In the summer of 2004, I was in a workshop at Hollyhock in BC when my son, then about 28, said, “Dad, you can’t stay indoors all week in weather like this. Why don’t you play hooky for one afternoon and let me show you how my generation has fun.”Frisbee Player

He took me to the Linnaea School’s disc golf course. It was in a beautiful forest, mostly Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar, with a knee-high understory dominated by Salal and Sword Fern.

Disc golf (or frisbee golf ) is played much like traditional golf, except that one throws Frisbee® like discs instead of hitting a golf ball. The “holes” are traditionally metal baskets, though in this case they were just old five-gallon paint buckets painted red and nailed on top of a cedar post.

We played 36 holes and then decided to go to for a swim. At Haig Lake we took off our clothes, swam to an island half a mile away, ran around on the cliffs, were chased by yellow jackets, dove back in and swam back to our clothes.

As I put them back on, I realized that we had had a very happy afternoon and done a tiny fraction of the environmental damage done by a typical afternoon of golf followed by a dip in the club pool. No bulldozers were used to make the Linnaea course. No trees were cut down; no sand hauled in; no pesticides, herbicides or fungicides or irrigation were used. I guessed that we had achieved at least the same level of happiness with less than one thousandth of the environmental damage.

As those thoughts were drifting through my head, I saw a simple arithmetic formula that seemed to me to point to an important and obvious truth.

HappoDammo Ratio

The name “HappoDammo Ratio” seemed a little goofy, but I couldn’t think of one I liked better. Now it seems to have stuck.

As it turns out, the HappoDammo Ratio is a useful compass for navigating the challenges of our time. In order to deal with climate change, poverty, toxic accumulation, resource exhaustion and a host of other problems, we are either going to have to figure out how to get more happiness from less stuff or we will keep on increasing consumption until the systems on which we depend crash. The HappoDammo Ratio defines the fundamental challenge of our times. It points to the possibility for vast improvements over the current course of society.

I use the HappoDammo ratio for lifestyle and purchasing choices, new product design, organizational improvement, analyzing government policy, etc. In my own life, I fly less and enjoy life at home, which is higher Happo and lower Dammo. I have a motorcycle that gets 50 mpg and is more fun than a car. However, if I take a systems view it may not be higher HappoDammo because it makes my wife unhappy. So I take the bus and meditate along the way. I’m just learning.

In business, I look for creative ways to make customers and employees happier using less stuff. More happiness is what people want and will pay for. Less stuff is usually less cost. Understanding what makes people happy is a critical 21st Century business skill. This way lies profit as well as hope for our society.

For those hoping to shape society in other ways, the HappoDammo Ratio provides a powerful creative paradigm. For environmentalists it suggests a shift:

Happy Cambodian Girl
From: Recommending sacrifice for the good of nature and future generations.

To: Advocating for greater happiness today as well as in the future.

This is a far more appealing proposition.

The HappoDammo Ratio gives me hope. Many current ways of striving for happiness are so ineffective that it won’t be hard to discover less resource intensive ways to produce greater happiness. In future blogs I will discuss business opportunities that the HappoDammo Ratio uncovers, ways to measure happiness and damage and more information about what actually makes us happy.


(Credits: Photo of Disc Golf Woman by Oberazzi using cc-by-sa, Photo of Riviera Country Club Golf Course by Dan Perry using cc-by, Photo of Disc Golf Course by Dave and Lisa using cc-by-sa, Photo of Happy Cambodian Girl by mrcharly using cc-by-nc-nd)