Research briefing: Happy but veg*n?

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» Research briefing: Happy but veg*n?

A newly published paper by Researcher Network member, Jana Krizanova, from the University of Granada, opens a new debate about happiness, veganism and wellbeing with a specific focus on connnectedness to nature. 

In our research conducted in Spain we studied the eudaimonic and hedonic aspects of subjective wellbeing of different food identities with a special focus on people who followed a plant-based diet.  In short, our findings suggest that the internalisation of the vegan identity relates to higher levels of subjective vitality (eudaimonic facet) and emotional wellbeing (hedonic facet) compared to other food identities such as omnivores, organic omnivores, flexitarians, lacto-ovo, and lacto-pesco vegetarians. In other words, vegans were found to enjoy higher levels of vitality, feelings of vivacity, personal energy, and they also experience more positive emotions than other food identities. Of particular interest for further research, our work is unique in that we approached the challenge of veg*an happiness from a novel perspective of nature connectedness. Our results show that nature connectedness relates positively, however, vegetarian commitment generally is associated negatively to subjective wellbeing. This negative association was not found, however, in vegans: This finding has lead us to understand better the implicit interconnectedness of vegan and ecological identities and its developmental phase of the vegan commitment with diet and a more conscious way of being. More specifically, the vegan and ecological interconnectedness is more accentuated in the eudaimonic aspect of subjective wellbeing of vegans, in which nature connectedness behaves as an omitted variable bias.

Interestingly, previous research reports that veg*an identities, which actively contribute with their pro-environmental food behaviour to collective wellbeing (social, planetary, and animal), overall tend to associate with lower psychological wellness. In accordance with this, some of the reasons triggering increased emotional distress enclose social stigmatisation, underlying mental conditions, or perception of the world as unfair. However, research on vegan wellbeing until now has not studied yet how nature relatedness conditions subjective perception of veg*an wellbeing. Therefore, in our research we aimed to find strategies that would support subjective wellbeing of vegans who generally experience higher emotional distress despite their better health management via a balanced plant-based diet. As a result, we found interesting associations for high connectedness to nature providing a possible trade-off implication on plant-based eaters’ subjective wellbeing.

More specifically, our findings suggest that vegans experience greater life satisfaction while highly connected to nature. As such, if self-identified vegans develop a strong sense of emotional connectedness with nature, which relates to their robust ecological identity, then arguably they can overcome the bias of vegan unhappiness in its hedonic facet (life satisfaction). The nonhuman-beings relatedness assessed as connectedness to natural habitat offers a mighty trade-off for plant-based eaters (in their internalised identity and food behaviour) who commit consciously to this pro-environmental behaviour and generally suffer from lower psychological wellbeing related to a strong reflexive identity.



Data were collected during the months of March and April 2019. We created a new database comprising 1068 undergraduates from different areas of study at the University of Granada in Spain. Within the sample, 8% of interviewees were vegetarians (3% lacto-pesco vegetarians, 4% lacto-ovo vegetarians, and 1% vegans), and 13% were flexitarians being the vast majority omnivores (77%) who were retained for analyses. Mean age of participants was 21 years. Females represented 62% of our sample.


In our work we assessed as outcome variable subjective wellbeing in its three measures accounting for hedonic and eudaimonic aspects of well-being following Aristotle’s ideal.

-          Cognitive wellbeing or life satisfaction related to the cognitive assessments and judgments people make about their life when they think about it (Dolan et al. 2008).

-          Emotional wellbeing referring to the affective component of subjective well-being. We employed the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) proposed by Watson et al.  (1988).

-          Subjective vitality accounting for the eudaimonic dimension of wellbeing because it is part of being in full psychological and physical functioning (Guillen-Royo 2019) defined as the conscious experience of possessing energy and vivacity (Ryan and Frederick 1997).


We assessed several independent variables such as veg*an commitment, separating veg*an self-internalised identity (psychological aspect) from veg*n self-assessed dietary pattern (food behaviour), nature connectedness, and control variables to reflect some of the demographic characteristics of the sample.


-          Veg*n identity assessed in relation to the diet that individuals follow (Allen et al. 2000; Lea et al. 2006) which was expanded by organic omnivore (quality meat reducer) and flexitarian (quantity meat reducer).

-          Veg*n self-assessment scale to account for self-reported veg*n dietary consistency (Lea et al. 2006).

-          Connectedness to nature assessed via the connectedness-to-nature scale (Mayer and Frantz 2004).

-          Control variables collecting information related to income, age, gender, single status, and social life of participants.


Methods of analysis

We employed a regression analysis to determine both the nature and strength of the relationship between veg*anism and wellbeing, specifying a different model for each dimension of wellbeing. For the estimation of the parameters we used the method of Ordinary Least Squares and for a greater robustness of our results we employed ordered probit models for the dimension of life satisfaction, arriving at similar conclusions.


Our results suggest that veg*n scale (food behaviour pattern) and, particularly, vegan identity (psychological aspect of internalised identity) are positively conditioned by connectedness to nature in their relation with subjective wellbeing. Consequently, veg*ans are found to be happier while they experience higher levels of emotional connection with nature.

Past evidence on veg*n happiness has provided contradictory results with a tendency to negative associations and despite a general consensus propelling a balanced veg*n diet to be an optimal dietary asset for health, the relationship between veg*ism and happiness is lacking evidence in the literature. In our research we aimed to better comprehend these differences by introducing the covariate of nature connectedness. By doing so, we obtained a new perspective on the complex phenomena of veg*n happiness. In summary, we included cognitive, hedonic, and eudaimonic facets of wellbeing, distinguished veg*an identity from veg*an dietary pattern, and introduced personal emotional nature connectedness. In conclusion, robust nature interconnectedness increases vegans’ life satisfaction and their subjective vitality.

Original source and references available here

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