The Happy Hero: Solitaire Townsend says change your life by changing the world

To make yourself feel fantastic by making the world better - and vice versa. Wouldn't (and shouldn't) that be the ultimate mindset? There's a grim model for activism summed up by the old Bertolt Brecht line, "oh we who wanted to bring about friendly times/could not ourselves be friendly".

But we live in a world (as described by Hardt and Negri in their works) where human relations and affections drive our economic and social systems. So to possess and cultivate your own joy - as opposed to it being triggered by top-down media shapers, whether in politics or business - is a powerful act. How do we do this?

In her new book, The Happy Hero (website here), Solitaire Townsend suggests the following:

Everyday we are bombarded with fear and negativity from the media and have been trained out of happiness by these stories. There is a simple solution; stop worrying about the future and start making it better. Whether it’s donating blood, only eating meat at the weekend, buying vintage/pre-loved clothes or picking up litter in your street.

Luckily, many of the changes we need to make to build a better world, we want to do anyway and optimism is the only mindset that can change our world for the better. New research shows that trying to make a difference, even in the smallest ways, can extend your life, improve your relationships and even help you recover from a cold…because, it turns out, saving the world is good for you.

In this extract from the Happy Hero book, Solitaire (who is the co-founder of the sustainability consultancy Futerra), lays out a wider context for the kind of behaviour that could make world-changing (specifically around climate change) a daily joy:

Happy heroism is the mindset that serves us best when we face a crisis. It accepts the possibility of a better future and puts us in service to that purpose. Attain that mindset and the right actions will follow.

And the same principles apply to the crisis our entire society faces. Right now, we’re shuffling closer to a big crossroads in terms of climate change. We’re not quite there yet because we’re not fully exhibiting the signs of a society at the very threshold of change, but we’re getting very close.

Psychologists have learned how to spot a patient who is ready to change, and their definitions are helpful for any crisis management. We’ll know our collective feet are unambiguously standing at the crossroads when we all feel:

  • Openness: when we have maximum awareness and interest in the crisis, looking for lots of ideas, being open and suggestible to both good (and bad) advice.
  • Energy: when we put all our focus on emergency methods or creative, novel solutions to the problem, trying everything and agreeing on nothing.

Some might argue that we’ve already hit this point in our climate crisis, but I suspect there’s a little more to come (or we need to stand at the crossroads a little longer to fully experience it). Being fully there will feel like a bizarre mixture of panic and calm, frenzy and reflection, everywhere in the world.

There are rules for making the right choice, whether as one person or an entire civilization. Both our collective history and individual psychology agree that how you think will dictate what you do. And hard experience shows that at a crossroads there are only three directions to choose.

Be bad  

Being bad is the worst and most foolish path. It means pretending there isn’t a crossroads, or saying we’re doomed to walk down only one pathway. In the context of climate change, the bad mindset right now is either denial or doom. They might sound different, but they are both trying to drive us down the same terrible route. And it’s a path with no rewards; all you are left with is a last-ditch fight to survive a certain disaster. This path should have a big "Beware: Dead End Ahead" sign hanging beside it.

Be blind  

Being blind in this context means deliberately squeezing your eyes shut when you can actually see. It means hoping to reach the destination of one path, but by walking down a different one; asking for the big reward without doing any of the things guaranteed to deliver it. We’ve all done this when trying to put off a difficult decision or when hoping that things will just work themselves out.

For climate change, this means accepting the reality of the problem, but not what we need to do about it —trying the old solutions to the new problem. The blind mindset is technically referred to as "maladaptation," and right now there’s a lot of it about. We don’t want to make a blind choice at this crossroads because the destination of that path is delayed disaster, but disaster nevertheless.

Be bright  

This is the road to major payback. Take this path and we’ll all change — a lot. But every change will come with its own reward. It’s bright to choose your path at the crossroads based on the destination you want to reach. It’s bright to think positively and hopefully when you stride out along it. It’s bright to join together with others when you travel. And it’s bright to try new things and explore possibilities.

This is the happy-hero pathway, and many are already taking it. It’s the smartest choice, but not always the easiest, because it means radical change. But right now, change seems inevitable anyway; too much has already happened. It’s up to us either to be swept along in the change or to direct it towards the outcome we want. Because bright knows where it’s going.  

More from the Happy Hero website, and this extract. Below is Solitaire's Unbound video: