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Nurture and adapt: Natural Happiness for stormy times

This blog is part of my quest for positive approaches to the turbulent future I foresee for all of us. As you’ll see, I explore several role models, people already living with high uncertainty and low control.

Farm wisdom: delivered to your plate

When I moved from managing businesses to co-founding an organic farm in 1990, I was shellshocked. How do organic farmers stay sane when they have almost no control? To me, it was like driving a tractor without a steering wheel. So what can we learn from organic farming about positive climate change responses?

In 2019, I paid a PhD graduate in agroecology to research this very question. In the UK, farmers can stay productive if they change cultivation methods and some of their crops. You can see a summary of this research, Growing through climate change, here. What can we humans learn for our own situation? Here are a few highlights:

  • To handle more torrential rain and long droughts, farmers need to maintain cover crops and avoid bare soil which could get washed away. They also need better drainage, and rainwater harvesting to supply water in droughts. For people, this means nourish and protect your resources, and have backup stocks of essentials (e.g. emotional support, physical supplies).
  • As the UK climate warms, some crops become unviable, but new ones can replace them. For people, this means reviewing your work and leisure choices, and seeing what will be most fruitful if you’re living amid a lot more turbulence.

You may also like my blog on Regenerative Agriculture.

Alan with Ali, one of our Bedouin guides

Nomadic wisdom: happiness without control

Some of the most inspiring times of my life were the 10 retreat groups I organised in the Tunisian Sahara, travelling by foot and camel with semi-nomadic Bedouin guides. You can see my blogs about these trips here.

These were men born and bred in the desert, as nomads, who in the 1980s had to move to a town because climate change had dried up the shallow wells and springs. They still bred and herded camels in the desert, and they loved my groups because they were back in the life they loved.

You might think that losing the nomad life, living quite poorly in a town, would leave them despairing or bitter, but it hasn’t. They are some of the most happy, resilient people I’ve met. Around a campfire under a million stars, we’d ask why. They said, “You may be rich in things, but we are rich in our families.” Beside their deep, tribal sense of community, I could see that they had roots in their love for the desert, and in their faith, in Islam. A friend who works in Palestine says this is all true there too.

Can doctors heal their stress?

Here’s another extreme role model. If you think you face high demands, with limited resources and little control, imagine being a hospital doctor or GP. I’ve learned a lot by working with these groups in the Nature Resilience Immersion programmes I co-created. Here are some of my insights from doctors:

  • You have to focus on doing the essentials adequately, not everything optimally.
  • Even small amounts of witnessing and support from colleagues can help hugely.
  • ‘Reset’ pauses of a few minutes, e.g. stepping outside for some fresh air, can make a big difference in reducing burnout, and preventing empathy and judgment from deteriorating.

Systemic solutions, which provide more nourishment, and help adaptation, are hard for doctors to find, but well worth most of us looking for. Whilst you may think all these role models are a bit extreme for your situation, remember that most of us in the West have had it pretty easy for decades, but our context is rapidly getting more uncertain.