Big Questions

Last November, we asked a question “Do happy homes lead to a happy society?” The question is a very big one and at the heart of the vision of the Home Renaissance Foundation. Happy Homes: Happy Society? The contribution of domestic life in a time of social changes was intended to be a physical academic meeting in London. It has become an online discussion addressing many of the different forces and attitudes at work in creating and sustaining well-being as individuals and as a part of flourishing communities.

In February, we hosted a series of online workshops where academics who had contributed papers to the meeting had an opportunity to present them and to receive some relevant feedback. The four areas of focus give a glimpse of both the range and depth of the contributions. “What is the importance of architecture, housing conditions and choices?” “What role do relationships play in well-being in the home and beyond?” “What do the new SMART technologies add?” and vitally “What are the essential values of the home?”

These are all also big questions and it has been a privilege to hear the responses shared by a wide range of academics, from different continents, disciplines and career stages. One strand of thought kept emerging: these questions really matter.

Happy homes are built on happy relationships and shared values, access to the means to maintain them in an appropriate housing context and to be able to make real and informed choices about the new technologies we let into our homes.

For every statistic in the data shared, for every case study, every theoretical proposition are the individuals and families in a day-by-day engagement with these questions. “How can I be a better spouse/parent?” “How can we be better neighbours?” “What are the values that are important to me and that I want to make sure I share at home?” “How can I be happier and make others around me happier too?”

These are questions that are not going away, the pandemic has made them loom larger and more urgent than ever. At HRF we have not finished asking the questions and encouraging the answers. Please join the conversation!

 

Excellence in the home

It is curious but this was the title of our first conferences. We changed the approach but we kept the title. And although we were finally replacing it with the main theme of each meeting, the concept has always remained in the background. No matter if we talk about artificial intelligence, well-being, care or happiness, excellence remains perennial.

Because it is the final bow, the icing on the cake, that makes a well-done job shine. Excellence implies effort, detail, dedication, and care. Aspects that are difficult to convey on their own but that become the “soul” of the work.

In the last two weeks, we have held the workshops resulting from the papers presented to the 5th Conference ‘Happy Homes, Happy Society?’ And last Friday in the workshop entitled “Values and Domestic Life” the importance of excellence came to light straight away. It is impossible to talk about the work of the home without including the need for excellence.

Excellence is an essential element in the construction of our homes. It is a beam on which everyone’s work must support and rest. And it is also an aspect that is taught best by example. It is not a panacea, it does not guarantee happiness, it does not avoid discussions or possible crisis, but it nuances the problems because excellence transmits love, affection, the sensitivity that we have put into that work or that task that we have done and that is perceived.

When we are overburdened with laundry, ironing, cleaning, preparing food or dinner, when we are tired after returning from work and still have to bathe the children or think about the next day’s menu, or we have to pick up toys or do homework with the little one, or when we have to face a complicated conversation with our adolescent or study family finances with our wife/husband on Sunday night… When we feel like none of this, then we think about excellence, in the good that it will do to the recipient of that service, in the love that one will perceive when one finds the bed made, or the food on the table or the empty dishwasher, or the car filled with petrol, or the shopping in the fridge – let’s think about the selfless dedication that we are somehow transmitting to our relatives.

Maybe not today, but probably tomorrow, both you and everyone around you will value and appreciate that effort and a job well done. And the lesson learned will be key to building their future homes. Because there is a big difference between doing things out of obligation and without any intention, to carrying them out with care and delicacy.

That is excellence.

A game or reality?

In a few days, we will reach the first anniversary in the West of the incredible pandemic that was already raging in Asia this time last year. There are still days when I wake up thinking that nothing I have experienced over the past 12 months can be true but was all a bad dream. Curfews, masks, closed establishments, bankrupt businesses, impossible meetings, cancelled flights… and the saddest thing of all: over two million deaths worldwide related to Covid19.

But no. It is real. We are living in the middle of a global pandemic that has us all in suspense waiting for vaccines. And meanwhile, throughout the past year, we have seen on social network the ‘showcasing’ of our lives with more home interiors and kitchens on view than ever before. We have endeavored to adapt our houses to suit our needs and to make them more comfortable because of the necessity of spending a lot more time at home.  We have created workspaces, small offices, study areas for children and adolescents. We have decorated our small balconies in order to breathe in some fresh air.

With the situation that has been forced upon us, we have become experienced  “homemakers.” We have been forced to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner without rest. And we have even taken a liking to the kitchen, discovering that in some countries it was considered so obsolete that it is confined to a small corner of the house, impossible to cook in and organise the weekly menu for the whole family. What were architects thinking when they reduced the engine of a house to a couple of cabinets, plate racks and breakfast bar?

We have never before shared so many recipes … We have never before photographed our creations so proudly or shared our private spaces so widely. We used to spend most of our time outdoors, looking at the home from the outside, believing that away from the home was the only fun place to be. And just as everything appears to be returning to normality, a new wave occurs once again with increased numbers of deaths, infections, new variants and a return to the safety of the home.

A year later, we still have to focus our lives around our homes and it is becoming easier and less alien to us. I would even say that we now value much more the work that has been carried out in our homes in the past to make it a more friendly and comfortable place. And what seemed like just a game at first, a mandatory pastime that circumstances led us to, has become a reality. We all now appreciate our home more and value the work that has gone into making it into a liveable home.

How about your experience? 

With what motivation do we act at home?

As we have already explained previously, our latest book talks about the People who live in a home, the Care they require and provide and the Work involved in the correct management of our homes.

It is a book that was born as a result of the Conference on Wellbeing that was held in 2017 and that sought to delve into what are the sources of wellbeing for the person. Without a doubt, one of those sources and in turn, the main stage of our life is the home, since it is the place where the person is born and takes his first steps as a social being, marking his life forever.

According to Professor Argandoña, author of one of the chapters dealing with Work, the home is an institution with multiple purposes. The home is reproduction, food, learning, socialization, producer of goods and services, care of children, the sick and the elderly, provider of physical and ontological security. But also home is a hotel, restaurant, school, hospital, a place of entertainment, a school of virtues…

In other words, the home has many functions, although the main one would be “learning to live by assuming different tasks.” Household members, regardless of their age, must be willing to carry out different jobs while living together because the proper functioning of the “institution” will depend on that relationship that is established between them and on that common effort.

To understand work at home, you have to know the 3 types of results that derive from our actions and that are specified as extrinsic, intrinsic and transcendent. That is, what we hope to receive: the food on the plate each day; what we hope to achieve: learning to share, or learning to cook, or the satisfaction of a pleasant home; and what we hope to give: considering, taking into account the needs of others.

But it is important to understand that in the home there is no intention to compare because the home is not a market in which we continuously compare what we give and what we receive. In many cases, there is no direct reciprocity, nor possible forms of compensation. The only possible measure of this distribution is love.

Love is the most intense way to share. Love is, par excellence, the main virtue in the home” says Argandoña. Benevolent love is demonstrated when the person acts with a transcendent motivation, that is, when he only takes into account the needs of the other and seeks his good, not his own benefit. That is why Professor Argandoña says: “the home is a privileged place for the exercise of care. It is the temple of the civilization of care.”

How many times do we act like this in our homes?

Happy Homes: Happy Society? Going Forward!

If 2020 taught us to do and think things differently, then 2021 is giving us plenty of practice in this different doing and thinking. Behind every headline and statistic are individuals, families and homes that are living this reality of the pandemic.

At Home Renaissance Foundation we have been deeply moved by the stories that have been shared with us over the last year. We have been encouraged in our work by the ways in which people are working to keep things going for each other, from the frontline key workers to those offering daily care in their homes and communities.

When we planned our 2020 Conference Happy Homes: Happy Society? The contribution of domestic life in a time of social changes, we could have no idea of the seismic social changes that the coronavirus was about to unleash. The contribution of domestic life has been incalculable and for so many of us “home” has been the only place of constancy and security – a rock in the shifting sands of the ongoing emergency.

It was very important then, to continue our work and to honour the contributions offered to the conference. We launched Happy Homes: Happy Society in November with a series of short video presentations by distinguished experts engaging with this vital topic. They can be seen here.

We are delighted that February will see paper givers to the conference able to present their work at a series of online workshops. The range of responses is reflected in the four workshop areas: Happy Dwelling? Perspectives on the World; Values and Domestic Life; Rediscovering Relationships in the Context of Social Changes; Technology and Well-Being in the Home.

We are grateful to Professors Abdelmonem, Chirinos and Nogal, and to Dr. Stephen Davies for their time and expertise in facilitating these sessions.

Although the context of these presentations is an academic conference, their wider resonance is not hard to find: “Positive Parenting in Covid Times”; “Working Women and Work-Family Conflicts: is working remotely the key to a better balance?”; “Smart Homes and Domestic Well-Being: What has been lost?” These are just a flavour of the very relevant and timely contributions that will be shared. We shall keep you all “in the loop” as these conversations develop.

We may be doing things differently but our commitment to seeing the home at the heart of life remains unchanged. Together, Homes are stronger!

People, Care and Work in the Home

We are delighted to announce the worldwide launch of our latest book ‘People, Care and Work in the Home’. This was published in 2020 by Routledge and we have gathered together the editors and some of the authors such as Lord Best and Baroness Hollins to present its launch online. In collaboration with Nottingham Trent University, the launch will be held next Thursday, January 21 at 12.00 pm (Uk).

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Here you have the review that Professor Rosa Lastra wrote about the book.

Covid-19 has brought back the home to the centre of our society. Home has become a place to work, to teach, to study. Home is that safe space at the intersection of our work and family/personal life. The Pandemic forced billions of individuals and families to stay at home for several months in 2020. The neat divide between home and office has been eroded. The time is thus ripe for an in-depth analysis of what the home means for us all, from cradle to grave, and how it permeates every aspect of our lives. It is in this context that a new book  People, Care and Work in the Home, edited by Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem and Antonio Argandoña is such a welcome and timely addition to the literature on the subject. Though it was written long before the spread of the Coronavirus, its findings are of critical importance. Home now emerges yet again as the safe haven in a fast-changing world.

The collected volume brings together seventeen contributions from outstanding scholars, researchers, and practitioners from different disciplines and professional backgrounds, offering a multi-disciplinary analysis of the challenges contemporary homes face, focusing on the care and wellbeing of people in the domestic sphere. The book, which includes case studies from the UK, Continental Europe, South America, and South East Asia, presents a novel approach to the study of the home, at a time in which homes are becoming the focal locus for care and wellbeing. The chairman of the Home Renaissance Foundation, Bryan K. Sanderson CBE, writes in the foreword to the book that the opportunity to draw attention to the role the home plays in lifelong health and wellbeing is one of great significance to the work of the Home Renaissance Foundation (HRF) since its mission is to renew the culture and to restore the value of the home for everyone.

The editors note in their introductory chapter, while books on home relations and environments are typically defined by specific discipline or research areas, such as psychology, sociology, geography, ethnology, and others, this book engages a multitude of research domains based on shared enquiries on the home as a place of care, of people, and of work. The book adopts a broad conception of the home, including people (the family), place (the housing), environment (neighbourhood, city, town), and society, considering its multifaceted dimensions: anthropological, ethical, economic, political, social, psychological, and spatial. It evaluates and interrogate different impacts on people (knowledge, skills, values, virtues, etc.) and environments (family, business, social entities, public bodies, etc.) looking also at public policy and legislative solutions.

The book is divided into three parts (home and people, home and work, home and care) and addresses the changing demographics and changing needs of our modern society and their impact upon the dynamics and relationships within the home from being personal and private to encompassing domestic work, care for older people, or supporting people with special needs. Whilst the home is a concept universally experienced, permeating every aspect of our lives, it remains an entity whose influence on health and wellbeing is poorly understood.

The book caters for people of all needs and backgrounds. Sheila the Baroness Hollins, crossbench life peer in the House of Lords, and emeritus professor of psychiatry of disability at St. George’s University of London, in a chapter entitled “Aspirations of people with intellectual disability for an ordinary home and an ordinary life” tries to unpick some basic aspects of home and what it might mean to people who may have few choices about where they live and who they live with. She speaks of the work of the international development charity Hope and Homes, which quite simply aims to close down orphanages worldwide and instead support local communities to find substitute family homes for abandoned and orphaned children. This is the type of initiative that Home Renaissance Foundation strongly endorses.

Lord Best – who co-chairs the APPG on Housing and Care for Older People, including its recent inquiry, “Rural Housing for an Ageing Population: Preserving Independence” (R-HAPPI) and who has piloted four Private Members Bills on housing successfully through the House of Lords, most recently the “Homelessness Reduction Act 2017” – proposes key steps to provide adequate homes for an ageing society, considering the needs of space and light, warmth, accessibility, and manageability and invites us all to act as citizens, as voters and as consumers to persuade the government to give as much priority to their housing policies for older people as for younger people. As social animals we need contact with others. He writes: “Tailor-made new housing for our later years brings opportunities to do things with neighbours, whether in the all-singing, all-dancing context of full-blown retirement communities, or the more intimate settings of small retirement developments.” And this is not just to create a more humane environment. “At a time when local authority care budgets are in crisis and the NHS is desperately short of funds – and hospital beds – the importance of adequate housing for senior citizens makes sense at every level.”

José Victor Orón Semper talking about UpToYou focuses on the early years of life, emphasizing how childhood lays the foundations for future life. Everything we learn indeed starts at home, he reminds us. The dispositions acquired in the early years towards oneself last throughout life. Thus, it is more important to educate about the dispositions than specific behaviours. For example, developing the initiative to move one object is far more important than putting the object in the right place.

Sir Harry BurnsAccording to Professor Sir Harry Burns: “From the outside, a home is simply a building. It’s inside that the magic happens. If a home is a place where children feel safe and happy, they will learn they are loved and respected and, as a result, they are likely to grow up to love and respect others. They will grow in health and wellbeing and develop a sense of purpose, allowing them to make decisions as to the future direction of their lives.” And that is why it is imperative to devise public policies that support disadvantaged families in delivering a safe environment for their children with positive parenting anchored in the home as a nurturing place.

A deeper understanding of disability is rooted in the home

By Rosemary Roscoe

Happy New Year everyone and a warm welcome to the hundreds of new followers who joined this blog in 2020.

The founder of analytical psychology Carl Jung once stated that “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are”. The home, as we have experienced from months of lockdown due to Covid, is pivotal in our understanding of ourselves and others. All the prejudices of our understanding, especially when it comes to disabilities, are gleaned from the home. And those prejudices are reinforced, for example, by television dramas such as ITV’s Emmerdale Farm, which recently featured a couple expecting a baby with Down’s syndrome, portraying the baby as a lesser human being in some way. But parents, relatives, friends and those who work with people with Down’s syndrome follow a very different storyline.

They know that a child with Down’s has as much to give and gain from the world as any other child, if not more, and nurtured with love and understanding will grow into a well-adjusted, fulfilled adult. I speak from personal experience, as just over a year ago our youngest grandchild was diagnosed at birth as having Down’s Syndrome. She is an absolute delight, full of smiles and mischief, babbling away and gazing into your eyes. Despite the weak muscle tone she was born with, it hasn’t held her development back, as she is constantly crawling and walking around the furniture and pulling books off the bookcase to open the pages and look at the pictures.

She enjoys the attention of her young cousins and loves tipping up her toy boxes and discovering her favourite noisy toys, then confidently climbing onto your lap with a beaming smile, urging you to play with her. Next minute she’s slipping down from your lap and grasping your hands, walking determinedly around the room, then flopping down when we reach her intended destination. So determined is she to explore that recently her mum had to catch her by the feet to stop her diving headfirst down the stairs, so eager was she to go outside! She is such a joy and you can tell from the adoring looks from Mum and Dad that they wouldn’t have wanted her to be any different to her charming and loveable self.

We need to reassess our inbuilt biases against disabilities, and there is no better place to start than in the home. Many are suffering from post-covid stresses of one kind of another, caused either by contracting the virus or by the unprecedented upheavals in our home lives and work routines, all of which were beyond our control. Hopefully, these experiences have changed our perceptions of others who might seem different to us and lifted the cloud of ill-informed prejudices. If you have experiences and insights into caring for people with disabilities in the home, of any age, we would love you to share them with us.

Please send it to info@homerenaissancefoundation.org We will contact you to discuss any material you send us that is chosen for publication on our website.

“We used to work from home, now we live at work”

I read this article published a few weeks ago in the Financial Times with great interest to try to understand why there has been a huge rejection of teleworking and the new way of working set up during the pandemic. In the months of April and May, the percentage of people suffering from mental problems and serious fatigue increased and it would be interesting to see if the cause is due to telework or simply telework misapplied by necessity.

Obviously, the confinement put us all to the test, since feeling deprived of freedom, not being able to continue with a normal life and having to stay at home, can trigger feelings of anxiety at first; But once the situation was assimilated, seeing the whole world in the same circumstances and understanding that being responsible was the only way to save lives, that anxiety must have given way to an ‘uncomfortable’ state of calmness and anticipation of it coming to an end.

Then we tried to begin again, with children, parents and sometimes grandparents going back from our living room to school, university and work. And the adaptation was obviously not easy, it could generate stress again, but it was an essential requirement to move forward and achieve apparent normality. And this is where I think the first problem comes: believing that what we did during confinement and the successive semi-lockdown was ‘telework’.

During those early months the only thing we sought was to survive and prevent the world coming to a standstill. Those of us who could, put great effort into working from home and those who had to go to their workplaces did so by adapting to the new measures, with everyone affected by the virus fighting to save themselves.

But the truth is that nothing of what we have experienced or what we are still living through is a normal situation. We have not implemented telework naturally, but under obligation, so clearly a solution that opens up great opportunities has been confused with a kind of ordeal.

I am a strong advocate of telecommuting, under normal circumstances. Four years ago at HRF we took that step and we have verified that it is really beneficial and that any shortcomings in the running of the day to day business can be filled by learning to manage this new model little by little. Before the pandemic, I visited the office, changing countries, once a month or every two months, and goal-setting meetings were held once a week. The rest of the time it’s all about trusting, trusting, and trusting. And then work, work and work.

One of the main complaints from those who have felt “burned out” and “stressed” with this new situation is that “before we used to work from home and now we live at work.” These people felt nervous if they did not answer an email immediately or if they did not respond to a call at 7am … And there comes the following erroneous belief: that now your workspace is your living room, you cannot switch off once you have finished your day’s work, so you live under the constant pressure of not being able to show that you are sitting there fulfilling your role.

Neither should pressure come from management, nor the worker feel questioned and insecure all the time. The relationship must remain the same as it was in the office, except that at home the responsibility for work is down to the individual. You are the one with the obligation to work a full day without having to be supervised, you are the one who must work efficiently throughout the day, so the home routine shouldn’t be very different to that of the office. In short, you have greater control of your time and you must learn to manage it well without neglecting your professional development. The misnamed ‘teleworking’ that has served as a temporary fix in many companies all these months and that most likely has not been implemented as it should, must not cloud the opportunities that this new working model offers us.

Teleworking is the sum of “time management” + “individual responsibility”. If the entire team can understand this from the highest position to the lowest and the climate is trustworthy, I predict a great future, because there are more and more companies, and ours is one of them, that can prove that it works.

Save 2020

For months I have been seeing posts from people complaining that they want 2020 to end soon. December 31 will probably be a much-heralded day, slamming shut the door to this painful year, but it is merely symbolic as the virus is still with us and 2021 will not be the panacea for all our ills. So I propose we don’t rush through this month but pass through it calmly like someone enjoying their last mouthful of chocolate.

Let’s savour this difficult 2020 by living December with great zest, with great awareness, so that we can look back without allowing the year to slip through our fingers. Let’s not start the calendar month with regret, sadness, reluctance, but appreciate that each day has 24 hours – just as someone reaching the end of their life doesn’t want each day to pass away. The sort of days that a grandfather with his grandchildren wants to be eternal, that people in love do not seek to end.
Let’s get excited again and tell 2020 that it is not over yet, that December is ahead and that we want to live it, we want to take advantage of it, we want to learn from what we have been through, without forgetting that we must continue to act responsibly.

As suggested by Professor Maria Pia Chirinos in her conference presentationHappy Home, Happy Society?let’s focus on care. Let’s take care of ourselves more than ever. Let’s be kinder, more sincere, more empathetic. Let’s put the complaining aside and replace it with a wish list and all the things we are looking forward to. December is the month of Christmas, of Santa Claus, of Papa Noel, of Saint Nicolas, of the Birth of Jesus. Let that hope overwhelm us, let’s go back to being children, let’s look at everything with open eyes. Let’s be super tolerant with our neighbour, the boss, our friend.

And let us accept once and for all, if we have not done so yet, that we are vulnerable, fragile and that we have come into the world with a purpose… Have you found yours? Maybe 2020 could achieve that end, that you find it, that you look inward, that the outside is already well seen. That you stop for a second and value what you have, that you feel lucky no matter how small and insignificant you think you are and that you let yourself be loved and wanted. That you let yourself be taken care of and you take care of yourself. That others need you. Yes, to you. Stop going on the subway with headphones as if the world was not with you, stop walking down the street with your head down as if you were not from this planet… be attentive to the needs of your father, your mother, your brother, your sister. Because Covid has brought us a new problem, but the old ones are still there and the solution is in you. And who knows if it is not in this month of December.

So don’t waste it, let’s save 2020.

The value of relationships in the home

How was your 2020? This might seem a foolish question given all this year has held, but as we come towards the end of this extraordinary year, most of us are taking stock – looking back and looking forwards. The recent news of viable vaccines has been a great boost, and although we know that the next few months will be far from plain sailing, the further horizon begins to look far more hopeful.

At HRF, the heart of our vision and mission is to support the life and work of the home. It is the home that has borne the brunt of many of the restrictions the pandemic has imposed, and the home that has provided the core care and support to get us through it. While it is clearly too soon to talk about the new lessons learnt from the demands of this year– and as many continue to suffer in terms of loss of livelihoods and incomes –it is surely overdue that we should relearn some of the old lessons.

One of the revealing results of many surveys and much anecdotal evidence, is the value people have placed on simpler schedules and expectations. Parents have juggled childcare and remote working but have rediscovered the pleasure of just spending unstructured time with their children. Some of the pastimes we thought we had left at the homes of our grandparents have found a place back in our homes: jigsaws, board games, shared family mealtimes and household tasks.

This is the surface evidence of much deeper truths about the value of relationships and how they are shaped and held in our homes. If we do not listen to each other we shall not hear what that other is saying. If we do not value the time we spend together we are all the poorer. Noticing what another person is feeling and responding to them is not an old-fashioned luxury but a human necessity.

Tellingly, one of the key insights of being cut off from each other is our need for connection. For many of us those neighbours whom we generally ignored on our way to and from more pressing engagements have become real people during this time. People who need our help or people who can help us. Although only a few may become lasting friends, many more will at least know our names and we theirs.

These insights are no surprise to the world-renowned expert on happiness, Richard, Lord Layard who was the keynote speaker at the launch of HRF’s conference earlier this month – Happy Homes: Happy Society?  where he emphasized the place of relationships at the heart of our thriving as individuals, families and society as a whole. We are delighted that Lord Layard has just been presented with a lifetime achievement award by the Economic and Social Research Council for his work on happiness – lessons from what he has called “a new science.”

This new science of well-being and happiness has a modern lilt but the truths it speaks are age-old. The home is the place where people first learn to be with other people. And those lessons last a lifetime. In our own homes and families let what 2020 has shown us help in making those lessons count.