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The search for contentment by Ben Fogle

The search for contentment by Ben Fogle

The last couple of years has forced many of us to slow down. It has given us a chance to think about our lives. What we’ve been doing, where we’re heading and what we can do to improve the way we live. In short, we’ve been made to take the time to reassess our values, our hopes and our dreams.

For the last decade, I’ve travelled the world meeting people who have changed their lives by embracing nature and slowing down. As an observer, I’ve always admired their spirit of determination and resilience, often in the face of adversity.

Along the way, I’ve stayed with so many inspiring people. None more so than flintknapper Will Lord, a historian who ‘lives’ in the Stone Age, preserving many practices of the period. I spent a week in his earth house, deep in the Suffolk countryside. His lifestyle was as fascinating as it was thrilling. Like stepping back in time.

And then there was the Owen family at Ravenseat Farm in Yorkshire. ‘The Yorkshire Shepherdess’, Amanda, and her large family live a simpler, slower life that harks back to a bygone era of good, solid family values. I’m always moved by those I get to meet. None of them have made their lives easier, but they have all made them happier.

And isn’t that the key, happiness? I’d argue that the essence of life is happiness. A contentment at the quality of our lives. We’ve been reminded to value our health, family, friendships, community and nature. Sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, and lockdown reminded us of so many things we took for granted.

Many of the challenges I’ve undertaken over the years have been about taking myself out of my comfort zone and giving myself some perspective. I feel incredibly privileged to have seen the way. Not in a religious or even a spiritual sense, but in a practical, organic one. We have all been going too fast. We were losing control but we have the opportunity to learn and adapt.

Nature has always been my escape. Restorative and rehabilitative, it has the power to transform and heal. The Japanese and the Scandinavians have long been practitioners of the art of forest bathing, in which you lie beneath trees, basking in the theatrics of the canopy high above. It’s a pastime that requires patience and time. The longer you immerse yourself in nature’s theatre, the more of the cast you will see. First the birdsong, and slowly your senses will be heightened to the flora and fauna that are normally invisible in our haste and speed.

Slow food. Slow travel. And now, finally, slow living.

Ben Fogle is a broadcaster, adventurer and author, and the presenter of C5’s ‘New Lives in the Wild’. He has climbed Mount Everest, rowed the Atlantic and raced to the South Pole, and is also the United Nations’ ‘Patron of the Wilderness’. @benfogle