Workshops Report

Happy Homes: Happy Society? The contribution of domestic life in a time of social changes

Our Fifth International Academic Conference asked this question: Is there a connection between what happens in the home and what happens in wider society? The focus of the question was in terms of “happiness” or well-being, and the contribution to it of the life and work of the home. It could hardly have been imagined when HRF planned this conference, before the pandemic, just how relevant and timely this question would become as our homes became the dominant context for all our lives. Our call for papers revealed a wide range of responses from academics across different continents, disciplines and career stages with their readings of “happiness” and how it is fostered in the home and shared in the community.

The conference planned for November 2020 had to be adapted in line with Covid-19 restrictions and so the opportunity for paper givers to present their responses in person was not possible. Instead the Conference Academic Director, Professor Maria Teresa Russo, working with the Scientific Committee, selected papers for online presentation under four broad themes:

  1. Happy Dwellings? Perspectives on the World. What is the importance of architecture, housing conditions and choices and what part do they play in well-being in the home and beyond?
  2. Values and Domestic Life. What are the essential values of the home and how do they foster well-being and encourage its wider experience?
  3. Rediscovering Relationships in the Context of Social Changes. What role do relationships play in well-being at home and in our wider lives?
  4. Technology and Well-Being in the Home. What do the new technologies bring to homes? What are the benefits to well-being and what are the threats?

Each workshop was overseen by a relevant senior academic with an interest and expertise in the field. HRF would like to record here our thanks to Professor Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem, Professor Maria Pia Chirinos, Professor Agnieszka Nogal and Dr Stephen Davies for giving their time and care to moderating these workshops.

Paper givers each gave a ten-minute presentation followed by an opportunity for questions. Inevitably far more discussion was prompted than could be accommodated reasonably during the limited time available for each session. We feel sure that the conversation will however continue both between participants and in their own places of study, and of course in the preparation of the publication which will incorporate selected papers.

What follows is a brief summary of each workshop:

Workshop 1: Happy Dwellings? Perspectives on the World. Moderated by Professor Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem, Chair in Architecture and the Founding Director of the Centre for Architecture, Urbanism and Global Heritage (CAUGH), and co-lead of Global Heritage Research at Nottingham Trent University, UK.

Dr Ali Aumran Lattif Al-Thahab, Department of Architecture, Babylon University, Iraq presented his paper on Architecture in Between: Social Change and Happiness Cross-temporal analysis of urban living in twentieth-century Iraq. The paper looks at the changes in housing and living choices from traditional Arabic forms to contemporary urban living, asking “whether …contemporary house forms… or the traditional structured socio-spatial systems based on inherited traditions and practices are most relevant and contribute to the concept of happiness or the creation of happy homes and thus a happy community.” Dr. Al-Thahab concludes that building happy communities does indeed depend upon the happiness of the smallest components – homes and families – but that more research is needed to discern which housing choices make for greatest happiness.

Multi-cultural perception towards happy homes: the case of Iran and Malaysia. Dr Farah Sharin presented this paper on behalf of the research team: Ehsan Asnaashari, Emmanuel Aboagye-Nimo, Andrew Knight and Farah Sharin, Nottingham Trent University. Happiness or well-being is now an increasingly legitimate focus for research. This paper presents an exploratory study of the concept of happy homes in Iran and Malaysia. Two sets of semi-structured interviews were conducted with people in Iran and Malaysia asking questions regarding underpinning factors promoting or hindering core emotions leading to happiness. “Using a qualitative approach, it was acknowledged that participants of both areas shared common views e.g. the pride associated with being homeowners and living in communities that promoted a sense of belonging. However, security and living far away from the wider family system led to some cognitive pain i.e. more psychological in nature. As economies grow, the value of houses and luxury fixtures become a target for many households and this puts extra pressure on people.” Dr Sharin concludes that this is preliminary work in identifying key trends and changes of view.

Mary P. Corcoran, Professor of Sociology, National University of Ireland Maynooth, presented her paper on Narrative and visual articulations of home: dispatches from suburban fringe and small-town Ireland. The prompt for this paper was the collaboration with artist Mary Burke, where photographs of homes in two economically and geographically distinct areas were linked with interviews conducted by the author. Amongst issues of security and sense of place and belonging – defended or extended home boundaries – was the important extension that pets play in domestic life. In conclusion “this paper reveals householders to be carriers of practices that involve three different but interconnected elements: working on material objects and infrastructures, developing competence, skills and know-how about the management of home and garden and expressing meaning through their capacity to identify what is socially and symbolically significant to them in their everyday lives.”

Hafsa Rifki, PhD student, Keio University, Japan presented her paper on Belonging for international students in Japan in a situation of Disaster, from shelter to home. This was one of several papers submitted to the conference that looked at well-being and home in the context of the restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. In this case to document the reaction of international students in Japan, where despite efforts to help students access the curriculum, language and culture “inside the university, international students still suffer from a lack of preparation when facing major life’s unexpected events like accidents and disasters, deepening their state of vulnerability.” The paper looked at the specific circumstances pertaining to Japan but drew out the broader questions of how to reproduce the support networks of the student body when in restricted non-homely and often isolated accommodation. Mental health is negatively affected impacting students’ academic and personal lives and changing their perception of Japan as “a second home.”  The paper concludes by recommending further study to see how international students’ well-being can be better supported.

Farah Sharin and Zerafinas Abuhassan, Nottingham Trent University. Early comparative studies of the impact of urbanisation of heritage site communities and Indigenous People, “Orang Asli” on their home. This paper was also presented by Dr. Sharin. The studies aimed to draw out the impact and benefits of urbanization on two unique communities where changed living conditions and relocation affected understandings of home and experience of culture. Dr. Sharin explored the meaning of home and the factors affecting their home, concluding that the “effect of modernisation on their home is remarkably different to both communities. Urbanisation raises living standard, better access to improved facilities and value of their home. However, the other community suffered due to loss of their homes and faced benefits and social disparity. Importantly, modernisation can either enhance the culture preservation, but also can disconnect them from their culture and their community.”


Workshop 2: Values and Domestic Life. Moderated by Professor Maria Pia Chirinos, Director for Institutional Relations and Professor at the Department of Humanities at the University of Piura, Peru

Influence of external institutional communication on the happiness level of service recipients: A case study in the family hospitality sector. This paper was co-presented by its authors: Mª Victoria Bono López, CEICID/Universidad de Navarra, Spain and Ana Mª Blanco Marigorta, Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain. The purpose of the study was to check if the goal of the organization, defined as making its work “a happy family home,” is perceived as such by the recipients of the services. Findings emphasised the importance of the care represented by the activities carried out and the significance of women’s contribution to a positive home environment. “It has become clear that, in the family sphere, what really influences people’s happiness is not so much the services provided, but what is transmitted through the services.”

A mother is a living home: A stand for the family home was presented by Dr Rafael Hurtado, Universidad Panamericana, Mexico. Dr Hurtado explained his stand-point on current thinking on roles within the home and that the purpose of his paper is to “explore these social trends, aiming to identify the anti-homemaking mother discourse and confront it with a more Christian understanding of the concepts of marriage, family, and most of all the family home.”

Home activities and happiness: assessments based on meeting points between Human Resource Management (HRM) retention practices and stages of happiness, Óscar Díaz Chica, Celia Martín-Sierra and Miriam Herrero Martín, European University Miguel de Cervantes, Valladolid, Spain. The paper was co-presented by  Dr Óscar Díaz Chica and Dr Celia Martín-Sierra. The paper explores the shared needs and contributors to well-being of businesses and households recognizing that they are both built on social interrelationships. One aim of the study was to identify contributions to well-being in the business sphere and to see if this can transfer to the home sphere. Results at this stage in the study “show that job design (enrichment) is the most relevant practice in the business field in terms of momentary happiness, well-being, psychological well-being and flow….At home, however, there is no single dimension where all happiness levels score higher. Momentary happiness, subjective well-being and flow seem to be more influenced by the home’s place dimension. But in the case of psychological well-being, associated with positive mental functioning, social dimension is the one with most impact.” The authors are continuing this work with desire that home and work environments should both be places of happiness.


Workshop 3: Rediscovering Relationships in the Context of Social Changes. Moderated by Professor Agnieszka Nogal, Head of the Political Philosophy Faculty at the University of Warsaw, Poland.

Professor Aneta Gawkowska, adjunct professor at the Institute of Applied Social Sciences, University of Warsaw presented her paper: Home after/during/around the Pandemic of Individualism. The paper defines individualism as the perspective of being responsible only for oneself and the aim is to explore questions concerning the closest relationships raised – but not caused – by the coronavirus pandemic. Home is the antithesis of individualism and is dependent on solidarity. The current crisis highlights our need for the hearth of stability, relationships and unconditional acceptance – the feeling of “being at home” with others. Developing this understanding of the nature of acceptance “we all need humility, responsibility and solidarity as the fundamental glue of social ties” – within the home and beyond.

Marie Houghton, Research Assistant, Department of Psychological Sciences at Birkbeck College, University of London presented her paper: “It’s not something that people do because they want to”: Home, satisfaction and well-being among house sharers over the age of 30. The study of single people living in house sharers conducted by the author revealed that good relationships within house-sharing made a significant contribution to well-being and a sense of “being at home.” This positive was not out-weighed by the perceived desirability of homeownership. The autonomy and security this represents stood alongside the sense that not to have achieved homeownership by the mid-thirties was is in some measure a sign of failure. Four themes emerged: Lack of control impacts on feeling at home in a house share; opportunities for caring and communal life with are valued when relationships are positive and a can be motive for remaining in shared accommodation; desire for the stability, security and autonomy of independent living grows over time; those who can afford to live alone may prefer to continue to share because of positive experiences, but many do not. This study is of interest to stand alongside evidence that living alone leads to lower levels of well-being and increased loneliness.

Maria Chiara De Nardo PhD student in the Department of Education Science at Roma Tre University presented her paper: The Home a Creative Laboratory during Covid-19.  The paper considers the crucial nature of people’s childhood home environments, the effect of lockdown on the activities of the home, and the value of the domestic context for those who live there. Feeling oneself to be at home is strongly connected to well-being. Home is the place where creativity can be fostered and this was seen during lockdown. The author links this to a rediscovery of resilience, also fostered and supported by the home, and creativity being a response to and transcendence of pain. “When home dwellers are generated, nourished and protected by the domestic environment they become more fruitful and generative” and hence contribute more to society.

Positive parenting in Covid-19 times: Understanding the Antecedents was presented by Professor Marc Grau, Faculty of Education, Universitat Internacional de Catalunya on behalf of the authorial team Marc Grau, Rita Cavallotti and Rejina M Selvam. The paper, part of a wider and longer study, identified the pre-existing context for positive parenting: family support, “belongingness”, prayer and religious life, and trust. These link to the four dimensions of positive parenting: bonding; formative; protective; reflexive. Covid-19 was not great equalizer as much depended on these family dynamics – social, emotional and financial –  before the pandemic struck. Positive parenting is linked to higher levels of well-being and to greater family resilience. Initial study of the different dimensions and related competencies show correlations between positive parenting and positive experiences during lockdown.


Workshop 4: Technology and Well-Being in the Home. Moderated by Dr Stephen Davies, Head of Education at the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), London, UK

Dr. Kathleen Farrell, Lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology presented her paper on: Does Working from Home Lead to Increased Happiness? Another paper concerned with the effects of the pandemic on well-being, this time in the context of the move from workplace to home for workers. The non-monetary aspects of employment are also key drivers for people’s well-being and so should be considered when addressing the benefits of home working. These key drivers include status within an organisation, social relations, daily structure and (shared) goals. The question is whether happy people are also productive workers. Though there is evidence of increased stress and isolation in remote workers the flexibility of working from home is widely seen as positive. References to the work-life balance and the inner work life draw out some of these drawbacks and benefits. “It is imperative for the well-being and happiness of employees that they take time out to recharge and disconnect but there can be a delay in doing so for fear of consequences which is one of the challenges facing us.”

 Teresita Abay Krueger is a senior business development professional and on the executive board of the Murray Hill Institute in South Carolina presented her paper: On Making Artificial Intelligence (AI) Work for the Smart Home. AI should is best seen as augmenting our intelligence. The necessity is to be proactive in designing and deciding what we need rather than being fearful about it. The third wave of AI has major – and with discernment, welcome – implications for the home. By using three illustrative vignettes the author explained the positive collaborative approach required to make the most of this opportunity.

Dr Ilaria Malagino, Bio-Medico University in Rome presented her paper on: Smart Homes and Domestic Wellbeing: What has been lost? The sense of self develops as a “feeling at home” in our bodies and in nurturing environments. Homemaking may be seen as reshaping the environments that support human life. Technological innovations are counted among these efforts, but although the perception is that they should make our lives and homes more comfortable, it is important to understand the nature of “comfort” in terms of truly “feeling at home.” It may be that we are disorientated and made less secure by some of these innovations.  The paper argues that we need “to apply the identified characteristics of domesticity in order to understand what has been lost in the contemporary world and to design an ethic of homemaking that does not exclude but integrates and develops the technology potential.”

Rose Marroncelli, PhD researcher and associate lecturer. Nottingham Trent University presented her paper on: Working from Home: Clothing choice and happiness. Diaries were kept by people working from home during the pandemic. The study looked at how clothing choices had changed from the office to the home working context, alongside issues of emotional attachment and motivation. There were connections between clothing choices and mood and productivity and questions about how clothes help define the boundaries between working and leisure time.


We are grateful to all those participating in these workshops for such strong and fascinating approaches to the question of the relationship between home and happiness/well-being. Selected papers will be incorporated into a publication which will give a formal shape and detailed content in response to this question. For now we can say with confidence that what happens in the home is of the most vital importance for the happiness of every individual and family, and the wider worlds in which they find themselves as employees, citizens and the next generation of homemakers.