Unemployment 'can be passport to better life': Book claims that new work patterns may be positive, writes David Nicholson-Lord

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UNEMPLOYMENT or redundancy can provide an unprecedented opportunity for self-discovery and a passport to an 'infinitely more rewarding life', according to a new book.

'Full and secure employment as we have previously known it may now be a thing of the past,' according to Christine Ingham, author of Life Without Work. 'Becoming and being unemployed can be seen as the end of your personal world, or as a challenge and a wonderful opportunity to reassess one's life and shape it into something infinitely more fulfilling.'

The book, published this week, suggests a range of ways in which people can cope with joblessness, from starting a business, building a new home, acquiring a 'collection' of part-time jobs to learning the art of self-sufficiency.

Just as important, however, is the breathing-space that enforced joblessness gives people to examine themselves and their goals, work out what they mean by concepts such as 'quality of life' and decide whether they can turn their day-dreams into reality.

Ms Ingham also suggests voluntary or community work, or hobbies, as a means of keeping mentally healthy.

She cites as an example the inventor of Scrabble, Alfred Mosher Butts, who dreamt up the game as an unemployed architect during the Depression. 'I'm sure he never regretted the opportunities which lack of work gave him.'

She argues that people rely too much for their self-esteem on the status of a job and that 'self-development' - whether through a self-assertion course or psycho-spiritual disciplines such as Zen Buddhism - is the best tool available for escaping dependence on employers and the state.

'People who are busy holding down jobs are constantly distracted from themselves. Their lives are often so demanding that the only way in which they can make them more tolerable is to spend more and more money on buying things . . . You could look on people in employment with a certain sense of pity.'

Among the suggestions are:

Taking in lodgers, moving to a cheaper area or renting a 'quiet little cottage in Ireland' for a while to reassess your life.

Trying for a 'mix and match' set of part-time jobs instead of hunting for nine-to- five jobs which may not exist. Setting up a community business, a co-op, a skills-share scheme, or a local exchange and trading system, in which people work for each other without cash changing hands.

Life Without Work, A Time for Change, Growth and Personal Transformation; Thorsons; pounds 6.99