“Happy City exists to demonstrate 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’. A story that redefines what it means to prosper”.
What is/was your project about?
Happy City exists to demonstrate 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’. A story that redefines what it means to prosper. One that gets to the root causes of the patterns of behaviour which are most damaging to society and the environment.
To achieve our aim, we’re developing better measures of prosperity. Our system is more than just a measure – to be practical and effective it engages people with the best of what works in their local area (through partnership projects), it builds on co-operative and solutions focused skills (through training and workshops) AND it promotes debate, attracting people to become involved (through campaigns and events).
The two aspects of our work that excite the greatest interst are
i) that it works and is equally relevant to EVERYONE – so individuals, groups, communities or policy makers can all apply happy city’s work, uniting us in a conversation that can be understood at every level.
ii) that organisations are beginning to see how ambitious they can be about changing the pattern of a whole system, making changes much more likely to be sustainable.
What issues do you or did you address?
Root causes of happiness and unhappiness – focusing attention on healthy living, healthy relationships and a healthy environment.
What moved you to take action?
The catalyst was in 1991 with the publication of Stiglitz report.
Liz and I had 20 years of experience in working with leadership change – my background was in Corporate Responsibility (especially sustainability), city scale change and partnership development whilst Liz brought international development and inter-cultural experience to bear.
We had been aware of the idea of Happiness economics since Prof Layard published ‘Happiness: Lessons from a new Science’ in 2005, but the only practical example of this kind of thinking was in Bhutan, a place far too remote and culturally different from western economies to be seen as relevant. So Stiglitz’ report provided an authoritative reference point from which we could begin Happy City’s work.
I was especially disaffected with the problem of continually meeting with the same wonderful, passionate and talented people who cared about living lightly on the earth, and bemoaning the fact that the general population did not care much for ‘green’ things. It struck us forcibly that Happiness is the deepest human desire, featured in the oldest writings known to exist.
We figured that a conversation about what matters would be relevant to EVERYONE, and that such conversations would unavoidably lead people to appreciate the value of the planet to their health, happiness and wellbeing.
What were the obstacles that you had to overcome?
We conceived a systemic structure which was more dynamic and less hierarchical than conventional models. The ambition of our vision, which is perfectly reasonable from a system’s perspective, is hard to understand or believe from the more conventional, silo’ed and hierarchical point of view. Could we make this work?
What helped you keep going in hard times? Was there a time when you thought you would give up? (What did you think or say to inspire your self to keep going?)
We thought about stopping periodically, particularly when cash became tight. We drew great strength from our long experience of working together and particularly from the passion and inspiration of the many volunteers who helped us on our way. We work with trust, honesty, openness and respect for each other. Our strength of purpose is our powerful motivator.
What first prompted you to become interested in the environment?
The interest I held as a geography student at university was properly awakened when I had a job sailing yachts around the world (1990-91)
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being very happy) where would you rate how you feel about your life?
10 – I could not be happier, I am so lucky and so fortunate.