LOCAL HERO: Byron resident Helena Norberg-Hodge, who has organised the Economics of Happiness conference in March, which has attracted speakers from around the globe.
LOCAL HERO: Byron resident Helena Norberg-Hodge, who has organised the Economics of Happiness conference in March, which has attracted speakers from around the globe. Digby Hildreth

Local economics key to happiness

THE term "local" is usually worn with pride - especially in a place like the Byron Shire, which has such a high volume of visitors - not to mention the "blow-ins", who frequently blow out again within a year or two.

It is also the - often debated - focus of various community activities, such as markets, and even businesses.

But according to the organisers of the upcoming Economics of Happiness conference, a local (as opposed to global) structuring of the economy is the solution to nearly all of the world's problems, not just financial, but environmental, cultural, social, psychological.

Byron Bay resident and citizen of the world Helena Norberg-Hodge was first shocked into this point of view when she witnessed the deterioration in the lives of the people of Ladakh.

When she first encountered the population of the very remote country in 1975, they had the highest self-esteem she had ever seen, she said

"And they were the happiest people.

"Then I saw how the importation of an outside economic system - the one-dimensional viewpoint of an urban consumer culture - created self-doubt and self-hatred among the people."

A big-selling product in the country now is a skin-bleaching chemical that is used to make their faces paler, to fit in better with the western ideal of beauty, Ms Norberg-Hodge said.

The Economics of Happiness is an examination of how the economic system "out there" affects us "in here" - our hearts and minds, Ms Norberg-Hodge said, "our personal identity".

But it goes beyond the individual, she said.

Another example from Ladakh is that butter and other products brought into the country "over the mountains" is now cheaper than that produced five minutes away. Absurdly, food grown in one country is flown to another to be washed, then returned to the country of origin.

Speakers at the conference include physicist Vandana Shiva, author Bill McKibben, and Michael Shuman, whose book title Going Local: Creating self-reliant communities in the global age sums up the themes of the conference, and its purpose. Also speaking will be Dave Rastovich, the pro-surfer and co-founder of Surfers for Cetaceans, who is expected to speak on the approach to life that finds happiness and fulfilment through interaction with nature.

The conference is at Byron Community Centre from March 15-17. Visit theeconomicsof

happiness.org/ for details.


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