University of Sussex Special Collections and Mass Observation Archive Blog

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Happy encounters in everyday life



“The garden is the smallest parcel of the world and then it is the totality of the world” – Foucault

On Wednesday 6th November, Mark Bhatti, a sociologist from the University of Brighton, gave an interesting public talk about happiness and the garden.

It took place in the downstairs theatre area of the Latest Music Bar, Brighton. Mark analysed material from the Mass Observation Archive to discover where people found happiness and said that he felt privileged to have worked with MOA material.

From the Mass Observation Archive material, Mark identified a number of things that made people happy:

  • Food and drink (e.g. a cup of tea)
  • Guilty pleasures (e.g. smoking)
  • Inactivity (e.g. having a bath, being in bed, watching the world go by, and even wallowing in misery)

He also mentioned the enjoyment some people (including himself) get from hanging out the washing, which drew the focus onto the garden.

Mark contrasted getting happiness from participating in activities in the garden with merely being in the garden and using it as a therapeutic landscape. Some people liked to pull weeds to vent their anger, while others enjoyed watching the birds and the trees.

People also wrote about their frustrations when gardening, such as conflict between 2 people who share a garden. Mark went on to say that he didn’t want to paint a picture “that everything is rosy in the garden”. Happiness is transient. Some people work too hard at being happy which can lead to unhappiness because they lose sight of what it is that makes them happy.

After the talk, Mark showed us some photos Mass Observation writers had sent in of their gardens, then there was a Q&A session. The attendees seemed fascinated by Mark’s talk and made some interesting comments. One person mentioned how the photos resonated with her and that they were reminiscent of her childhood. A Mass Observation writer told us about how he uses writing as a form of therapy.

Mark suggested that people build strong connections with their gardens and that the garden can connect us to our childhood. Gardens are a way into other parts of people’s lives…

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