Happy City, Hopeful City
Here’s a preview of my chapter in the forthcoming World Book of Hope…
Hope is a very practical concept. For anyone who struggles with being optimistic, then hope is your way to go if you have a goal you want to achieve. Hope is a mixture of willpower and waypower – find ways to build your willpower and identify pathways to the goal (waypower). The Happy City Initiative, which started in Bristol, does exactly that. Campaigning to build the willpower for happiness to be taken seriously and delivering training, projects and tools to reach the goal of growing happier communities.
Happy City is based on a simple idea that being happier needn’t cost the earth. The world needs a new story: less ‘stuff for stuff’s sake’ and more ‘life for life’s sake’. It’s about changing priorities to put people before profit, to redefine what it means to prosper. From the start the plan has been to grow happiness by helping people to live more, share more and enjoy life, for less. The Initiative is working at all levels from the grassroots of small community groups to the high table of government policy. The inter-connected projects include the Happy City Index, a new tool to measure, understand and influence the true prosperity of a city and its people. Alongside the Index an interactive online Happiness Bank –signposts to what there is in the city to grow your well-being from choirs to gardening groups and yoga to laughter. There’s the annual Happy List, the antidote to the Rich List, which celebrates the people who make a difference to the well-being of their city. Upbeat Streets is a social media project that invites people to share pictures of the places in their neighbourhood that makes them happy, creating a digital gallery of happiness.
Since the goal is to grow a sustainable happiness, training is an important part of what the Happy City Initiative does. As an applied positive psychologist specialising in the practice of positive psychology, I feel strongly that the knowledge needs to go beyond the university campus to serve communities in very practical ways. Positive psychology has shown us that it is possible to learn to be happier and the science has given us evidence-based tools to train our minds and emotions. I have collaborated with the Happy City Initiative to create the Happiness Habits, a programme that puts the science into action with simple actions that anyone can do to grow their well-being. It has been delivered in communities, schools and in organisations to support workplace well-being. The evidence shows that the Habits are beneficial for the broad range of people who’ve completed the programme, which includes professionals, refugee parents and pensioners. The benefits go beyond the individual to spread well-being across the community. It’s a fact – happiness is contagious. It spreads from person to person to up to three degrees of separation. So when one person practises the habits, it raises their well-being and has a positive impact on the people around them and beyond them.
These Happiness Habits also build resilience to depression. I used to suffer from recurrent episodes of depression and found that none of the usual treatment options worked for me; anti-depressants had side-effects that I found hard to tolerate and talking about my unhappiness in therapy left me drowning in unhappiness. I felt hopeless until I began to investigate positive psychology and develop the habits that grow your mental health. Not only did I become happier but I found my meaning and purpose (habit no4!) in communicating the habits to others. This I do through my work as a coach and facilitator. What I do on a one-to-one basis, the Happy City Initiative is doing on a city-wide basis and this gives me hope for the future.
Here are the 8 Happiness Habits – try them for yourself!
2. Practise gratitude to notice and appreciate the things that are good in life.
3. Use your strengths. Your strengths are the positive self. Use them to reach goals and resolve issues.
4. Live life with purpose and find the meaning in the everyday.
5. Nurture your relationships. Good relationships are what characterise the happiest people on the planet.
6. Learn optimism – the thinking tools that protect you from depression
7. Build your resilience by doing all of the above!
8. Set positive goals so that you move forward and gain a sense of progress and achievement.
Miriam Akhtar www.positivepsychologytraining.co.uk is a positive psychologist who specialises in practical interventions. She is the author of Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression (Watkins, 2012) and a director of the Happy City Initiative www.happycity.org.uk