The key to a contented life, according to a famous study, is close relationships, and the most formative relationships are those experienced growing up in a happy family. The Harvard Study of Adult Development began 81 years ago with 724 adolescent men from the university (which was an all-male institution then) and interviewed them throughout their lives – all but a few of which have ended by now.

And it’s official: our nurture has far-reaching consequences for the rest of our lives.  The Harvard research suggests the impact can last longer than ever imagined, with people from caring home environments being more likely to have good marriages in their 80s, as they have a greater ability to manage stressful emotions and have more secure relationships.

So, what needs to happen in the home, with all the ups and downs of life, to ensure the future well-being of children? Smile and the world smiles with you, as the popular saying goes, and smiling at babies is a good start. A simple smile can make a baby feel safe and secure and even boost their brain development apparently. And a baby’s smile in return gladdens the heart, releasing good endorphins in a parent’s brain. Parents under constant stress, on the other hand, can transfer that emotional state to their children, possibly with long-term implications, according to sociologists.

Good parenting can also overcome socio-economic barriers. A 2014 study of 243 people born into poverty, by the University of Minnesota, found that children who received “sensitive caregiving” in their first three years not only did better in academic tests in childhood, but had healthier relationships and greater academic attainment in their 30s.

Teaching children to get on with their siblings will also have life-long benefits. Researchers from Pennsylvania, in a 20-year study covering infants into adulthood, proved that socially competent children who could cooperate with their peers without prompting, be helpful to others, understand their feelings, and resolve problems on their own, were far more likely to be successful academically and have a full-time job by the age of 25 than those with limited social skills. The studies confirm what we instinctively all know: that being raised in a warm family environment has huge benefits, whatever the set-backs in life.

Evidence like this explain why we at the Home Renaissance Foundation have chosen for our next international conference the theme, “Happy Homes, Happy Society?” to be held in London 12-13 November 2020. This will be our fifth conference and we are very excited about the focus, which this time is on happiness and the contribution that domestic life makes to the wellbeing of the wider society in a time of social changes.

There is clear public as well as academic and professional relevance in this topic. Happiness indices and surveys at both popular and research levels are a current trend in monitoring and improving individual and societal wellbeing. At HRF we see an equally clear link between this and the attitudes and activities fostered in stable homes, and a further link to how housing policies and practice and new smart technologies contribute to the home’s role in wellbeing.

We have launched a Call for Papers, so we would love to reach all those researchers whose work relates in some way to the home. Many disciplines from architecture to social sciences, and from art history to town planning have vital contributions to make to this discussion. On our website, you will find summaries and papers that have been presented on topics relating to the home at our previous conferences.

Happy Homes, Happy Society? will have two main strands:

1. How is happiness/wellbeing linked to activities of the home? What are the key indicators for happy homes and what is the wider social benefit of happy people?

2. New technologies: Housing and Connecting. How do new trends in architecture and planning and the new digital technologies allow for maximum opportunities for those home activities and connections that lead to greater individual and thereby societal happiness?

We have hundreds of questions that we would love researchers to answer. Here is just a taste of some of the areas we are interested in exploring:

  • Is it possible to establish a series of criteria to consider whether a home is happy or not?
  • Are new technologies and AI developing according to human needs and contributing to people’s happiness?
  • How can we ascertain if the work required in creating a happy home and improving the coexistence of all its members is better performed manually or by machines?
  • Home and its role in children’s happiness. Why is this important?
  • Attitudes in the home that contribute to the happiness of its members
  • Poverty and happiness in the home: what is the relationship?
  • Unstructured families and happiness at the home
  • The relationship between happiness in the current home and that of the parents or previous generations
  • The elderly as “creators” of happiness for children and young people
  • How much do the material conditions of the home contribute to well-being?
  • How SMART technologies contribute to (or make difficult) happiness in the home?
  • Which housing schemes/policies best promote happiness/connectedness?
  • Why do we want to grow old in the home? How is this best achieved?

We hope that this gives you a good snap-shot introduction to our conference Happy Homes, Happy Society? and that all of you reading this post who may have questions about the relationship between Happy Homes and a Happy Society, will send them to us and help us in the promotion of the Call for Papers. We are looking for researchers from all over the world, perhaps that means you, or you know of someone worth contacting? Please keep us and them posted. Much more information in later posts, so please, Watch this Space!

Rosemary Roscoe is the editor of the Home Renaissance Foundation’s BeHome blog.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is a New Zealand journalist with a special interest in family issues. She began her working life as a secondary school teacher but always fancied the life of the scribe. Too late, she...