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Why we do it

The struggle to live a good life

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).

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 problem - we lack the right tools

The problem is that people face a ‘crisis of capability’ in this world – and our lives and society are suffering as a result.

The learning we receive throughout life from most institutions in the UK is largely focused on teaching us the skills and values that will make us productive actors in the economic system. Yet with this bias, it fails to provide us with a host of important skills we need in order to live self-driven, civilised and fulfilled lives. These include gaining a sense of our lives within the ‘big picture’, how to think for ourselves within a pressurised and complex world, how to live with values and how to carve out our own identities and paths through life.

These skills have become even more important over the last 50 years, in a world in which our minds need to deal with far greater levels of information, complexity and influence than ever before.

Policy makers have not yet woken up to the full implications of these skills not being taught adequately, but the damage is immense – for both individuals and society generally. As individuals, it could be argued that many of us spend our lives ‘asleep’ in the modern world, being washed along by the tide of influences on us (cultural, political, economic, commercial and many others), without being able to take stock of the world we find ourselves in or take real control to live the lives we really want. 

This lack of skills has implications for society too, as we seem to be failing to deal with many major social and global problems, including materialism, inequality, social isolation and climate change. This comes as little surprise when the latest neurological research shows that human beings aren’t as rational as we’ve traditionally thought, and our behaviour, worldviews and values are continually shaped by our external environment. Good, compassionate, civilised societies therefore aren’t guaranteed, and people need the right education, support and values in wider society to enable them to become compassionate, good people who in turn build better societies.

The solution - provide the tools and a society that nurtures them

Our aim at Life Squared is to build these important skills into our society, both directly to the public and via the education system. We also campaign for a society with the values, culture and institutions that encourage and nurture these skills and in which people can truly thrive.

We do this because we want to see people living lives that are independent, well-informed, compassionate, happy, wise and fulfilled - no matter what their age or background. And we want to see the good society that emerges from this.

To find out more, read this outline of our work or get in touch at info@lifesquared.org.uk.

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