What Does Your Rat Park Look Like?

What do we want to fill our lives with in order to find peace, love, and fulfillment?

In the past few weeks, I listened to two different podcasts (This is Vancolour and Ologies) that talked about Rat Parks.

What's a Rat Park, you say?


Here's the story: in the past, our knowledge of addiction was based around rat studies where they would have a rat, alone in a cage, that was hooked up to a drug tube, and could access drugs whenever they wanted by pressing a lever. These rats would wind up becoming terribly addicted, starving or dehydrating themselves to keep getting the drug.

Based on that, it was assumed that addiction was a pretty significant failing of self-control, and if you just didn't take that first hit, or had enough discipline later, you wouldn't be addicted.

Then came Dr. Bruce Alexander. (He is interviewed in the This is Vancolour episode!)

He thought, hmmmmm, maybe if the rats weren't all alone in cages, hooked up to drug tubes, the outcome would be different.

He made Rat Park. It was a little land full of things that rats love: toys, tubes, and other rats to play with. There was also plenty of food and drugs available.

What he discovered is that the rats in Rat Park would occasionally partake in the drugs, but not become addicted. He even found he could take addicted rats, put them into Rat Park, and they would recover!

The moral of this story is that, for these rats, having a "full life" was an antidote to addiction, and that addiction is more about filling a hole in our hearts than a failing of morality or self-control.

As I pondered the awesomeness of this experiment and the beauty of Rat Park, I couldn't help but wonder: what if people designed their lives to be their own, personal Rat Park?

In a sense, this is what we are all trying to do, right? Have a good, fulfilling life. But the Rat Park reframe reminds me that I am in charge of my life and can design it how I like.

So then, if you were going to design your life to be a Rat Park, what would it look like?

What is the most ideal version of your life that is so complete, so fulfilling, so full of life that you wouldn't need anything else to fill a hole in your heart?

The first picture that comes to mind for mine is something I have been talking about for years. I call it a commune, but I think the real term for it is an ecovillage. Let me paint a picture:

Some friends and I purchase a large plot of land somewhere that is magically close to the city, but maybe not in the city, and affordable. (Somehow this exists.) On this land, we each build our own, smallish houses. There are gardens (that are tended by the people who are good at gardening). There is a goat, and probably other animals. There is a "common building" that has a large room for us to have big ol' dinners or parties with everyone.

We share things that are reasonable to share and have our own space for privacy and downtime. The children who live there are free to roam. Everyone still has whatever jobs or lives they want outside the commune/ecovillage.

This is the setting for my Rat Park life: community. In order to figure out the rest of it, my friend challenged me to make a vision board. I have never done that, but I am going to try it!

What about you? Does anything spring right to mind? What does your Rat Park life require?

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