Where home grown meets happiness: 6 things psychology knows about simple living

Do you grow your own food (or want to?) Do you reuse, recycle and repurpose? Interested in DIY? Sustainability? Happy to hang at a farmer's market?

I love all of this stuff and since moving from the bright lights of Sydney to the green belt of regional Victoria I've been able to indulge in so much more of it.  Not that Sydney doesn't have its share of Farmers Markets. They're ubiquitous across the land.  Ballarat, however, with paddocks on its periphery and yards large enough for fruit trees, vegie patches and a work shed or two is do-it-grow-it-and-build-it-yourself heaven.

This Sunday just passed (1st March) was #foodisfree day.  A Ballarat-based initiative this was its second month and the word is spreading, with largely home grown produce popped in boxes and baskets and put outside homes and public spaces with a sign bearing the #foodisfree hashtag and enticing passers by to take their fill. 

I filled a box with home grown bok choy, rocket, eggs, rhubarb, pears and a honey dew melon (didn't grow that one) and put it outside our local Post Office.  When I returned in the evening most of the goodies were gone and some lovely person had contributed some of their own juicy, flavoursome home grown grapes. Yum!

Social media played its part in spreading the message and a lot of community fun was had by all, with plenty of home grown deliciousness swapped and shared.

The local enthusiasm for eschewing new for old and returning to a lifestyle more akin to that of our grandparents (minus the omnipresent tech of course) doesn't stop at home grown food.  Scavenging at salvage yards, community gardens, eco building, craft markets, bush walking, family cycling on local rail trails and bush camping are all thriving in the local area.  It pushes all the right buttons for me as a gardener, crafter and furniture rejuvenator from way back and whilst cooking is not really my thing I have stewed a lot of fruit of late and got creative with tomatoes and pickled cucumber.

This back-to-basics approach to everyday living is not unique to Victoria's Central Highlands.  The 'simple living' movement is sweeping the nation, indeed the world, and while I'm loving it it also got me wondering why?  What is it that so appeals to so many of us about 'creating our own'? What is it that is taking us to a back-to-basics lifestyle, in some areas of life at least.

Here are six things psychologists know about happiness that might give us some clues as to the answer.

1. Research from 2014 has shown some clear links between materialism and lower levels of well being. It seems that, on the whole,  the more we value  money and things, the less likely we are to feel that we are leading a full and happy life.  Buying plastic stuff from the big malls just isn't doing it for us any more.

2. There is a heap of evidence that indicates that contact with nature and the great outdoors is beneficial to our mental and physical health and well being.  This is the case for both adults and kids and just makes so much intuitive sense to me.  I know my kids and I all feel better for a bit of outdoor time.  Cue the camping, walking, biking, gardening and even perusing of the farmer's market at the local oval.

3. When we take a step back from the hamster wheel of work-to-consume, we have more time for family, friends, our community and the other important relationships in our lives, and relationships and social connectedness are vital to our mental well being.  We need the people around us and we need time and space to invest in those relationships

4. Happiness comes from simple, every day things.  This is one of the basic tenets of positive psychology. Kindness, gratitude, hope, and connectedness all make a big difference to how happy we feel.  Getting out there, growing food, sharing produce and community projects tick all of those boxes.

5. If you're a crafter, builder, redecorator, painter or creative type of any sort you will probably be familiar with the experience of losing hours in what seems like moments as you become absorbed in your activity of choice. This is known as being in 'flow'; a psychological concept closely associated with feeling energised, alert and fulfilled.  Interestingly it's not something you'll get from passive activities such as watching TV or kicking back in the tub.  You need challenge and mental engagement but the happiness that flows from it (excusing the pun) is worth every moment of effort you put it.

6. Have you heard of knitting meditation? It's a thing.  So is mindful crafting and I know of at least one person who has made mosaics as part of his therapy for coping with mental illness.  The deliberate, repetitive nature of many arts and crafts has been likened to mindful meditation and there is no doubt (and a fair bit of scientific evidence now) that hobbies provide mental diversion, opportunities for relaxation and skills such as patience and perseverance.  Skills that you just can't get from scrolling through Facebook and Instagram for a couple of hours.   

These are just some of the benefits associated with taking a step back from the fast, urban, concrete, glass and tech-based world to something a little slower, a little greener and a little more home made.  There are many more and that's before we even touch on the philosophical beliefs behind the simple living movement. So if you're keen to up your happiness a little, get outside, grow a plant, turn your hand to knitting, resume a long forgotten hobby, join a community group or just check out the local Farmers Market.  As for me, I'm off to make passata.  Got to do something with all those home grown tomatoes.

What 'back to basics' exists in your world?

  Today is Tuesday so I'm linking up with #IBOT