Happiness and Domestic Life

I hope you have been able to rest and are eagerly and enthusiastically getting back to the routine in your homes. As we have already announced, our latest book ‘Happiness and Domestic Life’ was released at the end of August.

Before I tell you what it is about, allow me on behalf of HRF to thank STI for supporting us in getting this work off the ground, Routledge for their confidence once again, this is our third book with them, and all the academics who have contributed, editors and authors who will be appearing throughout the text.

As editor María Teresa Russo explains in her introduction, this book aims to provide a mainly conceptual framework for the relationship between the quality of domestic life and the home environment (family relationships, technical tools, housing style, household chores) and individual and social happiness, especially in the context of current changes.

Two important factors determining the issue of happiness and well-being have themselves been affected by the recent COVID-19 pandemic: the relationship between an individual’s quality of life and engagement with his or her community, and the role of new technologies in everyday life.

The authors highlight, from different perspectives, that happiness has a clear relational character and it is essential for its promotion that it is the central pillar of the family environment. Three dimensions of psychosocial well-being in the home are analysed: the personal, which consists of a sense of stability, intimacy and sharing; the social, which considers the domestic environment as a place for civic education; and, in times of pandemic, the place of professional and physical activity, which consists of spaces, services and architectural styles.

The themes addressed by experts from different countries and disciplines (sociology, architecture, philosophy, education, economics, ethics) fall into four thematic axes. The first focuses on happiness between the private and public spheres from a philosophical and psychological point of view. The authors of this section (Nogal; Chirinos; Gawkowska) propose a model in which home and care, notions that have vulnerability and human relationality as a common thread, are valued as two indispensable elements for individual and social well-being.

The second section analyses the role of digital media and domestication in fostering domestic well-being from a sociological point of view (Bakardjieva; Wessels; Malagrinò). The analysis focuses on the changes in activities, relationships and roles in the home when digital media become deeply and intimately embedded in the spaces and rhythms of the home.

The third examines the home as a place of work, care and creativity, from an educational and anthropological point of view, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic (Díaz, Martín-Sierra and Herrero; Farrell; De Nardo; Grau-Grau, Selvam and Cavallotti). The three traditional approaches to happiness (momentary happiness, subjective well-being and eudemonic well-being) are analysed in relation to the paid work activity that the COVID pandemic transferred to the home, and the more intense family life during the period of confinement.

Finally, the fourth section highlights factors that contribute to supporting happy and functional homes, from the architectural and sociological perspectives of architecture and sociology (Davies; Thunder and Serrano-Núñez; Al-Thahab). These include the physical layout and design of houses, the contrast between tradition and innovation, and social relations in the neighbourhood as a means of bringing families into the life of the wider society.

These issues lend themselves to further fruitful empirical research: we hope that this book will provide a valuable conceptual basis for development in different directions.

This book is both an important milestone in the study and policy of the home’s vital contribution to wellbeing, and a key read for anyone concerned with the true value of home.

Attachment to place

Forgive me for personalising this post so much, but I find myself in a life situation that truly reflects the focus of our forthcoming book ‘Happiness and Domestic Life‘ already on sale, and one that speaks to the focus of our next Experts Meeting ‘The Home and Displaced People‘ that we will be holding in Washington in September at the Catholic University of America.
As once again, for work-related reasons, I am moving to another country.
For the past five and a half years I have been writing and working from Brussels. A very cosmopolitan city whose population is difficult to calculate as the turnover of people is extremely high and the MEPs of the 27 countries that make up the European Union come and go from Monday to Friday.
And although during these five years I have welcomed and said goodbye to many people, I never imagined the attachment I would feel for this place and for this country which despite being very different from mine, has become my home. It’s hard to leave and say goodbye, it’s hard to turn the page, and it’s hard to pack up and pick up everything I’ve lived through. It is a great physical, mental and emotional effort. These are weeks of instability and uncertainty.
At the age of 18, I left my hometown of Logroño to study and I never went back to live there again. It was my home place, which my parents tried hard to make sure met all the requirements of a home. A place for the growth and development of a person: stable, warm, friendly and happy. It is that HOME with a capital H because it is the one that will always serve as a reference point for me and because it is the one I still call “My home”. To differentiate it from the different homes that I have created and built throughout my life, I sometimes specify “my parents’ home”. But when you come and go so much and you have to create, cherish and then say goodbye to homes so many times, that first home becomes even stronger.
Well, as I said, after different homes in Spain, our stay in the UK and Belgium, we are going back to Spain. The feeling is enormously contradictory, I feel sorrow and joy at the same time. I feel that I am leaving here in Brussels a root that had germinated and was growing strongly and I feel that, once again, I have to sow again. It is a never-ending story, but one that always brings good things, despite the difficulty of the situation.
And my experience is one that is shared by many people who, wanting to improve in our professional lives and grow in our personal lives, have freely decided to take this step and assume these risks that in one way or another bring enormous instability. But it is a free decision. I can’t imagine what it means for all those who leave because of war, hunger, or obligation. Often running, leaving family members behind, separating from their children, parents, grandparents… Uprooting dramas that affect the person so fundamentally.

And now that I have to start again, and reading the book that you will soon be able to hold in your hands, the question is key: what must a home be like to be happy? what relationship exists between the home and the happiness of the person and their development? to what extent does the home form part of a larger community on whose wellbeing it also depends?

I leave you with these questions for reflection. If you have a home, value it and care for it. If you are in a delicate or difficult home situation, I give you hope because the key lies in the simplicity of daily care.

Summer Reflections (I)

Back to the summer of our childhood
How happy we were in summer when we were little. In Spain, school ended at the end of June and we had two and a half months ahead to do everything that winter wouldn’t allow.

Eating ice cream, riding your bike, spending afternoons in the pool, playing cards, recreating characters from our favourite television series, making bridges with sticks in the river, building houses with cardboard and towels, looking for blackberries, catching snails when it rained… In short, feeling totally free.

I spent the summers in a housing complex in the middle of the countryside in northern Spain, away from any coastal or city dangers. We would see the shepherd walking the sheep in the afternoons and we would run with the dogs so that the flock would not get lost. Sometimes we would cough from the clouds of dust raised from the road, but nothing seemed to matter other than helping the shepherd. And when we got back in September with cuts and grazes, they were the trophies that proved our bravery and made us feel very proud.

But despite all this activity, we also needed to relieve the boredom and created the most fun games. We invented new competitions, played hide and seek and adapted sports to the number of children taking part. Of course, we were not all the same age and leadership roles were shared without egos getting in the way.

I was one of the little ones and I always felt cared for by the older ones. When we went out on our bikes along the road to fetch water from the source, our parents always entrusted the care of the little ones to the adolescents, and they assumed that responsibility without question.

We never watched television because after lunch, most of us did homework before going out to play, and in the evenings we loved being outside in the communal garden, telling scary stories or just gazing at the stars. It was never too late to go to bed.

How happy we were all summer. During the last few days of August, we felt the pain of it coming to an end, with afternoons spent running errands and buying uniforms needed for the new school term that was about to begin. We knew that we wouldn’t see each other again until the following summer but could look forward to the month of July arriving and continuing our adventures out in the streets and surrounding countryside once again.

That’s how my summers were in the ’90s. What do you remember about your childhood summers?

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!

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.

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.

The 25% of people give up on their resolutions after just a week!

As we are now half-way through January and the New Year kicks in and good resolutions abound, there’s no better place to look for inspiration than in the home.

Setting ourselves achievable tasks and goals is all about improving the wellbeing of ourselves and others, something that occurs naturally on a day-to-day basis in a well-managed home. It’s within the family that a child gains a concept of their individual worth by helping out with the running of the home and caring for others. A happy child is a well stimulated one who takes an active part and even relishes being given ‘grown up’ tasks from a very young age – just look at how some toddlers love to mimic their parents and siblings and throw tantrums if they are not allowed to join in!

The Harvard Grant study into the parenting of successful children proved a link between high achieving adults and being made to do chores as children, and subsequently seeing them as a part of life. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Duke University, which tracked more than 700 children from nursery age to 25, also showed achievement linked to being taught social skills from a young age, an Illinois study found that children’s overall success hinged on their parents having healthy relationships, while a survey of 6,600 US children born in 2001 discovered their drive came from their parents having high expectations of them.

So the inner confidence of setting goals and achieving them really does go back to the nurturing home. It’s where aims are shared and discussed, and initial setbacks not seen as such a bad thing in a well-supported environment where effort is valued over avoiding failure. By giving ourselves goals, we get a road map of where we are heading and the best way there. But beginning the year with small, achievable targets might be advisable if we don’t want to be counted among the 25% of people who give up on their resolutions after just a week!