Co-Housing and Happiness

Cohousing in Denmark

By Lucia Bettinger


| Everyone needs a hobby, activity, or an outlet that allows one to be in the moment. Allowing one to be in the moment can come from many different activities or hobbies, and as a person becomes more involved in a hobby, they begin searching for things that will enhance their affinity. For illustration, one example from the book Enough is Enough by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neil paints a picture of a father with a tool collection. Dietz describes his garage, full of tools in disarray. The smell of wood mingles with a hint of grease, and amidst the chaos his father could locate the necessary tool for any job within seconds. At first glance impressive, the array of tools suddenly become forlorn as Dietz realizes some of the tools had only been used once. His father’s hobby had been overcome by consumerism, as his father would find any reason to justify buying an “oscillating, pump-action, hot-glue demagnetizer” or some other cool tool.

Now, imagine another situation in the exact same garage. Instead of one owner however, the garage is owned by thirty-four households who get to share the wealth of tools. One household remarks, “Without it, I’d be trying to do every single project with a hammer and a screwdriver!” A workshop is an excellent example of a place of release, where someone can lose themselves in the satisfaction of building something beautiful with one’s hands, or feeling accomplished and useful in solving a problem. These are the feelings that Dietz’s father was searching for in his own workshop, but does not realize that he can find these feelings not only multiplied in a community workshop, but also enriched through social bond.

In a shared shop, he would have had other people to work with and people to bounce ideas off, engage in friendly conversation, and have a community with which to share his passions. In looking over research about happiness, time and time again the findings don’t align with current consumerist lifestyles. In the movie Happy, which documents how happiness is experienced throughout the world, one key aspect of happiness was found in “flow”, or loosing oneself in something. The issue that “flow” takes with our materialistic society is that as people develop activities or hobbies that provide them with “flow,” they also start to accumulate things, like Dietz’s father. To combat this, the authors provided an example of a shared toolshed, which overall reduces environmental impact of the consumption of “stuff,” but still provides the necessary outlet that Dietz’s father was searching for.

The idea of sharing is increasingly popular, as it could be a viable step towards moving away from a consumer culture. Sharing allows us to taper off from the incessant need of things, and also brings people closer as they find a sense of community. Taking it a step further and inspired by this idea of sharing are communities called co-housing, as defined as “a type of intentional, collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their neighborhoods. Cohousing provides the privacy we are accustomed to within the community we seek.” In addition to “flow”, the movie Happy also visits a co-housing community in Denmark, interviewing a single mother of two kids who joined a co-housing community. What started as alleviating financial difficulties led them to an extended family and a sense of belonging, promoting a deep sense of happiness. Co-housing creates community, builds sustainable living, and enriches life by sharing it. Not only is cohousing more ecologically sustainable than most suburban housing in the United States today, but the clustered housing saves valuable land for community facilities, recreation, and conservation. Smaller homes save construction materials and energy for heating and cooling, and sharing items means less consumption of non-renewable resources.

Sharing things is an easy step towards veering away from a consumer culture, as it is does not give up consumerism entirely yet, but it’s a good stepping stone as people share things and ultimately gain more benefit than having these items alone. To understand the full depth of the experience of co-housing, below is an excerpt from the movie Happy:





1 Comment

  1. Johnathan

    It’s interesting that co-housing began as a response to financial difficulties. The boom-bust cycle of our economy, I think, tends to discourage innovations aimed at long-term adjustments to economic contraction. Not only are we sure that the next recovery is right around the corner, things like co-housing would involve a reduction in the consumer spending that is depended on for economic recovery from recessions. Longer-term adjustments (again, like co-housing) to economic contraction could be a way to mitigate the boom-bust cycle.

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