The home, the cradle of happiness

Addressing happiness is always a difficult challenge. The experts who took part in our event last Thursday at the Roma Tre University were faced with the complexity of defining the term because it is ambiguous, broad, and often even paradoxical.

Professor Antonio Petagine (Università Roma Tre) said that we all want happiness, we all seek it, and we all long for it, but we do not always obtain it, and on many occasions, this impossibility of finding it is due to the fact that we fall into the error of giving it a hedonistic meaning, seeking our own satisfaction. But this attitude leaves an emptiness that rarely makes us happy.

Given the thousands of suicides and the high consumption of antidepressants, Professor Vinicio Busacchi (Università de Cagliari) suggested turning to philosophical reflection to discover those situations that make our lives unhappy and try to improve them. “Philosophy can help us understand the meaning of life and become a school of life,” said Busacchi, recalling the title of a famous essay by Lou Marinoff entitled “More Plato and less Prozac.”

And then, the concept of relational happiness came up, when Professor Nicola di Stefano (CNR Roma) explained that Aristotle said that, among other things, happiness depends on the number of friends one has and the quality of that friendship. Can our happiness depend on the environment around us? Is the home the first place to find happiness because it is the first place where we relate to others? The home is a test bed, a private place, where we feel protected, it is a nest,” Di Stefano stressed.

Ambassador Roberto Rossi, author of “Aristotele: l’arte di vivere. Fondamenti e pratica dell’etica aristotelica come via alla felicità” (FrancoAngeli, 2018), recalled that happiness is not a moment in life, but a constant state of the soul, a concatenation of actions that help us to find the ultimate goal of life, happiness. Aristotle insisted that happiness is identified with the good life, i.e. the virtuous life. The “recipe” is therefore to try to seek the best possible good in everything we do, unselfishly.

As the editor of the book ‘Happiness and Domestic Life‘, Professor and Philosopher Maria Teresa Russo, explained, the question we have to ask ourselves is: what home for what happiness? Because we can understand the home as a refuge or, conversely, as a place of conflict and happiness as well-being in a material sense. On the other hand, the home is that physical place where we live, think and love: where we guard our own intimacy and define our identity. A complex but unitary system, where happiness is taking care of each other, disinterestedly.


La felicità

I don’t know if it happens to you, but to me, everything sounds better in Italian. I only have to read or hear “felicità” and I immediately feel good. It takes me back to summers with my family, visiting, for example, Cinqueterre, those marvellous villages on the Mediterranean coast, with twisting roads, but which awaken all the senses because they are so beautiful. Or, I see myself enjoying ice cream in the streets of Venice among tourists from all over the world, or walking through the streets of Rome guided by the smell of pizza baking in an oven.
Happiness, on many occasions, is associated with immediacy, with the pleasure of the senses, with the fulfillment of our desires, when in reality, it is something much deeper that has more to do with the state of our soul or the health of our conscience. Happiness is being at peace. And what gives us peace and calm on a daily basis? What could we say, inwardly and on a deeper level, helps us to be happy on a daily basis?
What a question. It has certainly given rise to many volumes of philosophical debate. But if we resort to common sense, that which guides us without opening encyclopaedias from the bookshelves, what would we say makes us happy?
It is clear that this is a blog with a certain personal component, and the reader may not agree with the writer, but without wanting to convince you of anything, I am happy about somethings that may seem very simple, but that, at the same time, we must realise that it exists: the beauty of the little things that surround me.
For example: A sunrise. A blue sky. The smell of damp after a storm. A few sprigs of eucalyptus at the entrance of the house. A hot cup of tea before starting work. A tidy cupboard. A sandwich in good company. A what’s app with a “hello” from my husband at any time of the day. A snack with friends we haven’t seen for a long time. A meal with friends we see every day. Seeing a grandfather holding hands with his grandson in the street. Ironing. Reading a book in the sun. Even hanging a painting.
Little or none of what I have listed has a financial cost. But it all gives me peace. Valuing the nature that surrounds us and observing its beauty helps us realise how fortunate we are to live on a planet of astonishing grandeur. Parenthesis: I don’t know where you read me from but this weekend I visited a beautiful village 39 km from the city where I live and I had never been there before. I’m sure you too have many places to discover in your immediate surroundings that can bring “La felicità.”
Maybe you were surprised by the tidy wardrobe or the ironing. It gives me a lot of peace to open the wardrobe and see the order. I even find that aesthetically beautiful. And it shows attention to detail, and care, to look after things and keep them well and, above all, to find them both in their place and well ironed the day you look for them.
In short, all this and much more, in the context of the launch of HRF’s most recent book Happiness and Domestic Life, will be discussed in the land of “La felicità“, in Rome on Thursday 1 December at the Roma Tre University. Led by professor and philosopher Maria Teresa Russo, we will have a round table discussion in Italian on Felicità. We will be joined by Antonio Petagine, Università Roma Tre, Vinicio Busacchi, Università di Cagliari and Nicola Di Stefano, CNR Roma and moderated by Professor Cecilia Costa, Roma Tre Department of Training Science.
Please get in touch with me for more details  – we look forward to seeing you!

The Way Home to Happiness

No one is happy all the time. Even the most optimistic and glass-half-full person does not leap from bed every morning singing a merry tune. Life is not a breakfast cereal advert – we do not need this article to tell us that.

Given this though, there is disturbing evidence for many people –and many of them young – that feeling unhappy all or most of the time is a daily reality. Examining the studies that produce this data, reasons for this are not straightforward to untangle. For example, survey questions eliciting this response are often weighted in such a way that not being able to tick the “happy” box auto-ticks the “unhappy” box, when in fact a more nuanced experience is the case.

More detailed studies have focused on the impact of social media usage, loneliness, financial/housing insecurity, addiction and mental health factors on perceived happiness. Again exploring anything as subjective as a person’s sense of well-being with a set of uniform questions is hard to fully interpret. Where there are two people with superficially identical challenges – and both of whom respond honestly – one will report as being “happy most of the time” and another as “unhappy most of the time.” Having said all of this, there is a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction, discontent and unhappiness in our national discourse, as well as in wide-spread personal testimonies. (NB The focus in what follows is on this self-reported generalized unhappiness, not on those who are suffering from clinical depression and anxiety disorders.)

The reasons for this generalized unhappiness are also hard to untangle. Do we expect more from life than previous generations? Is it too easy now to compare ourselves with others and feel we are missing out? Is the focus on personal fulfilment above collective responsibility causing more of us to feel discontented? Do we live in genuinely more unhappy times? No answers to this here, but another question: Do we lose our way to happiness when we lose our way home? By this I mean have we lost our recourse to the people and places which offer us the potential for happiness, content and well-being for the times when we are not feeling those things ourselves?

The people and places are the homes, families and communities which nurtured us from birth and continue to offer care and respite throughout our lives – or can do. Two points about this to consider. The first is about literal recourse to home, that is being able to go back to a physical place and nurturing network of relationships for renewal and support.

Increasingly this is not an option as the demands and opportunities of work and study as well as other drivers mean that people move away from their birth communities. The loss of continuity of place can be an aspect of social isolation but there are many good reasons why actually “going home” is not viable or the real issue.

The second point, then, is more significant: the way in which early experiences of home build resilience and capacity for happiness that can be drawn upon throughout our lives. It is this sense of finding our way home that can offer us the resources to deal with the difficulties of life, including feelings of disassociation, disappointment and unhappiness.

Growing up in a stable and reliable home environment allows children to watch and learn how difficulties can be resolved and how those who are troubled can be supported. Not seeing life as a cereal advert, but being able to cope better with difficult days in the future based on good experiences of coping in the past.

As you will know from recent posts, HRF supported by STI has just published Happiness and Domestic Life, which lends academic weight to this argument.  If we have a place to go back to–physically or emotionally – where our well-being has been valued, we also have a way to find that place in ourselves. A Way Home to Happiness.

Is relational happiness possible?

This time a fortnight ago, we were enjoying an excellent session on happy societies and happy homes with philosopher and professor, Maria Teresa Russo. As the editor of our latest book ‘Happiness and Domestic Life‘ she reviewed the different disciplines that meet in this book, which is a group work of 14 academics from universities around the world.

Professor Russo noted that the American Constitution contemplates the right to happiness, because it is considered that society should ensure well-being, but the risk is to define happiness as an emotional state dependent on what others do for me. Instead, she suggested paying attention to a new trend related to human flourishing, and the home provides that appropriate environment that ensures flourishing; the home is the centre of our intimacy and the centre of relationships.

Is it possible to talk about relational happiness? Europe has a severe problem of individualism when on the contrary we live connected and in constant desire to meet people and relate to each other. The problem is that people are afraid of getting hurt in these relationships, and people shy away from long-lasting relationships.

But studies show that people are happy when they enjoy relational, reciprocal and “free goods”, that is the things that benefit us all, which are fundamentally given in the home. A home that is undergoing a process of digital domestication, that is, we are trying to incorporate artificial intelligence into our homes without putting our privacy at risk. “Domesticating” does not just mean bringing something into the home, but above all “making it harmless”, ensuring that all technological devices are at our service without harming the most basic principles of our home.

This is why Maria Teresa Russo sees interventionism through proposed laws to control technology in the home as a problem because they infringe on the individual and educational freedom of parents and do not solve the problem. Those households in which complicated situations arise with technology often have a problem of family authority, and technology is not the cause but the vehicle. “Delegating to governments those problems that society does not know how to solve does not lead to anything good,” said the philosopher Russo.

But to return to happiness, the home, from very different disciplines, can become the centre of happiness for the individual, since intimacy is reflected in the architecture, in family ties, in the presence of women as leaders, in the care that is put into domestic work, in hospitality, in connection with the neighbourhood and the city to which our home belongs.

Russo recalled that two million people in the UK live alone, and many elderly people live alone with no other company than the television, when measures related to generational interconnection could be developed that could benefit children, grandparents and adults.

See the session here in Spanish

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.