University of Bristol: New TV series co-designed by Bristol mental health expert aims to find out if living a simpler life means a happier and healthier life

Guided by a Pennsylvania Amish family from Ohio, who stayed with the volunteers on a 40-acre Devon farm teaching them how to grow crops, milk goats and cows, and how to live an almost pre-industrial existence. The reality show provides an insight into the impact of simpler living on life satisfaction, health and wellbeing, away from the trappings of modern society.

The group’s journey was evaluated by Dr Myles-Jay Linton, a mental health researcher at the University of Bristol alongside a team of environmental human health and psychology researchers from the Universities of Bath, Exeter and California. Together, they developed an analytical approach to assess the group using a series of psychological assessments completed by the participants before and during the six-month experiment.

Dr Myles-Jay Linton, Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow from Bristol Medical School and Elizabeth Blackwell Institute at the University of Bristol, said: “The pandemic has made lots of us reflect on our busy 21st century lives, exploring the pros and cons of a stripped back lifestyle will hopefully prompt people to really think about how living a simpler life could lead to greater life satisfaction. With the data collected we were able to unpick how personality characteristics and core values explained the drastically different experiences of community members on the farm.”

Dr Lewis Elliott, Lecturer in Environment and Human Health from the University of Exeter and member of the expert team, added: “The theory goes that contrary to popular belief, having lots of choice in daily life can actually undermine our psychological well-being. This was a unique opportunity to study what would happen to a group of people who opted to have all those choices, and all modern comforts, taken away from them, and instead had to live a simple, rural lifestyle for 5 months. We were responsible for collecting an array of psychological data from the participants across their time on the farm. While some thrived, others really struggled, and a fascinating generational divide emerged between the millennials, and their middle-aged counterparts.”

The series of psychological assessments was overseen by Barry Schwartz, Professor of Social Theory at Swarthmore College and visiting professor at the University of California. Professor Schwartz authored “The Paradox of Choice” outlining how modern western lifestyles might be linked to less happiness and was invited to oversee the Channel 4 show which took place from May to October 2021.

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