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!

 

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!

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.

Call for Architects!

After many years of the cult of the body, society is beginning to realise the importance of not only taking care of the exterior body but also the interior mind. And for this reason, more and more activities such as mindfulness, spiritual retreats, and mystical experiences arise every day.

Plato said that man is “body and soul” and therefore to live is to balance both sides. Interestingly, the opposite tends to happen in households. We tend to focus a lot on the interior, on education, on relationships between family members, on the distribution of responsibilities and in some cases we forget about the exterior, which as far as homes are concerned, is just as important. If the distribution of spaces, the decor, the colour scheme, lighting…  are not well thought out, living together and the relationships between family members can be more strained.

A house in which everything has its place will create an orderly environment. An orderly environment transmits peace and calm to the members that inhabit it because when they look for something, they find it. This avoids wasting time and the consequent frustration of looking for a lost item.

Houses whose doorways are wide enough for a pushchair or wheelchair to fit and perform basic manoeuvres, denote care of the person. A practical and pleasant room where family members are comfortable will allow a better relationship between them because they will spend more time in that common area than in their own rooms.

If we go into aesthetic details, the decoration also plays its role. It is not necessary for every house to look the same, as that would be very boring, but we need to pay attention to the style. A house where you enter that is blocked by clutter can be overwhelming. It’s worth finding another place for it, and a regular thorough sort-out gets rid of everything that is surplus to requirements.

A home in which the decoration is neat and simple, where each piece of furniture has its purpose, and the decorative details reflect its occupants, is always a welcome sight.

So thinking of the happiness of homes, we call on architects from around the world to participate in our next Conference. We would like to have your ideas, listen to your studies and know what is being explored today, in the Schools of Architecture to further the design of happy homes.

In the Scientific Committee we have the Chair of Architecture of the Nottingham Trent University, Prof. Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem and in one of the round tables will be Sonia Solicari, who is the Director of the Museum of the Home. She was previously Head of the Guildhall Art Gallery and London’s Roman Amphitheatre, Curator of Ceramics and Glass; and Assistant Curator of Paintings at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. She has published and lectured widely on Victorian art and design and contemporary museum practice. Solicari is currently co-director of the Centre for Studies of Home, a partnership with Queen Mary University of London.

Don’t forget that the Call for Papers is now open and the deadline to submit a proposal is April 30.

Happy at home, happy in life

We have just enjoyed the festive season when we give and receive best wishes for a “Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year.” These kind sentiments are often exchanged without reflecting on what we are really saying. We are wishing – and being wished – happiness.

But what is this thing called “happiness”? How do we recognize it when it is there, and how do we find it when it isn’t? In recent years, there has been an increased interest and engagement with these questions. From personal happiness, through happy couples, families and communities, to what makes a happy society, research is being carried out to find evidence and answers.

Richard LayardRichard, Lord Layard, has been at the forefront of this study and his work in this field is world-leading. As editor of the World Happiness Report, Richard Layard has overseen the landmark survey of the state of global happiness that ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be. The World Happiness Report 2019 focused on happiness and the community: how happiness has evolved over the past dozen years, with a focus on the technologies, social norms, conflicts and government policies that have driven those changes.

Richard Layard is also the author of what is described as “the key book in happiness studies”. Happiness: Lessons from a New Science looks at the paradox at the heart of our lives: “There is a paradox at the heart of our lives. Most people want more income and strive for it. Yet as Western societies have got richer, their people have become no happier.”

For Home Renaissance Foundation these questions are both relevant and timely. We believe that the work that goes into creating and maintaining a home has a direct connection to the happiness and well-being of both individuals and society as a whole. This is echoed in recent findings from the Happiness Research Institute that 73% of people who are happy at home are happy in life.

Conference PosterWe are delighted therefore that Richard Layard has agreed to be a keynote speaker and scientific committee advisor for our next conference: Happy Home, Happy Society? The contribution of domestic life in a time of social changes to be held in London 12- 13 November 2020.

Invited speakers and selected paper givers from across the world and the wide-field of disciplines concerned with “happiness” and the domestic context will seek answers to some increasingly urgent questions: How can our homes be places for life-long flourishing? How can this be supported and enhanced? In a time of increased technological connection why is there so much individual social isolation? Are SMART homes happy homes? In a time of increased homelessness what is happening in the early home experiences of the homeless? How can we all find a home to be happy in?

Richard Layard believes “We desperately need a concept of the common good. I can think of no nobler goal than to pursue the greatest happiness of all – counting every person.”

At Home Renaissance Foundation we believe the HOME is a common good which needs to be recognized, supported and valued.

For more information on this please see our Conference website.

 

Why does HRF exist?

The summer season may now have faded, but it has left behind such happy memories. It is the season when, in my case, you can use your holiday time to return home after working outside your city or country, a time for happy reunions.

“What about your life? How are you getting on? Are you working abroad, away from your family? These are questions that I answer again and again when my work for Home Renaissance Foundation comes to light.

I often explain my professional activity by saying that I work for a think tank, but people usually want to know what kind of a think tank. And I explain that HRF explores the care of the home, helping it to be more effective and better managed, so we can all benefit from happier homes. Homes where family members develop into well-grounded adults, sharing responsibilities and looking after the welfare of everyone. The response is often along the lines of “please tell me more, I didn’t realise a foundation exists that could help me in all the headaches of running my home!”

We devote many more hours working outside our homes, but at the end of the day, we have to come back home. And home is the place where we spend most time together, relaxing and being ourselves and giving ourselves generously to others. And it is not always easy. We are not born able to do this. The home we come from may differ from the one we go on to create, although it retains a common structure. Life changes and evolves, with new technologies offering solutions that were not available in the past. Each home is different and managed in its own individual way. The ideal is that we understand the concept of the well-run home and avail ourselves of all the tools necessary to enable us to manage our homes in the best possible way.

And that is why HRF exists because we are aware of the importance of the home and the effort and work required to manage and run a home and family. And we are aware, through investigation and using more advanced data, the extent of the disciplines and fields of study that converge on the home – the importance of the distribution of space, the relations between its members, shared responsibilities, the education and the example of parents, the work necessary to provide for basic needs, the demand for collaboration among all its members.

The work of this international think tank is never ending. We are actively planning our fifth international conference to be held in 2020. We hope that those involved in exploring issues related to the home will be presenting papers and help further expand the growing community worldwide focused on the well-being of the home. Watch this space for more details next month.

Feel good food

With all the hoo-ha about hormones and antibiotics in our meat, it’s hardly surprising that ‘flexitarianism’ is the new vogue. ‘Flexitarians’ apparently eat a vegetarian diet most of the time but splash out on ethically sourced organic meat occasionally.

Addressing the 4th International Conference ‘The Home, a place of growth, care and wellbeing’ at the Royal Society of Medicine in London in November, Dr Timothy Harlan emphasised the proven health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. It traditionally composes of very little meat, some fish, fermented dairy, wholegrain, pulses and an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. American Professor Michael Greger goes a step further claiming that all meat and dairy are bad for us – as harmful to our health even as smoking! Others advocate a ‘paleo’ diet consisting of food that early civilizations hunted or gathered such as lean meat, eggs, fruit, nuts and seeds.

Whatever our food fads, with grocery deliveries direct to our doorstep and hosts of online recipes boasting hearty meals in half an hour,  it’s never been so quick and easy to prepare nutritious home-cooked dinners. And it doesn’t have to break the budget to eat healthily – a shopping bag full of vegetables can be bought for the price of just one ready meal. Meat and fish may be expensive but if you can stomach the alternatives such as lentils, beans and soya products they’re a fraction of the price and quick to prepare with many dried pulses not requiring any pre-soaking.

The secret is in planning ahead –  deciding menus at least a week in advance means it’s not much trouble to turn out tasty dishes in no time and sit down to a relaxing meal with family or friends.

“Grandparents who care for their grandchildren live longer”, says Renata Kaczmarska of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs

The Home Renaissance Foundation held its 4th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on 16-17 November in London. The event aimed to discuss the vital role of the home in health and wellbeing, both for individuals and for society as a whole.

Participants from more than 15 countries gathered at the prestigious Royal Society of Medicine to discuss a variety of topics which ranged from the benefits of inter-generational interaction in the home to the power of healthcare professionals to promote healthy behaviour in their patients.

Noted speakers included Sir Harry Burns who spoke of the importance of a nurturing family as the basis for a successful life, and Baroness Sheila Hollins who emphasized the need to change paternalistic attitudes towards people with learning disabilities as “it’s fundamental that we all have a right to a family life and this includes children and adults with developmental learning difficulties”.

Professor Elizabeth Robb OBE gave an insightful talk on the importance of healthy family relationships as the foundation for a stable life, as “relationship education is incredibly important to prevent cycles of aggressive and violent behaviour”. Dr Timothy S. Harlan (Dr. Gourmet) from the USA emphasised the benefits of a Mediterranean diet and the advantages of preparing healthy food at home. Renata Kaczmarska of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs addressed the impact of family policies and the need to support parents in the home, including the thought-provoking finding that “grandparents who help care for their grandchildren have a 30% lower risk of mortality and better physical health than those who do not participate in giving care”.

These matters are especially relevant in a world that has seen rapid change and an increasing prevalence of mental health issues. Despite the great variety of topics discussed, a common theme emerged: the importance of a stable, safe home that provides emotional support, empathy and respect. The home is not simply the physical space where we live, but a complex concept that has an incalculable impact on our physical and emotional health and on society as a whole. A home should be safe, nurturing and valued, and governments have a huge responsibility to implement policies that support this.

Home Renaissance Foundation works to raise awareness and recognition of the work of the home and the benefits of stable homes for society.