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Happy Cities

How happy does your city make you?

Mike and Liz Zeidler founded the Happy City project, which believes our cities hold the key to improved wellbeing.

Think of the word prosperity and you’d be forgiven if your mind turns immediately to money. However Mike and Liz Zeidler have spent much of their lives thinking about what the word really means, and getting people talking about what matters most in order to improve lives.

Husband and wife team Mike and Liz co-founded the charity and community interest company Happy City (happycity.org.uk) in Bristol seven years ago. It was set up to equip individuals, schools, communities, the public sector and businesses in the city with ‘happiness skills’ to improve lives and encourage environments to truly prosper.

The couple, who between them have a diverse background in sustainability, international development work, cultural projects and, in Mike’s case, six years on the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, felt a calling to do something to ‘lift spirits’.

“We’re not saying we’re able to make everyone happy, or that everyone can be happy all the time,” Liz says. “After all, if we never had any sadness in our lives, we wouldn’t understand the concept of happiness. But we just want to help Bristol to be a city where success is measured in ways other than purely financially.”

Mike adds: “Certainly ‘happiness’ is a difficult word, because it’s clearly subjective. But we believe that actually, as humans, what we’re all constantly searching for is happiness. But with the single exception of the tiny nation of Bhutan, countries all over the world base happiness levels purely on wealth – and as we know, money alone doesn’t necessarily make you happy.”

Instead of seeing cities as alienating or unfriendly, Happy City identifies them as being key to improved wellbeing for people and planet.

The Happy City project works with existing community groups in Bristol to discuss how happiness levels can be lifted without relying entirely on money. They also produce an annual Happy List to honour individuals and groups who have selflessly gone out of their way to create the conditions for happiness to flourish.

“The Happy List measures what really matters, and it encourages people to do more happy things, or say thank you to others,” says Mike. “People look at it and feel pleased and proud to live where they live.

“We need to redefine what it means to prosper because GDP growth is too narrow a definition. There are objections that happiness is fluffy or subjective, but it is a powerful motivator. Happiness is the golden key that invites everyone in to discuss everything from justice to education to climate change, because everyone can answer ‘would this make you happy?’ ”

With growing interest among politicians and councils in understanding and increasing the population’s happiness, Mike and Liz have seen interest in Happy City surge. They have helped other cities including Nottingham, Brighton and Bath produce their own Happy Lists. They have also received interest from places in France, Australia, the United States and 14 other countries.

Their dream is that within five years the Happy City initiative will take on a life of its own, with Bristol leading the way. To make that dream a reality Mike and Liz are busy training individuals, schools, communities, the public sector and businesses in the principles and practice of developing wellbeing.

We might be some way off using “happy” as the primary adjective for Britain’s cities, but there is no doubt that they all have the potential to be “happy-making”.

For full details of the Happy City Initiative visit www.happycity.org.uk

Growing wellbeing with Happy City

Mike Zeidler explains how to teach happiness skills

Our designs are memorable, practical, thought-provoking and fun, with as much ‘learning by doing’ as possible. We’ve woven together the best learning from a wide range of specialists to reflect all that wellbeing involves. The result is a pair of programmes which work for individuals, community initiatives or organisations of any size.

The ‘entry level’ programmes, based on the 5 Ways of Wellbeing, are designed to strengthen the foundations for resilient lives. There’s a two hour introductory workshop, adaptable for different audience needs, and a ‘Wellbeing Champion’ programme to train people how to run the introductory workshop themselves. The champions training takes 2 days, including ‘learning about learning’ as well as the content itself and ‘alumni’ get to join a national network of continuous peer-to-peer learning and support.

The higher level programme is intended to be transformative – giving deeper insights into developmental thinking and practices which lead toward flourishing lives. Three 2.5 hour ‘Pulse’ workshops explore ‘Being’, ‘Doing’ and ‘Connecting’ skills. This training really comes into its own when combined with better measures of prosperity, like our own Happy City Index. Finally, for those already on the journey, Happy City tailors support, advising how best to grow wellbeing for people and planet in an affordable way.


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