Think like an ecosystem- Positive Psychology and Permaculture



  • Nature developed and refined itself over a period of more than four billion years
  • Permaculture was initially a nature-inspired design process for growing an abundance of food, drawing much of its effectivity from understanding and cooperating with nature, and is now increasingly appreciated for ameliorating social systems and interactions
  • Representing the transition from mechanical to natural thinking it works with nature rather than against it and is therefore to a surprising extend effortless, regenerative, and productive
  • Social permaculture can be understood as following the same principles as does the strength concept
  • Social permaculture offers new insights into the way we can cooperate, creating truly beneficial social relationships and organisations
  • Trusting nature, aligning our thinking to it, and going with the flow of it people found themselves to have more time, more energy, and improved mental and physical wellbeing
  • Permaculture is one of the easiest and most rewarding activities we can engage in to decrease human damage on the planet and even help it regenerate

Social permaculture – Creating vibrant cultures

Design that is inspired by nature is increasingly appreciated by diverse streams of research and application, from city and architectural design to social organisation and even leadership. While we have explored some of the basics of permaculture in the first part of the article we discover here how widely the permacultural way of thinking can be applied in social contexts. As in the first part, we aim to present the underlying spirit rather than an extensive list of techniques. Permaculture is the regenerative alternative to the degenerative way in which we have been looking after our planet and it turned out that this regenerative approach is also applicable to social environments.

Permaculture is oriented at a number of core principles, such as applying self-regulation and accepting feedback, producing no waste, integrating rather than segregating, and creatively using and responding to change. They all offer insights for ecological as well as for social environments. While we won’t cover all of them extensively here, some of them will help us to better understand the permacultural way of thinking. Beginning with the latter principle, nature shows us that a given problem usually indicates its own solution. That is to say, the solution is already very close to the perceived problem. In an ecological context that can often be straight forward such as an annoying, constantly wet spot in your lawn that might actually be inviting you to place a pond there. By thinking creatively, we can turn constrains into resources following the circulating way of nature. As a social example you could imagine a lack of meaningful, living wage employment in your town or neighbourhood. Instead of passively enduring this, you team up with friends, neighbours, and other people that have complimentary skills and simply start your own business that improves your community. A growing number of people have alreadydone it. One of them is Brianne Miller. Due to her work as a marine biologist she was constantly reminded of the vertiginous damage that plastic causes inour oceans, so she founded the now flourishing package-free shop Nada in Vancouver, Canada.

Another principle, catch and store energy, could be as simple as using solar or wind power or building a natural pond in your garden that catches rain and that offers a habitat, maybe even food, and aesthetic pleasure. In a social context it could invite us to simply store our money in our local community. That way it will be more likely to come back to us than money spend in chain stores and we get to enjoy a stronger and more resilient community. The principle ‘integrating rather than segregating’ invites us to generate coherent and therefore functional long term solutions. It can be as simple as, for example, a pest problem in our garden. Rather than trying to keep all the pests out we understand why they are there, understand their role, and adapt our system so a new balance can arise. This makes sense especially as the pests will come back anyways. And also in psychology, although maybe not explicitly, there is increasing appreciation of such principles. Going from simple reframing ‘yes, but’ to ‘yes, and’ or ‘either… or’ to ‘both… and’ to entire discussions, the process of innovation, or differences in beliefs or assumptions it makes us more likely to consider good ideas that we might miss out on otherwise.

The underlying spirit of permaculture can be understood as being similar to that of the strengths concept of positive psychology. By forcing we usually waste energy and time while by going with the flow of life we are carried by elegant effortlessness. As little as we can force a flower to open prematurely we cannot force us to be what we are not. It is not quite the same if you try to love someone or if you cannot help but love that person. Understanding the basic principles of life has an immense impact on the way we look after our relationships, children, friendships, employees, colleagues, and pretty much everything we do. One develops a way of being that does not force but that is going with the flow and that nurtures because one understands that there is little more beneficial than preparing the soil for the people around us to strive. This is a very likely reason for why nudging – link – is so much more effective than, e.g., rules and control, because it goes with the flow and does not try to go against it.

How are we treating our friends and families? Are we treating our employees in regenerative ways that actually allow them to strive, that is exceeding the company’s financial profit, or in de-generative ways, e.g., as human resources to be extracted? Again, the ecological analogy of degenerative vs. regenerative systems gives us a hint on the extent of potential that we might be missing out on.

[Photo Regeneration vs. Degeneration Systems]

Implications and insights on the effortlessness of natural systems range widely and reach deeply into the way our society is currently organised, going from clearer examples, such as monoculture, to lesser known ones, such as the link between flooding and straightened rivers, between deforestation and natural disasters, why some companies have to invest so heavily in advertisement for maintaining sales, or why it takes some people so much effort to stay in power.

Permaculture is a hands-on fully functional part of a new story of equality, cooperation, and abundance. It is not a trend but likely one of the most important things we can do right now to ensure our very future on this planet while we can profit from enriching and beneficial social and ecological environments and more fulfilling lives.


How to get started

Even if you can’t engage in growing your own food right now, you might be happy to see that there are already many valuable insights that we can learn from permaculture. (1) You might want to explore how it is actually possible to cooperate with the natural world, and exactly how regeneration is more beneficial than degeneration and extraction. (2) You might like to start thinking in abundance, not scarcity. Greed, fear, or competition only make sense when one perceives scarcity. You would not hoard apples in an apple orchard. Scarcity is a result of the fact that our current economy is working separately from nature, driven by unconsciousness and therefore individual profit maximisation. It is the same disconnection that makes many people struggle to make a living while not far from them nature is or can easily be lavishing with abundance. In addition, if we begin to think in abundance we will act more generously, we are likely to trust more, start sharing and thereby produce more abundance. We will explore this virtuous circle soon. (3) You might be interested in exploring how nature is following its own logic and how, when we align ourselves to this magnificent and itself continuously refining balance, we will strive much more easily than with our current way of linear thinking only, especially when this thinking is based on un-reflected assumptions on the world and human nature. (4) You may want to try and become a producer rather than a consumer. In nature there are only very few consumers, every part holds vital positions in its ecosystem, so you might want to explorein which ways you could help your friends and family, your garden and neighbourhood flourish. (5) You could start sowing what you want to see growing. If you want potatoes, you might want to grow potatoes. If you want equality, you might want to grow equality. If you want peace, you might want to grow peace. Correspondingly, if you don’t want the rainforest to disappear, you might, e.g., want to stop buying products that contribute to it. (6) You might want to explore what implications it had if the best business decisions were the same decisions that are best for the natural environment. (7) You can start reinvesting surplus in your direct environment, e.g., by buying locally, directly from the producers. By sharing our surplus with the people around us we, too, indirectly profit from a stronger community. We will explore its tangible benefits and how it works shortly. (8) You might want to become aware of and start using the free energies around you, for example, by starting to catch, filter, and re-mineralize rainwater, by building a herb garden for the kitchen and easy remedies, by using solar power, or by planting more perennial fruit trees than you may have ever thought necessary. And of course, you can dive into the references in the deeper dive section below.

The best time to plant a tree may have been twenty years ago, but the second best time is now. With permaculture we have an easy, cheap, and functional solution to really most of our current social problems. We cannot say anymore that there was nothing we could do as we have the solutions. We cannot say anymore that there were too many people on the planet as it is not a matter of number but of organisation and design.We cannot say that healthy food was too expensive as we just start growing it. If you never considered gardening as something for you – I did not until not too long ago – you might want to give it a try, the world needs it and you get to reap the benefits. There is absolutely no need to be in denial anymore, because there are tangible, low cost solutions that increase wellbeing and security and that provide us with so much more than we might imagine until now. The time is ripe, let’s get started!


Coming soon

What are self-fulfilling prophecies and what impact do they have on our lives?

What is the gift culture?

Why should we look at nature for leadership design?


For a deeper dive

The Permaculture Principles –

Social Permaculture


Problems that have turned into solution 

Charles Eisenstein

Transition Towns

Daniel Wahl – Designing Regenerative Cultures

Masanobu Fukuoka

Fermes d’avenir

L’éveil de la permaculture

Mon jardin en permaculture


Wu Wei

Looby Macnamara – People & Permaculture


Allen, K. E. (2018). Leading from the Roots: Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World. Morgan James Publishing. Eisenstein, C. (2011). Sacredeconomics: Money, gift, andsociety in theageoftransition. North Atlantic Books.

Hallmann, C. A., Sorg, M., Jongejans, E., Siepel, H., Hofland, N., Schwan, H., ... &Goulson, D. (2017). More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS ONE, 12.

Mollison, B. (1991). Introduction to permaculture. Tasmania, Australia: Tagari. Stewart, J. E. (2014). The direction of evolution: The rise of cooperative organization. Biosystems, 123, 27-36.

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