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Why we do it
In many ways we’re very lucky to be living as westerners in the modern world. We’ve got more material wealth than ever before, better education, better healthcare and more opportunities in life.
But things are still not quite right. Evidence (including Layard, 2005) suggests that, although we’ve generally become richer in the last half century, our increased material wealth has not made us any happier, and many people are searching for more meaning in their lives. People need help to do this, but it is not available in mainstream society, except in religions, self-help and new age ideas, which many people may feel are unsuitable for them.
We also live in a world that is more complex than ever before and in which we are faced with a wide range of influences and pressures on our identities, including consumerism, the pressure to seek material success and the need to be thin. For example, each of us is subject to around 1,600 commercial messages every day.
These influences and pressures can seriously harm people’s quality of life and restrict their potential for flourishing lives. There are currently very few organisations that help people to understand this situation, deal with these influences or build self-determined, happy and confident lives.
Modern lifestyles and societies also present a range of challenges to our mental health – from the pressure we’re under to succeed from an early stage in our lives through to the rushed lifestyles we lead. In 2007, there were 34 million antidepressant prescription items dispensed in England alone - nearly four times more than in 1991. 1 in 4 people suffer from mental health problems every year.
Each of us also faces a number of serious ethical choices about how we should live our lives in a world with environmental and social problems. Again, people need some new skills, information and ideas to help them make these choices effectively, but very few currently exist in modern society, as campaigning groups and organisations seeking ‘ethical living’ tend to deal with issues in a rather shallow way focussed on guilt or demands for action that doesn’t educate them, allow them to make their own decisions or produce particularly effective long term behaviour change. This view is supported by leading experts on behaviour change such as WWF (‘Weathercocks and Signposts’ report, 2007).
On top of all this, we are living through the worst financial crisis since the great depression of the 1930’s, and this is causing many people (and the media) to question the direction in which society is heading and the values and priorities we hold. People need help to do this, as well as to re-evaluate what they want from their own lives in the light of changed financial or work circumstances, or the threat of these changes. Again, very little such help is available in mainstream society at present.
In conclusion, we live in a world that is vastly different from the one that existed 50 years ago, and this world places a whole new set of pressures and challenges in front of us as individuals.
The institutions and systems around us in society that support and educate us (from schools to local advice centres) are not yet adequately geared up to help us respond to these challenges, and don’t give us the full range of life skills, guidance and ideas we need to flourish in the modern world.
This represents a major gap in provision, affecting both people’s ability to flourish and to make an effective contribution to society, whether it is as an active member of a local community or an individual seeking to make their lifestyle more sustainable.
One of the main aims of Life Squared is to start to fill this important gap, and provide people with some of the guidance and ideas they need to live happier, wiser and more meaningful lives.