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Surrey study: high subjective wellbeing, low carbon leisure

Researchers from Surrey believe that policy-making from a time-use perspective provides facilities for people to be happy while causing less damage to the environment.

A paper published in the Journal of Public Mental Health examines the carbon footprint associated with different types of leisure activities. Researchers found pastimes that generally bring the most gratification involve physical and mental activity as well as socializing, which contributes to personal growth.

The paper shows that low-carbon leisure activities conducive to high subjective wellbeing include social activities such as spending time in the home with family and friends, and physical activities that involve challenge such as partaking in sports. However, depending how they are done, some such activities may induce high carbon emissions, especially through travel. Therefore, appropriate local infrastructure, such as local sports and community centres, is required, along with facilities for active travel. Policymaking developed from a time-use perspective would encourage investment to support this.

—Druckman and Gatersleben (2019)

By combining information from studies on happiness with those on low carbon lifestyles, researchers found that the ideal activities for both happiness and carbon reduction include goal-oriented pastimes such as playing a sport, as well as reading challenging books, singing in a choir and spending time at home with friends and family.

We know that long distance travel should be discouraged and this is tricky due to its international nature. However, it’s easier to make progress at a local level. We need to support investment in local infrastructure, such as sports and community centers, and also provide facilities for safer cycling and walking to support more sustainable local travel.

— co-author Dr Birgitta Gatersleben


  • Angela Druckman, Birgitta Gatersleben, (2019) “A time-use approach: high subjective wellbeing, low carbon leisure”, Journal of Public Mental Health doi: 10.1108/JPMH-04-2018-0024


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