First printed in the RRR Radiothon 2010 edition of “The Trip”
Triple R came into my life unexpectedly one autumn day. I’d recently arrived from New Zealand and moved into a Carlton shared house. In my spartan room furnished with just a clothes rack, futon and some pilfered milk crates, an aural beacon of joy shot down my Walkman headphones. It was the Breakfasters with Chris Hatzis and Stephen Downes. I didn’t know how my Melbourne life would unfold at that stage but that moment I found 102.7 on the dial I knew I’d found my home.
Happiness is a mutable beast. Sometimes it just takes a shard of sunlight or a smile from a stranger to brighten your day but lasting happiness requires more. Research into positive psychology, an academic offshoot dedicated to learning what makes humans flourish, indicates while having good health and adequate finances are a predictable part of the formula, equally important is connecting with your neighbours, being involved in a community and developing your own inklings about the meaning of life.
Our sense of belonging can radically influence our wellbeing. Just as diet and exercise affects our health, so can our postcode. While putting together a recent show on rural health issues I was astounded that the myths about country life being better for you just didn’t add up. Despite the fresh air rural Australians are more prone to respiratory diseases, what’s more they have a shorter life than city dwellers. Many of us are enchanted by the idea of a simpler life away from the metropolis but a recent study of tree and sea changers found that 90% of participants were so disenchanted with their new home that they wanted to move.
Both the research and the listeners who called in confirmed that one of the best predictors of a successful sea/tree change is about finding community. Moving to a small town with young children or to a place with existing friendships makes the transition more successful. It’s how accepted we feel and gel with our new community that is often the deal breaker. How we mesh with the locals makes a substantial impact on our happiness.
You don’t have to leave town to learn this lesson, connecting with and actively participating in a community is a positive influence on satisfaction levels and ultimately our health. In fact social scientist Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book The How of Happiness, goes as far as stating nearly every aspect of our health seems to be affected by happiness or lack thereof: physical and mental well-being, energy levels, immune function, relationships with others, and even our life-spans.
Tied up with community, and ultimately happiness, is finding a philosophy that helps inform our life. I read a book a dozen years ago on “voluntary simplicity” and have been drawn to it ever since. Simplicity encompasses a move away from consumer culture and encourages sustainability, downsizing and a more equitable sharing of resources. While for some it’s about getting a few acres in the country to explore self-sufficiency, there is a growing collection of “urban simplifiers”, who embrace higher density living as a sustainable option. Simplicity was the trigger for me to choose to buy less stuff, as a trade off for working a shorter week. Spending less time in a structured job gives me the freedom to volunteer and actively participate in my community. Spending more time at home during the day has helped me get to know my neighbours better, support local businesses and shop for good quality fresh food so I cook more frequently. All of these make it easier to live a healthier life.
Perhaps the key word in all this is “choice”. When we make active choices in the way we live, rather than feeling like a victim of circumstance (the boss we hate, the job that bores us, the relationship we fell into), it tips the scales towards happiness. Making changes in our life are often easier if we feel we are not alone in our beliefs and have the support of a like-minded community.
When I first fell for RRR over twenty years ago I didn’t know what an enduring relationship it would become. I love the station’s inclusiveness, which supports different generations, cultures, musical styles and beliefs. It’s a community that fosters a diversity of niches, from science fiction lovers to users of natural medicine. There is something about RRR that is uniquely Melbourne and it’s comforting to know that wherever you live, an aural slice of this city is never far away.
Gill Stannard has been RRR’s resident naturopath for over eighteen years. Her segment “Health Trip” is heard on “Wax Lyrical” at 9.15am, on the first Wednesday of each month.