On the weekend, me and my sister were talking about a TV program called Kevin's Man Made Home. Kevin McCloud from the Grand Designs program has this new show about building an off the grid shed in the woods in England. There's been a lot of debate about how self indulgent the project is, that it's not authentic and that building regulations would prevent most people building this way etc. etc. but I see the entire program from a different perspective. I'm interested in the happiness factor.
Of course this is not the first time such a social experiment has been done. I have this quote in my book, written by Henry David Thoreau, who did a similar thing. He went to live alone in the woods for two years on Walden Pond, USA, and then wrote this: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."
At the beginning of the program, Kevin explains how work, stress, debt and traffic can make life difficult and miserable. He wants to see if living alone, slowing down, making the things he needs in a rural home will make him happier. I think it will and I'll be watching him as he goes about it to see what he does and how he feels at the end of it.
We can all do this. Not in the flamboyant way he is doing it but we can all slow down and take our time. I think that is one of the keys to happiness, or at least contentment. When I moved from working for pay to the domestic work I do now, I realised that slowing down, as difficult as it is at first, made me concentrate on what I was doing and live that moment. It made me look inward instead of outward. I stopped multi-tasking because I wanted to really experience what I was doing. The other key point is to find joy and happiness in your own life, and that includes the simple, small, ordinary, mundane things that go into day-to-day living, as well as the big things, the celebrations and the beauty that make us sing out loud.
The way modern life has evolved has turned many of us away from our homes, to focus on what is outside. We're told that we can rely on convenience and to buy everything we need, whether we can make it ourselves or not and whether we can afford it or not. To do that you have to work hard for a long time to pay for it. I'm not against hard work, in fact I think it plays a large part in defining who we are. I have always been a hard worker but now my work, if it defines who I am, tells me that my family and home life are paramount and that convenience, for the sake of it, makes no sense at all. We are encouraged to work to pay for cheap products that break, for clothes that last only a year, for new technology that is quickly out of date. There is little encouragement to buy quality products that last, to look after what we have, to repair and mend, to make do with less.
I am happier now than I've ever been. I think part of that is that I know I can look after myself and my family. I am independent and self reliant and that gives me confidence to do whatever I want to do. All the domestic work we have done here has allowed us to built our relationship with this home and the land we live on. When you step back from it all and think about how you're living, it is very satisfying to know that we, anyone of us, can reduce the amount we need to live on, the junk we live with and the time we need to work for a living to pay for all of it.
I don't know what Kevin McCloud will discover in his quest for happiness. I do know it will be lurking there if he slows down, looks inward, makes as much as he can and connects with the work he does in that English woodland. Can it really be that simple?
Addition: The link in the first paragraph is to iView for Australian viewers. When I looked for international links to it, they were all copyrighted, so I couldn't check them out and therefore can't recommend them. Please google the name if you're not in Australia and want to watch it. If you have a weak stomach, you'd best not watch Kevin's Man Made Home because along with the innovation and all the building, there is a lot of human and animal waste.