Green Fire Times

Economics of Happiness:

Article and Photos by Seth Roffman

The Economics of Happiness Conference convened at the James A. Little Theater in Santa Fe in October 2017. The conference creatively interwove keynote speakers, plenary sessions, community participation and performances, reinforcing the idea that community building, foundational to localization, goes hand in hand with celebration. Local, national and international speakers presented ideas for creating a resilient and thriving local future.

The Santa Fe-based NGO, Reconnect-Today (, and Local Futures (, a non-profit pioneer of the worldwide new economy movement, were the conference’s presenters. Local Futures’ founder, Helena Norberg-Hodge, believes that modern societies have taken a fundamentally wrong turn; that policymakers, mainstream economists and business leaders have consistently pushed ever more growth, while ignoring the price of rampant consumerism, massive scale and escalating speed. At the conference she said, “A radically different paradigm is needed. Rather than attempting to solve every problem by ‘growing the economy,’ we need to focus instead on meeting real human and ecological needs through awakening to our spiritual ties to community and nature—through an ‘economics of happiness.’” Norberg-Hodge went on to advocate an economy that operates within ecological limits. Its designs and practices are regenerative rather than extractive, a vehicle for humans to grow and realize their full humanity.

“Despite the tremendous amount of political, economic and ecological upheaval over the past year, we remain hopeful,” she said. “That is because we are also seeing the growth of a powerful counter-movement—towards both resistance and renewal – around the world. In more than 40 years of working to promote a global-to-local vision, I’m finding that people are more interested and engaged than ever before in solutions that go beyond treating symptoms—solutions that are broad and deep and get to the root causes of our many crises.”

The conference explored how communities can enhance local cultures and economies and cultivate collaboration among groups, organizations, businesses and governments. Systemic causes of the world’s interconnected crises were identified. Food and water were seen as the most important sustainability factors in a vibrant, local healthy economy. Experts also discussed biodiversity, cultural diversity, social change, energy efficiency, climate change and health. Norberg-Hodge said, “It is absolutely awesome to see how much is already being done across northern New Mexico to support local resilience.”

Melissa Pickett, Reconnect-Today’s founder, said, “Santa Fe is not without the challenges faced by many American cities. Disconnection is pervasive. Unkindness, indifference and selfishness sometimes seem to be the norm; compassion, kindness and care are not always evident. This disconnection is one of the greatest health tragedies of our times. We need to heal as a community and move from tolerance
to inclusion.”

One response to addressing this disconnection, the Charter for Compassion, is presented in a video (, which explains what it means to be a compassionate community; namely, “a community where the needs of all the inhabitants are recognized and met, the well-being of the entire community is a priority, and all people and living things are treated with respect.” An initiative has been launched to designate Santa Fe as a “Compassionate City.”

On February 10, a follow-up event will take place, 2 to 4 p.m. at the Genoveva Chávez Community Center. At the Reconnect Café—Supporting Local Santa Fe (Government Policy Edition), mayoral and city council candidates will participate in a community dialogue. People interested in helping create an inclusive local future are invited. For more information, email