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Isn't happiness a bit trivial?

No! Happiness has been seen as the ultimate human endeavour for thousands of years. Our greatest global challenges have, at their roots, the idea that the way to happiness is through increased consumption and the mark of success of what we own. There are trivial, even damaging ways of finding short term, individual happiness, but endless studies and most human experience in all cultures, prove that lasting happiness depends on things like: the quality of relationships, supportive and active communities, opportunities to engage and be valued, the long term quality of our environment. Our happiness depends on each other and when approached like that, it can be the goal which unites people to find the solutions to some of our most entrenched and serious problems. Psychological studies and wellbeing theory show that a change in focus, at an individual level, towards seeking and sharing solutions, learning, giving to others, getting more actively engaged and celebrating what works, can have a transformatory effect on lives. Happy City is taking this understanding and actioning it at a whole community and city level.

Why 'Happy' and why 'City'?

Some people prefer the word wellbeing, others contentment, others still like the idea of flourishing.  There are good reasons for choosing each of these words to describe what we are talking about.  At Happy City, we are happy talking about happiness because we think it means something to everyone – you don’t need to be an academic or a policy maker to be interested; it’s not associated with any one religion or ideology.  From our experience around the world, everyone, regardless of age, gender, race or background, wants to find happiness for themselves and those they love. We think there are ‘short wave’ versions of happiness – the sort of shot of short-term happiness you get with a bar of chocolate, or a night out.  Whilst we are all in favour of a bit of this, Happy City is about encouraging more ‘long wave’ happiness – which is more about the quality of our relationships, the health of the environment, communities where people have a sense of belonging and purpose…This sort of happiness is not selfish or self-indulgent.  Long-term happiness is interdependent – it’s very hard to be happy when those all around you are not.  Happy City is encouraging and nurturing long term, deep rooted and resilient happiness in whole communities.

But what about the ‘City’ part?  Well, we believe that the solutions to most of the problems we face in ordinary communities, are already there in any groupings of communities like a city. Happy City is working to unearth the solutions, the wisdom, the energy and the ideas in every corner of a city sized area. Making sure they are valued, shared, learned from and celebrated across the city, so communities can grow in happiness.  Hence ‘HAPPY CITY’.

How does this change actually happen?

Happiness and wellbeing have been growing as a hot topics at high levels of academia, business and government.  Lots of people are talking about how we should be giving it more attention and measuring it more carefully, but very few of them have practical ways of implementing that thinking in real communities and real lives.  Happy City offers a process and a range of tools to enable the change to begin across Britain.  

People often talk about the Happy City ‘model’.  We know we are developing a lot of learning, but we also know that no ‘model’ can be picked up and plonked in another place and be expected to work in exactly the same way.  So we are developing a wide range of ways that we have tried and tested and co-created with others, that support wellbeing at an individual, community and city scale.  Whether it’s a workshop on wellbeing, that we train up people in organisations and communities to deliver at scale and in context, or whether it’s a huge social media campaign to get people sharing practical ways to grow happiness now and in the future.  Happy City has tried them all and is sharing that learning across the UK.

If you have a project that you think others can learn from let us know and we’ll spread the word about that too.

Is this just a fad and is it ignoring the 'big' issues?

We are taking the best tools and approaches in communications, campaigning, community engagement, leadership and organizational development and using them to inspire and engage people across the city in happiness, rather than in merely acquiring more and more ‘stuff’.  Our viral, bottom-up campaigns use intriguing questions, thoughts, quotes, images and activities that get people curious and start conversations about happiness, what it is, where you find it, how to build more of it, whose responsibility it is and how to find more together.  We use both new and traditional techniques to spread this thinking. We are incubating and testing lots of ideas and activities that embed happiness work and thinking in cities, acting as a conduit between good ideas and funding providers to allow the projects to reach their full potential. We want to connect people across the city with others who want to make changes, spread tips on making things happen from those who have succeeded before and help people find simple ways to get involved. Importantly, we need to measure how we are getting on and our work has shown that it is possible to measure wellbeing in  a detailed and rigorous way whilst staying true to our belief that such tools need to engage and inspire action, not merely count beans.   That is why we have created our Measurement & Policy tools, that are gaining momentum with the support of Bristol City Council, NHS Bristol, Office for National Statistics, New Economics Foundation and University of Bristol, amongst others.

How is it funded and is it sustainable?

Happy City has been luck to attract support and energy from an extraordinary number and diversity of people and organisations, who are excited about what we are doing.  We have received help in the form of volunteer time, pro bono skills, partnerships and individuals and business donations.  We have also received grants from a wide range of far-sighted funders who believe in the same change we are seeking.  Our long term aim is for the training and measurement we provide for the public and private sectors, to support our continued work in communities and with those most in need of wellbeing and resilience.  Our business model of a Charity with a trading social enterprise subsidiary is set up to support this way of working – making us, as an organisation, as resilient as we hope to make our cities.

It sounds a bit religious... or else a bit 'Big Society'?

No!  Not at all.  We are completely independent of any religion, political party or movement, of any business or interest group.  We are ordinary people, who want society to be happier now and in the future.  No hidden agendas, no dubious motivations.  There are aspects of the things we are saying and doing that are reflected in many religious texts, academic studies and political manifestos.  That is because it makes sense, so we are not the first people to say it – we just think we have some useful practical applications for making some of that fundamental human understanding, become a reality.

Will it reflect the real diversity of the people of Britain?

The Happy City team, our partners and associates are reaching out into communities around Britain, seeking people, who have deep roots in their local neighbourhood and all its wonderful diversity.  We actively engage Happy City champions from all areas, backgrounds, nationalities, ages and interests and have growing followings, across all our social media channels.  A fundamental part of our ethos is that we are all interdependent; we need to work together, making the most of our differences to overcome the things that stand in the way of anyone’s happiness.  We are ensuring that all our campaigning and engagement activities are varied enough to reach out to young and old, black and white, rich and poor.  If we are not doing that right, we are asking communities to tell us and join us to help us do it better.

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