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.

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.

A big Thank you!

Two weeks ago we published the Communication Report: Home in the Time of Coronavirus.

“Congratulations on this report! What good voices and what good ideas!” from Argentina

We are very happy to see the great reception it has had. We have received hundreds of messages thanking us for this compilation of articles and testimonials. But the thanks are mutual. We are also very grateful to all the participants for not hesitating for a minute to say “Yes” to our proposal, and to all of you for receiving our news with such affection.

Many of the contributors to the Report have opened their hearts and closely shared what this quarantine means for them. This has allowed us to know more about what this virus is demanding of us as a society and as individuals. Without a doubt, the home has recovered its place as a vital centre and we must learn from the mistakes made before the virus.

“HRF is doing a fantastic job, furthermore, I enjoy the posts a lot. We are all in this together” from Thailand

The Report is a document that requires leisurely reading. We know that many of you have left the Report on file to read over the weekend. We remind you that there are six different chapters and that in them you can see how the different sectors have been facing the pandemic.

Those who have turned their home into a workplace, those who have made their offices into their homes as key workers. Those who have had enormous difficulties in surviving this situation because they live with people with disabilities who cannot stop receiving their therapies. But also those who are homeless, have lost their homes, and those whose homes are not safe places to live.

“Many congratulations on your report it represents an enormous effort on your part with a wonderful outcome which is entirely appropriate for these extraordinary times” from the UK

Covid19 has caused so many tragic deaths, but it has helped us to see the value of home. Our home now and always should be that place where one feels safe, cared for and loved. At HRF we are not going to stop working every day so that every human being has the chance to be born and grow in a stable and supportive home.

“I want to congratulate you for this very thoughtful initiative to produce a documentary about the Home and the context of the current pandemic” from Portugal

The Value of Home Work

During this period of lockdown the internet has been buzzing with the activities that people have found helpful, therapeutic, or at least a welcome distraction at this time. There is no surprise that reading has proved popular,  along with learning new subjects and skills and watching some of the great live-streamed concerts and shows. More surprising, perhaps, has been the number of “quiz nights” taking place. This is possibly because it gives a context and purpose to our virtual social gatherings – or a substitute for all those missing competitive sport.

Most popular of all, though, has been work in the home. This has varied from ambitious DIY projects to long-postponed smaller endeavours, such as finally tidying the cupboard under the stairs.  In the UK, the news that B&Q was to reopen brought queues of householders, keen to buy equipment and materials to complete the home improvements they had embarked upon.

There are many reasons for this. One of the most obvious ones is that we have all been spending so much time at home that we have noticed that the hall really needs painting or that window fixing. It’s the same recognition that firms that sell sofas have when they bombard TV with adverts at Christmas, reckoning that we’ve all been sitting on our old sofas long enough to be persuaded to buy a new one.

In certain gift shops, you can often find a small, circular plate for sale with this message printed on them: “I am a ROUND TUIT – now you can do all those jobs you said you’d do when you got me!” In our homes, during quarantine or lockdown, there are few excuses for not “getting around to it” and hence the burgeoning maintenance activity in our homes.

There is something else too, something less tangible but more important. Janice Turner, a journalist writing in The Times, touched on this last week in her article “Is there a gadget that makes your family clean?”. Aside from some humour about task sharing, Turner notices the satisfaction that comes from really cleaning something properly. Be it the fridge, the windows or the kitchen floor, the drudgery aspect of cleaning that we felt when we had so much else to do, is replaced by a sense of calm and even pleasure.

It is easy to mock this realization and to see it as “what we are reduced to” in lockdown. Whereas, in fact, it is what is raised to our notice – not our dirty windows, but the physical and mental benefits of sorting them out. Anthropologists and psychologists will note the in-built need of humans to create safe spaces for ourselves and our dependents. Maintaining the safety and protective environment of our homes, as we have been forced to as a response to the coronavirus, has made explicit this implicit need.

The pleasure we might get from a clean fridge and mended windows is not just about a passing sense of achievement, but about caring for ourselves  (and many of us do find ourselves on our own at this time) and those we are sharing our homes with. Sharing that care, passing skills on to the next generation, transforms and renews not only these tasks but us in the process.

Amidst all the anxiety and the background “noise” of these strange days let us hope that the connection between our homes and our well-being is recognised – and that this stays with us when our doors open again.

Intergenerational Care in the time of Covid-19

One of the emerging themes of the current crisis is the awareness of a previous undervaluing of carers. As one carer has put it, “We have gone from ‘low-skilled’ workers to ‘key’ workers in less than a month – but our jobs remain the same, caring for the most vulnerable in our society.”

CARE is the simple word that will be on the new badges to be worn by workers in this sector, in recognition of what they do, and for the rest of us to recognise them as they go about their work. This simple word “care” is also a very precious one, but it has been open to misuse, or at least misapprehension in recent years.

Children removed from their birth parents in the UK are frequently described as “looked-after children”, or having been “taken into care”. Reports, and criminal trials, have shown that in many cases being looked after or shown care is far from what these youngsters have actually experienced. Using the word “care” hardly guarantees that this is what is being offered. This is no criticism of individual children and youth service social workers, but a fault-line in the whole of society’s responsibility to its most vulnerable members.

Care Homes are associated most often with the elderly and sufferers from dementia, but in fact a wide-range of needs and age of residents makes up this sector. Stories and coverage in the press in recent days have given a voice to those managing, under extremely difficult conditions, to keep these residents safe and indeed cared for. To this observer at least, the quiet, professional dignity and genuine compassion shown by care workers has been humbling and revealing.

For these are the people who do the jobs that many of us either cannot or will not do. The phrase “personal care” covers all the basic needs of keeping someone clean, fed and comfortable, but it is also about becoming a trusted presence in that person’s life while these intimate tasks are undertaken. To see this care as “low-skilled” is to misunderstand not just the value of care, but the meaning of being human.

On our screens have been carers, usually younger, often immigrant, almost always women, talking not about their pay, or their grievances, but about their worries for the people they are looking after. This intergenerational care is especially poignant at the moment, as the statistics for this disease tell of a stark age differential. The older and more infirm you are the more likely Covid-19 infection is to be fatal.

This has led to 1.5 million primarily older people to have been instructed to self-isolate for at least three months. The pattern of living in the UK means that for many of these 1.5 million it will be at least three months without seeing children or grandchildren. Those families who live with older relatives may have even more troubling concerns – how to protect grandparents while some household members have to go to out to work.

Bryan Sanderson CBE, Chairman of Home Renaissance Foundation offers a positive personal insight into this time as he acknowledges that social-distancing from grandchildren is particularly hard if, as his family are, we are used to spending time together. The new technology is a life-line, and keeping in contact via facetime, skype or zoom, makes this deeply unsettling time more bearable. Those needing care now, have all been caregivers in the past. Remembering our interconnectedness and our interdependence stops care becoming someone else’s responsibility and returns to its place at the heart of our lives and our homes.

We cannot yet see what the aftermath of this crisis will hold, but whatever else changes and is never the same again after Covid-19, let us hope that the undervaluing of care and carers are at the top of the list.

Groundhog Day

By Antonio Argandoña

Groundhog Day is a classic film from the 90s in which Phil (Bill Murray), an arrogant and frustrated meteorologist who works in television, is sent to a small Pennsylvanian town on February 2 for the annual Groundhog event, which involves a groundhog supposedly foreseeing the exact date of the arrival of spring. But when the reluctant newsman awakes the next morning it is February 2 again without any change in circumstances, as some may feel is happening with Covid-19 forcing us to stay locked up all day at home.

The film portrays the despair of Phil, who hopes that circumstances will bring him the happiness he desires. But the circumstances do not change and since he knows what will happen each day, he takes advantage of others; he tries to dazzle Rita, his new producer (Andy McDowell), and commits suicide multiple times, only to wake up again every morning, again on groundhog day. Finally, he changes his attitude and begins to worry about others: he saves a child who falls from a tree, he studies medicine to save the life of a homeless person … the people of the town appreciate him, he confesses his love for Rita, who accepts him … and finally he wakes up on February 3.

The film contains some messages for us, confined to our homes. Let us develop our virtues every day. Let us promote knowledge through curiosity. Do not trust in good luck, but in our effort. And, like Phil with Rita, we will discover that virtue is what makes us really kind … and we will break the groundhog day spell. We cannot control the circumstances, but we can control ourselves.