s better to focus on the things you have rather than what you don’t have.

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In the mood for more food for thought? We redesigned our money system in a way that it supports our quality of life. We call it the Sustainable Money System. Do you want to find out more about it? Go explore the model!

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The role of an urban farmer may seem like an oxymoron, but it is not as crazy as it seems. The population of the earth has grown explosively in recent decades and, increasingly more people live in cities. It will no longer be viable to grow food exclusively in the traditional spaces and urban farming will become essential for sustainable food production.

What is urban farming?

Machu Picchu urban farming terracesIt’s not very complicated. People use whatever space is available in a city to grow vegetables, fruit and even hold livestock. The idea is not new; a historical example is Machu Picchu, where terraces were built in the city to grow vegetables. More recently, during World War I and World War II, the so-called Victory gardens in the US, UK and Canada helped to produce more food. Furthermore, during the Great Depression, this offered a way out for some people, providing them with a job and food.

A very recent example is in Detroit. The city took a big hit in the financial crisis, which forced many car producers to close their factories. As a result of this, a lot of vacant space became available that could easily be converted into farmland. The company Hantz Farms is leading this effort. They want to turn Detroit into an example for the world.

Why urban farming?


The first reason you can think of is availability of space. As the world’s population keeps growing, the available traditional farmland might become scarce and there is still plenty of space available within the cities to grow extra food. This is not only in gardens and parks, but rooftops can also be used.


One of the biggest drawbacks of centralised farming is that the food has to travel a significant distance to get to the consumer and it has to be refrigerated during the transport. On average, produce travels about 2000 km to its destination.   

This has a big impact on the carbon footprint of farming. Producing the food closer to the end user can offset this as people can consume the freshly grown food almost instantly. The efficiency is between five and fifteen times better.

The higher concentration of plants in the cities also consumes the carbon dioxide that is more present in urban areas. Through photosynthesis, oxygen is produced and this improves the overall quality of the air.

Plants also reduce the concentration of ozone and particles by absorbing them. A rooftop of about 2000 m² of uncut grass could potentially remove up to 4000 kg of particulate matter.


As is clear from the previous paragraph, urban farming creates a better environment. However, that is not the only health benefit. People will be more likely to eat the vegetables which they have grown themselves. This in turn improves the quality of their diet. In addition, the food will have been grown with less fertilisers, pesticides and processing, which also ensures higher quality food in the end. By having less time between the harvesting and consumption of the food, fewer nutrients are lost.

One can argue that food grown in cities is more exposed to pollutants. One important way to prevent this is to select the soil carefully and to make sure that the food is not grown in an area of the city that could be polluted by heavy metals. The soil can be tested for this. In addition, fresh soil can be added on top of the original soil.

The second source of contamination are all the airborne pollutants and, more importantly, fine particles of dirt. The best way to avoid this is to grow food away from busy streets and to make sure that the vegetables are cleaned thoroughly.

As it happens, the countryside is not always as safe as you think for growing vegetables. Smog is formed through the interaction of ozone and pollutants from car exhausts. This process takes time and is often only complete when the air has migrated outside the city.

Working in your garden is also a great workout and it will increase people’s wellbeing and mental health by spending time with nature. People can also develop new skills which can add to a higher self-esteem.


Urban farming has a lot of social benefits: it gives people an extra source of income and increases the feeling of neighbourhood safety. The neighbourhoods can look nicer and become more pleasant areas in which to live. People can interact because of the joint activity and will exchange best practices and even recipes. People will not always want to sell their produce, but will often simply trade their products.

The urban farmer, a job on the rise?

As you have seen, there will most likely be a need for growing food in cities. Basically, anyone with a small garden or any other piece of land can start growing his or her own food. There is not a specific profile for the urban farmer. However, if you are looking for the perfect job, this might be something for you. You’ll become healthier, have a positive impact on your community and you’ll be part of the solution, rather than being part of the problem.

Want more?

Want to find out in what way food impacts our quality of life? We got you covered! Find out more about food and surviving.

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Gaming might make you think of PlayStation or Angry Birds, yet there is more. Gamification is a way to bring the benefits of gaming into everyday activities, making them more fun and eventually more effective. Here’s how this might work for you.

A while ago I read the book “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal. She describes some great examples of how gaming or gamification can improve your life. She created, a concept she conceived when recovering from a concussion. It is based on setting and achieving a goal every day. You can set these yourself or ask your friends to do so. The sense of accomplishment you get out if this makes you feel better and helps you work towards your recovery or any other goal. She also gives other examples where an online gaming community is used to solve complex mathematical problems.

A game has four characteristics: a clear goal, rules, a feedback system and it needs to be voluntary. The voluntary aspect makes it really powerful and sets it apart from a lot of work related activities. The feedback system is usually quite fast and that’s what helps you to keep going. The goal in itself is less important as long as there is one. Think of Tetris, a game you can’t really finish although the goal is really clear; you keep playing even if you can’t reach the goal. The rules add to the willingness to play. Because of all of this, Jane argues that gaming is so powerful for achieving results.


A great example described in her book is Nike+. Nike has developed a whole ecosystem to help you exercise more. The basics are simple. A device (iPhone, iPod, FuelBand or SportWatch) tracks your movements during the day and converts it into NikeFuel, a single universal way to measure movement for all kinds of activities. You set a daily goal and get trophies for achieving them. It will make you exercise more, use the stairs instead of the elevator, or park your car further away, just to get more NikeFuel.


Business gaming

Gamification can be used in a business setting to boost the creativity of people within organisations. There are several software platforms out there that help you set up internal competitions. The aim is to enable everyone to create their next products or services. By adding the gaming aspect to it, you motivate the employees to participate.

One platform is based on an online stock market. You post your idea online and assemble a team around it. Together you write a business plan for your idea. In addition, you can have employees who can invest virtual cash into your ventures. The goal is to get the highest market value for your idea. The investors need to get the highest investment portfolio. This way the best ideas float to the top. As it should be for a real game, this is all voluntary and probably explains the success. But it also shows that there is a big untapped potential in a lot of organisations.

Some companies also involve the outside world in their competitions. The idea is similar, but you open this up to an outside crowd. The key here is to incentivise people to participate. This is mainly done by offering cash prizes, but this is not all that drives people to participate.

A prime example of this is Their business model is built around allowing people to post ideas on their website for a small fee. The other members provide input for your idea, design, slogan and product name. Quirky orchestrates the whole design cycle and once your product makes it through, Quirky will make sure it gets produced. You get part of the product revenues, as do all of the people who helped you in the process. It’s worth registering on the platform as it is just fun to help in the design of all these products.

Social Innovation evolved from Foursquare, which allows people to share their location with friends. The old Foursquare version allowed you to become the mayor of a place where you checked in regularly. You could also win some cool badges when you checked in to specific places – like ski-bum (by checking in to ski areas) or Warhol (for art exhibitions). This encouraged people to check in. Of course this was good for publicity for the places they visited and they would in return reward the person with, say, a free drink (this was not a general rule though). The swarm app now has stickers that you can add to your check-in and when you check in more than your friends at a certain category, it becomes golden.

Keep gaming

I hope I have convinced you that gaming could have a very positive effect on your life. Encouraging people to do something for a prize is powerful, but making it voluntary makes it even more effective. In a business setting, it has started to gain ground, although I believe it is still underutilised. One lesson I learned is that the size of the incentive is not what matters. When you can challenge people in a fun way, the mere fact of being able to contribute is all that matters.

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