Many indigenous populations and local communities around the world report levels of satisfaction comparable to those found in countries with higher incomes. The path to happiness, therefore, might not necessarily rely on money. Supporting this Aristotelian concept is a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, conducted by scientists from the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) and McGill University in Canada.

The team, led by Eric Galbraith and Victoria Reyes-Garcia, examined life satisfaction levels by surveying 2,966 individuals from indigenous and local communities in 19 sites distributed globally. Economic growth, experts explain, is often cited as a fundamental element in increasing population well-being, but the new work challenges this connection considered, at least so far, universal.

Most global surveys, the scientists add, collect responses from citizens of industrialized realities, tending to overlook marginal societies where the exchange and possession of money play a minimal role in daily life and livelihoods depend mainly on nature. Within the sample, only 64 percent of the interviewed families had money. Nevertheless, life satisfaction levels were very similar to those found in high-income countries.

“The average score in these realities was 6.8 out of 10,” Reyes-Garcia reports, “but there were also peaks higher than 8 points, typical of Scandinavian countries. The results are consistent with the idea that one can lead a fulfilling life even without significant material wealth. The strong correlation between income and life satisfaction is therefore not universal.”

These data, the authors comment, represent good news for sustainability and human happiness because they provide strong evidence that economic growth is not necessary to achieve well-being. Although the reasons behind the reported satisfaction in small communities are not clear, previous surveys have emphasized the importance of factors such as family and social support, relationships, spirituality, and connection with nature. “The path to happiness might be different among various communities,” Galbraith concludes, “understanding what contributes to the satisfaction of these small societies could help us address the issues of industrialized realities.”

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