The Animal Rights Conference 2018 in Los Angeles was an inspiring event welcoming animal protection groups and individual activists all over the world to both share and learn tools and techniques to create a vegan world. One of those activists was Chucho Merchan, a highly talented musician who was the artistic director for eight years with the Eurythmics, worked with a huge number of artists including, The Pretenders, The Who and is friends with Paul McCartney. He then became a vegan and has set up a small sanctuary in Columbia and is devoting his music and life to creating a kinder vegan world for animals. His latest album is called Vystopia! Listen to his story - it's inspiring! For more details about Chucho Merchan visit: https://www.facebook.com/chuchomerchan
In 2018 I attended the 2018 Animal Rights Conference in Los Angeles. Over 1300 people attended and experienced a vast array of speakers, workshops, stalls, and live music. The event was well catered for, with vegans enjoying the luxury of not having to check every meal for ingredients. The premiere of the Australian documentary, Dominion, was screened to over six hundred people and, although challenging, resulted in people strategising about how they could share this film with the world. In short, it was like living in a little vegan bubble for four days. As we neared the end, there was a sense of sadness as people faced re-entering a world which is not-yet vegan, with its everyday triggers about animal use. What is it about these large, vegan, communal events that we find so rewarding, and yet are accompanied by a sense of sadness and depression as they draw to a close? As we re-enter the non-vegan world, our hearts sink as sometimes even our families don’t understand, and resist the vegan message. These events remind us of the world we want to create; one where there is no animal exploitation and we can live healthy and happy lives with a low footprint. We meet others who share our values, and we’re inspired by the achievements of a wide range of initiatives. We feel part of a growing community of people who, even if we don’t speak with personally, remind us that we belong and together are creating a kinder world. But this sense of belonging and mutual understanding is not only reserved for vegans. Religious, sports, or interest groups can feel a similar sense of community and shared identity over time. What are the qualities of these social encounters that make us feel so good? If we can find out what the ingredients are, perhaps we can create them outside of festivals and conferences?
Lessons from the Happiness StudiesThe longest-standing research into adult development has gathered data over seventy-five years, and is known as the Happiness Studies (2008). It selected 724 young men from two groups; the first, Harvard University students and the second, boys from one of the most disadvantaged areas of Boston. Every two years since 1938, through in-depth interviews, medical examinations, and observation of their social networks, their lives were tracked over the decades. The enduring finding, regardless of social background, wealth, or life circumstance, is that “good relationships keep us healthier and happier”. The results indicate that loneliness is not only crippling for the sufferer, but directly impacts physical health and brain function. Happiness is directly related to the quality of our social networks, and being around people we feel understand and care for us is essential for wellbeing. Good relationships depend on the quality of our interpersonal communication and a self-awareness of how we impact others. This requires sophisticated skills which may be hard to draw upon when we are highly distressed. For example, our knowledge about animal cruelty can make certain conversations very challenging. The frustration isn’t limited to conversations with non-vegans. When we join the Animal Rights Movement we feel that we belong and have a shared purpose. So, it is demoralising when we come across in-fighting since it’s not only our sense of belonging and happiness at stake, but something that binds us all together – the welfare of animals.
Steps Towards Being a Happy Activist
1. The Importance of Self-CareSelf-care is a term well known in animal advocacy, not only for those in front-line animal protection, but because daily reminders of systematised animal cruelty is confronting for us all. Seeing daily reminders of live sheep trade, the Lakesland chicken rescue, the culling of kangaroos, or watching documentaries like Dominion or Earthlings has a cumulative negative impact on our wellbeing. Without the tools to process our grief and despair, we can easily become angry and negative, believing the world to be a very dark place. Many advocates under these circumstances withdraw from the world, further adding to their sense of desperation and alienation. We then withdraw from the very things that contribute to our happiness and wellbeing – being part of a community of people we value and feel valued by. There are some things I believe we must do to regularly resource ourselves (Vystopia, Mann 2018)
- Practice good nutrition.
- Exercise regularly.
- Relax and have fun.
- Develop a positive mindset.
- Learn to meditate.
- Minimise stress.
- Gather support.