Happiness – more than a feeling

If during this tumultuous year someone had asked “How do you feel?” very few of us would have answered by saying “Happy.” But if the question had been phrased “How are you coping?” many more of us would have answered –without false optimism– “quite well” or even “surprisingly well.”

This highlights the distinction between personal feelings – often fleeting emotional reactions – and the deeper, more lasting resilience of response to the demands of life.

This is the argument of Richard, Lord Layard in his extensive work in the field of what he has called “the new science” of happiness. The words “happy” and “happiness” are a necessary shorthand for a range of activities and attitudes that contribute to personal well-being. Taking happiness seriously has led to the development of several well-authenticated strategies for building this well-being in ourselves and fostering it in our children.

Action for Happiness is a movement of people building a happier society by making positive changes in their personal lives, homes, workplaces and communities, and a charity with which Lord Layard has closely identified. Its 10 keys to greater happiness have as a mnemonic “GREAT DREAM.”

Action for Happiness’s website tells us “Our happiness is not set in stone. Although our genes influence about 50% of the variation in our personal happiness, our circumstances (like income and environment) affect only about 10%. As much as 40% is accounted for by our daily activities and the conscious choices we make. So the good news is that our actions really can make a difference.”

To ourselves and to those with whom we share our lives. This has also been borne out by persuasive if only as yet anecdotal evidence that during this pandemic it is the quality of our relationships that have made the most difference to us all.

Happy people make happy relationships and this leads to happy communities. At Home Renaissance Foundation we have been keen to add the missing element to this equation: How does the home contribute to happiness – personal and for wider society. This is the question raised by our forthcoming academic sessions, supported by the Social Trends Institute, Happy Homes: Happy Society? The contribution of domestic life in a time of social changes.

We are delighted to have Lord Layard as a key contributor to these sessions, in which world-class academics share their perspectives on the relationship between home and well-being.

Please find the schedule of video presentations here ready for our launch on Thursday 12th and Friday 13th November. The agenda is also available on our site.

Happiness is more than a feeling – and it starts at home.

Is pleasure synonymous with happiness? Absolutely not!

Can we be happy in the middle of this maelstrom that we are experiencing? Can we find a positive side to Covid-19? What is the role of homes in achieving a happy society? When we set the theme for our 5th conference “Happy Homes, Happy Society?” we did not imagine what 2020 was going to bring but our experts are ready to give us answers to all the questions that have arisen.

Without a doubt, we are living through some of the hardest moments in recent history. This virus is strongly shaking the main pillars on which society stands. The economy is suffering a lot, the different confinements are causing great work imbalances, everyone’s mental health suffers, fear also generates insecurity and nervousness and homes have become the centre of operations for everything, as we saw in our recent “Home in the Time of Coronavirus” Report.

What can each of us do individually from our homes to deal with this? What tools do we have to cope with this situation and be better prepared to face both the uncertain present and the future? We can’t live as if nothing is wrong. We must be aware of the problem in order to work at a solution.

A fundamental tool is knowledge, information, understanding. Being well informed prevents us from falling for lies, rumours, and fake news that flutter on social networks generating panic or uncertainty. And according to experts, it is essential not to get carried away by our emotions.

Daniel Goleman, in his book “Emotional Intelligence”, explains that our brain is divided in two: we have a rational side and an emotional side. Letting one kidnap the other prevents us from seeing life in a normal way. When the emotional one traps the rational, we live in the grip of passions and we find ourselves facing a serious problem.

Precisely why, the paediatrician Robert Lustig explains that we are experiencing a cultural crisis is due to the confusion between happiness and pleasure. It’s an intentional confusion on the part of governments and large companies and it is increasingly ingrained in society. Happiness and pleasure are not the same, we cannot equate them despite the fact that many people do so without realising their differences. According to Dr. Lustig:

  • Pleasure is temporary and happiness is permanent.
  • Pleasure is visceral and happiness is ethereal.
  • Pleasure is taking and happiness is giving.
  • Pleasure can be achieved with substances and happiness cannot.
  • Pleasure is experienced alone, and happiness is experienced in social groups.
  • Extreme pleasures lead to addiction through substances or certain behaviour but it is not possible to be addicted to happiness.
  • And from a biological point of view, the most important difference is that pleasure is dopamine and happiness is serotonin.

These are two biochemicals, two neurotransmitters that the brain produces and uses for neurons to communicate with each other. Dopamine kills serotonin so we should strive for more happiness and less pleasure. Because the more pleasure you seek, the more unhappy you will be. You can see the technical or scientific explanation in this video.

Of course, we face an ambitious challenge. In 15 days’ time, our academics will speak of happiness, in the 21st century immersed in a global pandemic. It will not be an easy task, but if you are interested in learning more about the research carried out by our experts, on November 12 and 13, keep an eye on our social networks and go on our website to watch their videos and read the introductions to their papers. This Conference is not going to leave us indifferent.

Conference Plus!

When is a conference not a conference? When it is a “conference+”!

This time last year at Home Renaissance Foundation we were looking at the calendar for 2020 and seeing with great anticipation 12th and 13th November ringed in red. For these were the days we were to be meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine in London for our 5th Interdisciplinary and International Academic Conference: Happy Homes: Happy Society? The contribution of domestic life in a time of social changes, supported by the Social Trends Institute.

That was October 2019 and there is no need to explain what happened in March 2020 to send all our calendars and all our plans flying out of the window. The coronavirus pandemic stopped the world in its tracks and locked us down, but it also opened our eyes to the explicit value of our homes, when there was literally nowhere else to go.

During this period HRF has aimed to highlight the role of the home as a true life-support system and to share some stories of encouragement and challenge. See CORONAVIRUS REPORT. The focus of our planned academic conference Happy Homes: Happy Society? could not be more relevant nor more valuable.

Our concern has been to reflect this relevance and importance and to honour the contributions of our invited academic speakers and selected paper givers. Working with Professor Maria Teresa Russo, Academic Leader for the meeting, and with members of our Scientific Committee, we are delighted that we shall be able to share this high-level content and to give an opportunity for a wider audience to benefit. For it to be a “conference+” experience for everyone.

On Thursday 12th November and Friday 13th November we shall launch Happy Homes: Happy Society on our website with video presentations, beginning with a welcome message by our Chairman, Bryan K Sanderson CBE , followed by an introductory video by Richard, Lord Layard, Emeritus Professor of Economics and Director of the Wellbeing Programme, Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE.

Further video presentations will be given by academic experts Maria Pia Chirinos, Stephen Davies, Maria Bakardjieva, Agnieszka Nogal, Bridgette Wessels and David Thunder over the course of the two days. See here for more details of speakers and their topics.

The full content of these presentations will then be prepared for publication and dissemination, both online, and when circumstances allow, at live events.

One of the greatest benefits of academic meetings is the opportunity they offer for just that –   meeting and talking with fellow experts and scholars. This is hard to replicate online, even with the most people-friendly technology. For this reason, we have had to think long and hard about the best way of providing our selected paper givers with an opportunity to share their work. As at the time of writing the full lifting of travel restrictions still seems a way off, we shall host online workshops early in 2021 for paper givers. Each of the workshops will offer paper givers working in complementary fields a forum to present their work to a relevant expert. Selected papers will be included in the preparation for publication. We at HRF are committed to delivering an opportunity and impact that reflects both the work of contributors and its vital and urgent focus: The Home Now.

So, please keep 12th and 13th November ringed on your calendars and join the launch of what we know will be a great conference+!

Let’s put theory into practice

A few days ago, we had the honour of being the invited Foundation to the meetings of the Argentine association MIF, Mujeres Independientes y Federales. The pandemic has normalised these virtual meetings and technology allowed us to discuss current fundamental issues concerning the home.

From Home Renaissance Foundation we want to thank María Elena Critto and Carolina Castiglioni who have concentrated on making our work known and, above all, brought together such a select audience to talk about the importance of care and the role of women. Among the more than 70 women who attended this event were Carlota Pitiot, a union leader from Apoc, the former Argentine senator, Cristina Fiore, and the national member of Parliament Victoria Morales Gorleri. It was precisely the latter who shared her personal and enriching experience that I dare to summarize as follows:

We women love to talk about how things should be, know the numbers and educate our children in joint responsibility, but it is so hard for us to delegate that we do not always put that theory into practice.

She explained that, in the middle of the pandemic, teleworking and with all her 6 children at home, she was overwhelmed by the pressure of not being able to get everything done. At one point, she sat down with her family and asked for their help. It was her husband and her children who told her:

“Mum, you always talk to us about dividing the household tasks, sharing the responsibilities all together, feeling part of the home, but we are not putting it into practice. Of course, we want to help and we will do the housework together.”

From that day on, the load on her shoulders became lighter. She understood that indeed the time had come for that ideal to reach fruition.

But it is not necessary to be drowned in work before asking for help because we would be missing the point of co-responsibility. It does not consist of doing what the mother or organiser of the home does not attain but in dividing the work fairly among all the members of the home and experiencing first-hand what it means when a sole person does not take on all the responsibility of the home.

Because if there is one place you can fail, it’s in the home. It is at home where things can be corrected with affection, where you can be reminded of your responsibilities, where you learn to be part of something, to be important in your role. As Charles Handy explains in the HomeMakers Project, “At home, skills and abilities that are much needed for professional life are acquired.”

No one is indispensable but by working as a team you are a very necessary link for the rest of the project to go full steam ahead.

Is laundry an issue in your home?

Throughout the pandemic, most of the news focused on the effects of confinement on families due to a more intense coexistence.

Covid19 locked us in our homes and in some houses, troubles began to arise. Day-to-day teleworking from home, fitting in the shopping and managing all the household tasks, forced many families into trying to divide out the tasks, with those who were successful achieving a harmonious home as a result while others failed to come to an agreement.

As Professor Argandoña says in our latest book published by Routledge entitled ‘People, Care and Work in the Home’: “Homes are like companies, in both their members pursue a common goal.” The difference is that a company seeks profitability and a family, the well-being and happiness of its members. In a company, your services are rewarded with a salary at the end of the month whereas with the family, in principle, work should be repaid with gratitude, respect and love.

There are some tasks facing couples that are more challenging than others. For example, doing the laundry can often be a source of conflict. Who is in charge of washing the clothes, taking them out of the machine, drying and ironing them and putting them back in their place? Mr. Jeff, owner of a home laundry business, explains in one of his studies that laundry takes up to 500 hours per year. Therefore, they propose to outsource this service so that the family has more time to relax.

It is a service that will surely help many families, especially those who can afford it. But at Home Renaissance Foundation we have always maintained that housework is not a list of tasks that one must complete throughout the day like a robot. The work of the home helps to build the environment necessary for the development of every person and dignify both those who perform them and the people who benefit from them. And of course, we recognise that they require a great amount of effort that can produce satisfaction over time.

In the home, people are not measured by how profitable or efficient they are. If this were the case, we would not be able to count on little ones and probably not on grandparents either, who at a certain age can no longer carry out the more difficult tasks… At home you are taken care of, you are respected and you are loved. All that is required is commitment and dedication. In return, you receive love and a sense of well-being.

Post-Pandemic Homes

This year our heads and hearts -and of course our news – have been full of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our daily lives. As I write the world is juggling the very different demands of closing the opportunity for new infections and opening the economy for vital new financial activity. It is no wonder that many are facing the winter both confused and concerned.

At HRF we have been at the forefront of communicating the impact of COVID-19 on the home. This goes beyond the immediate effects of lockdown, home-schooling and caring for the vulnerable and looks at the longer-term aftermath of all that we have experienced this year.

Citizens Advice has estimated that in the UK alone 6 million households are falling into debt through rent arrears, with carers, shielders and key workers hardest hit.  Although there has been a welcome extension to the ban on evictions to the end of this month, the CA figures show the tip of an iceberg in terms of what struggling families face in the months and years ahead.

Loss of jobs and income security has had a disproportionate effect on those in the lower-income bracket. Along with those identified by Citizens Advice, jobs in hospitality and the so-called “gig” economy have been very vulnerable to the shrinking of spending during lockdown.

While working from home has been seen as beneficial for those otherwise commuting into the cities, it has been detrimental for those dependent on such commuters – office cleaners, receptionists, cab drivers, restaurant and catering staff. These are typically some of the lowest-paid roles and their loss is all the more serious as a consequence. The place this is felt first is in the home.

The important question today is how to help the homes of tomorrow. The home has changed this year and some of those changes are to be seen as positive, notably the renewed recognition of the value of home as a place of nurture and support. For many though, the changes directly related to diminished income and future expectations are more problematic.

HRF is currently in partnership with the COVID-19 Family Life Study which amongst other areas is looking at the concerns of families with young children at this time. If the economic forecasts are correct then this rising generation will face the greatest long-term consequences of the pandemic.

The timescale of when young people could expect to leave home to set up their own households had already extended as the cost of housing rocketed over the last few decades. It seems likely that this will continue. Looking now at how to support multi-generational households is a creative and positive response to what in other contexts might be framed as a problem rather than a societal opportunity. See here some work HRF pioneered on intergenerational living and thriving.

It is too soon to learn all the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic but it is not too soon to address the very real and growing needs of the post- pandemic home.

Lessons from Home

Earlier this year we looked at the ways in which every home could find patterns and ways to make the experience of the pandemic less overwhelming. These were based on those things which, in a time of great uncertainty, remain largely within the choice and control of individuals and families: daily routines, respectful relationships and making the most of the natural world.

To develop this and to look at living choices and circumstances beyond our control, it helps to think about the difference between the adjectives “clean” and “cleanable”,  which is relevant to what follows.

Very few people wish to live in unclean environments. The recent advertisement for Cif cleaning products has the following message: “Beautiful makes us happy. It dazzles and delights. Cif cleans to reveal beauty everywhere, putting a smile back on your face. Goodbye ugly dirt. Hello beautiful.”

The premise of this advertisement is that the places we wish to clean are cleanable. For many households this premise is not a reality. For families living in poor rental housing stock there is nothing in the supermarket cleaning aisle to address the conditions they are forced to live in. Findings from the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) include:

  • More than one million children live in housing in England that it considered sub-standard or unfit to live in
  • On the whole, the research indicates that there is an association between homes with visible damp or mould and the prevalence of asthma or respiratory problems among children
  • Poor quality housing can have an adverse effect on children’s psychological well-being
  • Parents and children both complain of the social stigma of living in bad housing
  • Poor housing conditions can have an impact on the health and well-being of parents too, and therefore affect their ability to parent.

Such findings give an insight into the additional burden such families have faced during lockdown. Often these households also have less access to private green space and experience higher-levels of traffic pollution. Though, while the prevailing images of poor housing are in metropolitan urban context, in fact it is often in rural regions that housing is least well-maintained and secure. (see link Centre for Progressive Policy Report).

These are situations beyond the control of the families so affected, but within the control of those who direct housing and community policy. Work is being done in this area in the UK to improve the standard of housing and to think more about the lives and needs of the people involved. Writing in The Guardian Oliver Wainwright describes some recent innovative work councils are doing to both improve their social housing stock and the lives of their tenants. The focus is on making human-scale communities within the poorly-built and maintained building of the past. It can only be hoped the legacy of the pandemic will not get in the way of such vital engagements with how to help people live and thrive in healthy homes.

They are vital because they can restore the dignity of those making their homes in these places. And if the dignity of the person is considered in the national conversation on housing policy and action, the response of the person is more likely to agree with the Cif philosophy  – to take care of their own  corner of beautiful.

This is Us

We are in the middle of summer and enjoying disconnecting a little after months of coping with the threat of COVID-19 and the intensity of feelings surrounding the virus.

No doubt, during quarantine, you have been watching family sit-coms or films suitable for everyone, but finding it harder each day to source new dramas to watch together as a family.

One particular series I can highly recommend, but which may be difficult for children to understand, is one that focuses on the lives of members of the Pearson family.

I do not know of anyone who hasn’t enjoyed This is Us. It is not easy to talk about this gripping drama without giving too much away. Everything revolves around a strong and solid marriage with three children, and how they deal with the day-to-day issues that threaten to destabilize both the couple and the family.

Of course, they make mistakes along the way – coping with misfortune, addiction, illness, loss or unresolved problems from childhood or adolescence – but it’s the portrayal of the contrasting emotions of life, of love, that make it such compelling viewing.

If you’ve seen it, we would love to hear your comments. Who is your favourite character? It is impossible not to be moved by the charm of Jack, the dedication of Rebecca, the sweetness of Kate, the intelligence of Randall, the kindness of Kevin… Although if there is someone who has brought tears to my eyes it is Dr. Nathan Katowski with his words:

You took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade.”

Any other suggestions of suitable series or films to watch as a family are welcome.
This summer, we may venture out less and need to be more cautious, but we will enjoy ourselves nonetheless!

Is technology a help or a hindrance in achieving work/life harmonisation?

Before the pandemic, it was beginning to become apparent that we live in a flexible world in which the workplace does not have to be the office. At Home Renaissance Foundation, team members in various cities throughout the world have been working from home for a number of years, with our headquarters in London still active as a meeting space a few days a week.

This has allowed us, quite naturally, to adapt to the period of confinement without making drastic changes because teleworking was already established. Mondays meetings set the work pattern for the rest of the week with a flexible timetable to include scheduled calls.

But what has happened in cases where adapting to a new way of working has not been so straightforward? For those not used to teleworking and surrounded by family with children in need of homeschooling?

The change has not been easy, but in general, people have managed to adapt with more or less success, considering that what we have lived through is not the best example of teleworking. We have asked around and people, in general, are satisfied. Many feel exhausted due to the circumstances and wishing for a certain normality, but happy with the potential new way of working where technology plays a leading role. Many feel that once children return to school, the new teleworking practices introduced by pioneering companies will be more effective and easier to implement.

Kathleen Farrel, Lecturer at the Technological University of Dublin, wonders “Is technology a help or a hindrance in achieving work/life harmonisation?” in her chapter of our latest book entitled “People, Care and Work in the Home” published by Routledge.

We are not going to advance her conclusions, but she contextualizes teleworking by quoting different authors, for example “Work and family could be said to be two of the most significant elements of human life” (Toyin et al., 2016). “Indeed, work/family balance is one of the most challenging issues facing families in the twenty-first century” (Walker et al., 2008).

“According to the literature on working from home, the results indicate that the success or failure of working from home is very closely linked to homeworkers’ identity.” (Tietze and Musson, 2010).

Friedman (2014: 12) highlights that to be effective one needs “to know what matters.” He recommends an exercise called “Four Circles” representing the four domains “work, home, community and self.” This helps reflect on the “values, goals, interests, actions and results” cultivated in each area, and whether the latter are compatible or opposed to each other. When people engage in flexible working, the relationship between work and home needs to be redefined and changes made. (Tietze and Musson (2003, 2005).

I would say that quarantine has helped us, without a doubt, to reflect on these issues as a family after spending so much time together. We found ourselves immersed in change without much ado and it has been shown that those who took these aspects into account achieved a more effective and above all, a true adaptation, with a personal and work balance that gradually approaches the ideal pattern.

Colin Brazier said in his article on ‘Home in the Time of Coronavirus‘ that once confined, the success of its management does not depend on “any radical change. This is not the time to introduce lessons in Sanskrit.” What has not been taught before cannot be quickly applied. What is no longer a habit is very difficult to establish or balance in crisis situations.

Therefore, the home needs to be built little by little and with tenacity. It is a titanic effort that bears its fruits in the medium and long term. Family management must include reconciliation; and teleworking, thanks to technology, can be a very useful tool that, well run, will bring results. If the home lays its foundations well, it will be able to face health crises like the current one, with job changes such as teleworking, or technological innovations that we still don’t even imagine. The important thing is that the core of the home is unbeatable in the face of storms and flexible enough not to be overwhelmed – and that requires a good leader. Don’t forget that in your home, the leader is you.

Calling All Families: Covid Family Study

There is no question that though health workers have been in the frontline of dealing with Covid-19, all of us have been seeing action on the “Home Front” during the pandemic. Especially families, where parents have been managing the care and education of children while juggling the new demands of working from home and concerns for older relatives. The impact on our families and on the physical and mental health of parents has been the source of much anecdotal comment and speculation.

Dr Anis Ben Brik, distinguished and acknowledged expert in Social Policy and Sustainable Development, LSE alumnus, now Associate Professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University College of Public Policy Qatar, has set up the Covid Family Study  to provide some real evidence of this experience and opportunities to learn from it. The Impact of the Pandemic on Family Life Across Cultures is an ambitious and timely study.  Twenty-one researchers from 40 countries across five continents will be looking at the survey data generated by the project. Fourteen partners are also contributing to this work. We are delighted that Home Renaissance Foundation is one of them, joining with international organisations sharing our vision and priority for the life and work of the home.

The aims of the study are wide-reaching and of great potential value to all families and agencies concerned with their thriving: to track the pattern of the symptoms, causes and risk factors of mental health in parents; to understand the experiences, coping skills and mechanisms of parents under pandemic conditions; to identify parents’ needs, and to use this evidence to inform the design of policy and support for families in the future.

Such aims reveal a strong understanding and recognition of the foundational role of parents in providing secure, stable and healthy home environments for their children. At HRF we whole-heartedly endorse this understanding and approach. During the pandemic, we have returned to our homes for safety and support. There have been positive aspects to this; many children have benefited from more time with their parents and regular daily patterns of meal and bedtimes, but it has also been costly for families in terms of health, living conditions and resources.

The Covid Family Study survey invites parents to share their experiences to help provide support in the future. The questions are straightforward and the guide time to complete the survey is 30 minutes. By receiving information across all national, cultural and economic contexts, both global and local insights will be generated. The investigating team will be able to use these responses to direct, design and deliver the best support services for every family.

If you are a parent of a child or children under 18, please take some time now to contribute to the survey to be a part of this vital work. For, if the pandemic has led to an international conversation on what we want to happen next in our world, it could not start in a better place than at home.