Sustainable Hedonism. A Thriving Life that Does Not Cost the Earth Sustainable Hedonism. A Thriving Life that Does Not Cost the Earth is a 2021 non-fiction book by Austrian-Hungarian social researcher and psychological counsellor Orsolya Lelkes, PhD published by Bristol University Press. The book elaborates on how we can create a thriving life for us all that doesn’t come at the price of ecological destruction.

  • How can we reduce climate anxiety?
  • How can we consume less so that it does not lead to deprivation?
  • How can we live a joyful and fulfilling life that doesn’t come at the price of ecological destruction?
Many people believe that happiness equals the abundance of pleasures. However, the signs of greedy, materialistic, selfish attitudes and the failure of infinite growth are becoming ever more evident. The challenges of our times require us to develop a new life strategy that does not harm the Earth. Drawing on modern social science and ancient Greek philosophy, the economist and psychological counselor author demonstrates how to live autonomous, creative, meaningful lives with positive relationships. She encourages us to examine our collective and personal beliefs about success and a good life, and also provides practical help in exploring our inner drivers and saboteur forces. An essential book for anyone who wants to actively contribute to the solution of the current ecological and social problems.


Orsolya Lelkes has been conducting research on this subject at the London School of Economics and at the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research in Vienna for over 20 years. She has been also working as psychological counsellor and certified coach supporting groups and individuals in their transformations for a flourishing life. The book is an integration of many scientific fields, including psychology, social psychology, behavioural economics, critical social theory, philosophy, as well as practices and insights from her practical transformative work.


Introduction: Is There Anyone Who Does Not Want to Thrive?

PART I: The Challenge
   1 Unintended Consequences of Economics as a Science
   2 The Narrative of Success in Capitalism, and Its Failures

PART II: What Is a Good Life?
   3 Pleasure, Joy, Satisfaction, Purpose: Refining Our Quest for Happiness
   4 Sustainable Hedonism
   5 A Flourishing Life: Living Well and Doing Well
   6 Values in an Era of Free Choice

PART III: How Do We Get There?
   7 The Laboratory of the Flourishing Life: Serious Change Can Be Playful
   8 Inner Agents and Saboteurs of the Good Life: Role Theory

Conclusions: Flourishing Life in the World
For more detail, see the brief description of each chapter in the Contents overview .


“Orsolya Lelkes’ ideas for progress advance both the survival of the planet and thriving communities and thriving personal lives.”

Professor Anne Power, Head of LSE Housing and Communities, London School of Economics, Author of “Cities for a Small Continent: International Handbook of City Recovery

“Highly topical and timely. This work brings together key economic and philosophical literatures with a distinctive practical approach.”

Sir Professor John Hills, London School of Economics and Political Science (1954-2020)

“Not only does the book bring together three strands (environmental, social, individual) but it also aims to do so in a novel and accessible way – not just outlining the theory, but also encouraging a process of self-reflection and experiential learning.”

Sam Wren-Lewis, University of Nottingham, Author of “The Happiness Problem”

“Beyond the empty, sterile promises of consumerism, there is a place rich in meaningful engagement with ourselves, others and the more than human world. A rediscovery of our bodies – specifically in the form of theatre and role-play – provides a powerful channel for this re-awakening. This is the territory that Orsolya Lelkes so skilfully and powerfully explores, helping us to re-engage with the power of embodiment.”

Jonathan Dawson, Head of Economics, Schumacher College

“We all want to be doing well in their lives, but are we going about it in the right way? In this impassioned book, Orsolya Lelkes argues that some of our desires and habits sabotage both our own quest for happiness and the well-being of society. However, change is possible, and the many aspects of well-being that money cannot buy can be reached by a better understanding of our relationships with ourselves and others. In a post-pandemic world where individuals and societies are re-evaluating their priorities, the message that sustainable well-being is attainable without consumerism will resonate with many.”

Prof. Andrew Clark, Paris School of Economics, co-author of “The Origins of Happiness”

Book reviews

“This is a fascinating book, full of interesting ideas. It concludes, ‘This thriving life is a utopia that already lives with us … We already have the needed repertoire of tools for such a life’. This book is itself one of these tools.”

Guy Shennan, Journal of Solution Focused Practice (Download the review here)

The book is an interdisciplinary masterpiece that, while it builds upon the schools of philosophy and research traditions related to sustainability, it also breaks with them with its rather novel approach and unique methodology.”

András Báló, Kovász Slow Journal of the Budapest Corvinus University (See the full text in Hungarian)

“The bottom line is an extremely exciting, interdisciplinary book that builds on philosophical schools and research traditions on sustainability and life satisfaction, but breaks with them in various ways. A rather novel approach in the social sciences as well as a novel methodology. Lelkes resists the temptation to write a degrow-your-life guide. In form and language, however, the book is likely to appeal to a broad audience from the humanities and social sciences.”
Nick von Andrian, Postwachstum blog (See the full text in German)

Podcasts and media

“Sustainable Hedonism: Paradox or Pathway?” Blog post for the degrowth platform.
Degrowth logo
“Sustainable Hedonism: Not an oxymoron” Blog post at the Behavioural Public Policy Journal of Cambridge University Press
Sustainable Hedonism: Not an oxymoron

Economics for Rebels podcast of the European Society for Ecological Economics, 32 mins
“After COVID-19: A time for conscious hedonism?”  Blog post of the Transforming Society blog of Policy Press
After COVID-19: A time for conscious hedonism?

Order your copy at Bristol University Press, at, or at your local bookstore!