Alan Heeks is the author of Natural Happiness: use organic gardening skills to cultivate yourself, which explores lessons from his twenty years’ experience of helping people learn from nature, and from creating gardens and an organic farm. On Tuesday, 4th June, he’ll share his learnings at Natural Happiness: the Roots of Wellbeing: a free online event for the Network of Wellbeing. Here, he explains what Natural Happiness is all about. 


We all need stronger ways to stay cheerful and steady in these turbulent times. I’d like to talk about a way that works for me – and might work for you. I’ve found help from a surprising source: organic gardens and farms. As a practising gardener, I’ve found there are powerful parallels between sustainability for the land and for our own human nature.

I discovered this after burning out from my successful career in business. I followed a wild impulse to start a 130-acre organic farm, from scratch, with zero farming experience.

People often compare themselves to a complex mechanism, like a car or computer, but I’ve found that’s too simplistic. We are all living organisms, more like a garden than a machine. I’ve found that cultivated natural ecosystems, such as gardens or organic farms, are the best guides to growing our own happiness: showing us how to steer an organism to a positive outcome using natural growth methods. I call this approach the Gardener’s Way: it’s easy to use, whether you’re a gardener or not. The parallels are simple, and all explained in my new book, Natural Happiness:use organic gardening skills to cultivate yourself.

Through the Gardener’s Way, I’d invite you to see yourself as both the garden and the gardener. You are a natural organism, like the garden: and you’re also the gardener, who brings love and brains to cultivate the earth. It’s clear that you can’t understand a garden from a purely physical point of view. Feelings, intuition, inspiration are all involved. Natural Happiness can guide you to bring these subtler qualities into your work, your home life, and into groups and community projects.

The book is a practical guide to growing your own happiness. There are no instant fixes, but this is a grounded, practical approach which you can easily learn. It will help you to understand how human nature works and how to cultivate it, like a gardener, using natural principles. For example:

  • Deepening your roots and resilience;
  • Finding new sources of natural energy;
  • Composting difficulties, to provide fresh insights and momentum;
  • Strengthening your co-creative skills, so you handle problems more positively;
  • Growing support and resilience in groups such as your local community;
  • Evolving positive approaches to big issues, especially climate change.

Compost your troubles

Here’s a practical example from the book. Imagine you can harness a major source of energy, that’s already within you: it’s free, abundant, and just needs a bit of effort to process. What’s more, you’ll be creating benefits out of problems that drain energy and pollute your inner ecosystem. This is what composting offers you.

In a natural system, there is no waste. Composting in gardens and farms starts with rubbish, animal dung, rotting vegetable matter. All this ‘waste’, useless in these forms, ends up as humus, highly fertile, able to renew the earth’s vitality. Now imagine the waste that’s stuck in your ecosystem: emotions, mental worry, maybe a sense of pointlessness. And feel how great it would be to clear out this waste and turn it into fresh energy and insights. Consider how much of your energy is tied up in negative emotions like anger, or in anxious thoughts and mental stress. Composting can help you turn all this into positive energy and insights, but composting your emotions is a skill which takes patience to learn. In the book, you will find several ways to put composting into practice, and ways to use it with other people.

Composting waste in the garden raises the vitality and resilience of your soil, and avoids the pollution and depletion caused by artificial fertilisers. Physical composting takes several months but the human equivalent can happen in minutes, days or weeks. Plant and animal waste usually looks bad, and smells worse. Yet waste is a valuable resource if we can change its form, and the same is true of human energy waste.

Most of us carry a lot of negative energy, stuck in our ecosystem, which saps our vitality. The first two steps are noticing it, and making moves to compost some of this into a source of positive energy. There are three levels of composting you can use:

  • In the moment: If someone just said something to upset you, slow the situation down: ask them to repeat it, or say ‘Give me a minute to digest that.’
  • Review and reflect: A good way to maintain your resilience is by a regular review of anything that’s bugging you and sapping your energy. For this, the Seven Steps process in the book is worth using. To do this thoroughly, you may need to intensify difficult feelings, so find a space and time where you can complete the composting.
  • Professional help: if you’re facing a major upset in your personal life or your work, it may be wise to get support from a counsellor or therapist. Part of their training is in composting painful emotions, though they may not use this language.

Composting your troubles is just one lesson I’ve learnt from my garden that i use in my personal life. I explore further, in my book, and provide easy steps you can take to apply the practice.

I’ll speak about it, and other practices, at Natural Happiness: the Roots of Wellbeing, online for the Network of Wellbeing at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, 4th June.  It’s free and I’d love to see you there. See here to book your place

Natural Happiness: use organic gardening skills to cultivate yourself is an accessible, down-to-earth guide to cultivating your own wellbeing and resilience. It also has chapters on community building and facing into climate change, also using ecosystem parallels. See more at