Look back five years and ask yourself, is this much change easy to handle? And will it slow down in future? We’re all living with too much uncertainty, and natural happiness is the best response I’ve found.
So what’s the big idea here? It’s the analogies between human nature, and cultivated nature around us – such as gardens and organic farms. We sometimes imagine people are like a complex piece of equipment; a car or a computer, but these are predictable mechanisms. People are organisms; we function on natural principles, not mechanical ones.
If you ask me how I picture natural happiness, I’d say like a tree. Roots are essential to any tree, and human happiness also grows upwards from a strong root system. When individuals and groups are resilient, that gives them roots that provide stability and nourishment. This earthy analogy reminds us that we need to nourish our roots with self-care and support from others.
With a tree, you have to keep a balance between the roots and fruits, the resources and outputs. This is vital for people too: when I’m leading a group on this theme, I try to get people outdoors to learn with a real tree, and try the tree test for themselves. Most people realise they’re out of balance, and need to nourish their roots or prune back their outputs.
I never set out to be an expert in natural happiness, it evolved by chance. After a Harvard MBA and successful business career, at age 42 I had the idea of creating an organic farm as a place to help teenagers find their roots. I soon found that managing an organic farm is like driving a car without a steering wheel: it’s a great example of the massive uncertainty we all live with nowadays.
I’ve coined the term natural happiness to sum up this approach, and I’m exploring it on my website, and through newsletters, workshops, videos, and blogs. It’s also the focus of my fourth book, which I hope will be published in 2022. Over the years, I’ve led many workshops using this approach, for anyone from lost teens to mega-stressed doctors, and seen how well it works.
Most of us feel a connection with nature and gardening, even if we’re not active gardeners. This approach shows how simple processes like composting and crop rotation can help us humans to upcycle our waste emotions and renew our energy levels naturally.
Natural happiness also shows how a gardener’s skills can help us in everyday life and work. In a garden, it’s clear that you can’t make things happen: you have to observe, be patient, and work co-creatively with the realities of the situation.
The future outlook looks like we’ll face even more uncertainty, with even less control: I hope that natural happiness will help you to nourish your roots and grow through these stormy times.
I am co-leading a residential workshop on natural happiness on 9th–11th July 2020 at Hazel Hill Wood near Salisbury details.
Alan Heeks is a conservationist, author and social entrepreneur who has over 20 years’ experience helping people to grow their well-being through contact with nature.
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