How can we find comfort and happiness in life in this era of shortages? Since the end of World War II, most of the western world has lived in abundance. Luckily, most of us do not know what it is like to go hungry, to go to bed cold, or go without work.
In the short term, with oil prices and inflation set to continue to rise in the next few months, more households find themselves now choosing between heating, electricity and food. Almost a third of Irish people are in energy poverty, spending more than 10pc of their net income on energy bills (excluding transport costs), according to a report by the ESRI last week. That could rise to as high as 42pc by winter.
The CSO reported an 8pc increase in the cost-of-living index, the worst in 38 years. As pressure mounts on the Government to address the increased cost of living before the Budget in October, the Taoiseach has already ruled such a move out.
We expect our circumstances to improve as we progress in life — that our children will have more opportunities and wealth than us. Not this.
In modern times, an increased demand for consumption has been driven by global capitalism, advertising and marketing that convinces us something is missing from our life — that a particular product will make us happy.
Convenience has become more of a concern — the pre-made lasagne you can throw in the oven so you can spend a bit more time with the kids before bed.
Increased urbanisation has disconnected many from the land, from the rhythms of food production. The challenges facing us are financial and environmental. Strawberries can be purchased from Tesco at any time of year, not just for six weeks in the summer.
The pandemic has taught us how resilient we are, how resourceful we can be in the face of challenges. It’s clear that with so many factors driving up the cost of living, we may need to ask ourselves how we can better our lot.
During World War II, the British Ministry of Agriculture set up the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign to encourage the public to grow their own food. Private gardens and public parks were transformed into allotments. Even the lawns by the Tower of London were converted into vegetable patches.
It was sold to men and women through a campaign aimed at keeping the nation fed, but it also ensured morale was kept high.
The ‘Make Do and Mend’ campaign encouraged the darning of socks, reshaping of dresses and making the most of each garment.
Could such campaigns be replicated here over the next few years?
Our reliance on corporations to deliver the basics, like food or clothes, has robbed us of the satisfaction that comes from growing or making something ourselves.
There is immense joy in finishing a baby’s hat or harvesting a bucket of potatoes. There’s nothing like the feeling of tipping down to the garden and picking some fresh kale to fill out a dinner plate.
It is the middle of summer, and the hedgerows and grasslands are full of nutritious ingredients.
The recent interest in foraging has been led by curious gourmands, but knowing which mushrooms to pick or when to harvest elderflower for cordial (now) would benefit us all.
These are skills that have been lost in our stressed-out modern lives. Who has time to darn socks after an eight-hour work day and back-to-back meetings, or knows how to prepare soil for planting?
Threading yarn between needles and feeling the wool’s softness in one hand as a garment grows is a mindful experience. Seeing a rosemary plant grow stronger and taller is rewarding.
Incorporating these practices into our life would offer little parcels of happiness, but also empower us to feel that we have some agency in our own lives.
For those living in hotel rooms or going without dinner tonight, such notions won’t address the immediate need for housing and food.
Seeds, needles and thread cost money, and require space and time to use. Needlework and economising at home have traditionally fallen to women, who already carry a considerable burden of household tasks, often while balancing a career. Both sexes have a role to play.
Because if we are to truly live a sustainable existence in the future, we must learn to be more self-sufficient and happier with fewer material goods. Instead of viewing that as a loss, it’s an opportunity to find a new meaning in our lives.
For those of us with children or grandchildren, the actions we take now will affect the world that they live in and how they cope with the challenges.