About Catherine O'Brien

Dr. Catherine O’Brien has been actively engaged in sustainability efforts locally, nationally and internationally for more than 25 years. As a participant in the Global Forum of the 1992 Earth Summit, she served as a co-coordinator of the alternative Debt Treaty that was forged by non-governmental organizations from around the world. Her doctoral research at the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India explored its pioneering work in education for sustainable community development. 

Catherine is an education professor at Cape Breton University (CBU), Canada where she developed the world’s first university course on sustainable happiness based on the path breaking concept of sustainable happiness she created – integrating sustainability principles with positive psychology with the aim of fostering well-being for all, sustainably. The course is an elective in CBU’s Bachelor of Education program. Catherine has also developed a teacher’s guide that applies sustainable happiness to health education outcomes for every Canadian province with an international version for educators outside of Canada (It is also available in Spanish and French).

Catherine’s work in sustainable happiness and child-friendly planning was recognized in 2010 with her designation as an Outstanding Post-Secondary Individual by the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication. In 2012 she was invited to participate in the United Nations High Level Meeting in New York that explored the implementation of the UN Resolution on Happiness.


Catherine O'Brien on Developing Sustainable Happiness

I developed the concept of sustainable happiness with the aim of stimulating discussions regarding the relationship between happiness, well-being and sustainability. I’m convinced that there is tremendous potential for happiness studies to contribute to a more sustainable world.

On a daily basis you have many opportunities to engage in sustainable happiness. For example, consider where your morning coffee comes from. Is it Fair Trade coffee – coffee that was grown and harvested with respect for workers and the environment? Were your clothes made in a country that respects human rights? How do you travel to work or school? Are you able to use non-motorized transportation such as walking, cycling, skateboarding that is better for both human and environmental health and well-being? When you socialize with family, friends and co-workers, do you express appreciation – do you take time to really listen to them?

The actions of individuals, communities and organizations have tremendous impact locally, nationally, and globally. We have the inspiring ability to leave a wake of sustainable happiness throughout our lives by being accountable for the choices we make and policies we support.

My workshops and presentations assist participants to explore the applications of sustainable happiness in their personal and professional life.