This week we feature a set of stories that look at Happiness & The City
The world, of which the city is now an essential and integral part, is one that faces a crucial choice between community and chaos. It is a choice that must be made in the context of a world which enters a new millennium facing the age-old problems of poverty, homelessness and disease…Most challenging of all, our small and fragile planet is now faced with an exploding world population and the ultimate destruction of a life- sustaining environment…
[But these] problems mask a deeper challenge. Fundamentally, it is not the problems outlined above which threaten humankind most profoundly, but our inability to transform our fragmented world into a world order in which we can affirm our common humanity and ensure the future well-being of our planet…
If civilisation is to fulfil its immense human potential, and thereby avoid the chaos which otherwise looms large, cities across the globe, from Birmingham to Baghdad, from Dallas to Delhi, from Manchester to Mexico, from London to Lahore, will need to address the task of how to become human cities. If our planet is to become the home of ‘a world community’ then the power of community to promote what is truly human has to move to the very top of the agenda. ‘This is the dichotomy of the city: its potential to brutalise and its potential to civilise’, writes Richard Rogers. It is also the dichotomy facing our world.
The choice is ours.
Until you have time to read David Clark’s book, I have posted more extracts you can read in:
Councils can sustain hope within communities during difficult times
The Human City Institute’s Signs of a human city study is opposed pessimism, and includes the call for “a place alive with the energy of hope, which enables imagination and creativity to flourish and looks for the revitalization of every aspect of its corporate life.”
Although wealthy places retain such aspirations, it might seem hard to believe that many others can join them. Even incremental progress could be thought too hard to achieve, not least because the practical steps towards such a goal are hard to discern. Some useful insights are found in research on psychology.
In his 2011 book Flourish, Martin Seligman emphasises that strong and lasting wellbeing for individuals goes beyond a temporary upbeat mood. It requires positive social relationships, a sense of meaning to life, a sense of accomplishment, and the ability to engage deeply with tasks. In other words, wellbeing is not a luxury; nor is hope.
The key question is whether local authorities have any ways to bolster those attributes among their populations. My answer (on the basis of various innovations that have been tried out in the UK and elsewhere over the past decade) would be yes, though there is not one simple route to success.
An index exploring wellbeing across local authorities raises the question of happiness, but how should the results guide policy?
Ironically enough, Chancellor George Osborne delivered his budget on the UN-designated International Day of Happiness. Despite 1p off beer duty, there was little to cheer for those of us who want to create a society where happiness, or subjective wellbeing as economists prefer to label it, is at the centre of policy making.
Measurement of happiness and wellbeing, what underpins them, and how they change over time are core elements of the Human City Institute (HCI) thinktank research programme. We aim to publish an updatable “human city index” for all local authorities in England by May 2013 to inform the happiness debate.
As a starting point to understanding what constitute more “human” cities, HCI has chronicled a growing body of evidence about the importance of happiness and wellbeing to social and economic policy.
The government has also shown an interest in what factors influence happiness in our society; the previous administration set up the Whitehall Wellbeing Group, while the coalition has established the General WellBeing survey to sit alongside GDP as an indicator of success.
While much of the debate around happiness and wellbeing is novel, interest in these concepts goes back much further. Eudaimonic happiness originates from ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle and focuses on the concept of a “life well lived”. The US was, of course, the first country to codify the pursuit of happiness in its constitution.
Studies comparing richer countries point to the importance of inequality of wealth and income in determining happiness and wellbeing. Countries with relatively narrow inequalities, such as Sweden, tend to express higher levels of happiness than those with relatively high inequalities. In contrast, politicians put more emphasis on personal relationships, volunteering, community life and psychological interventions to enhance happiness and wellbeing.
Parks, gardens and green space in urban areas can improve the wellbeing and quality of life of people living there, says a University of Exeter study.
Dr Mathew White and colleagues at the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health found that individuals reported less mental distress and higher life satisfaction when they were living in greener areas.
This was true even after the researchers accounted for changes over time in participants’ income, employment, marital status, physical health and housing type.
Beth Murphy, information manager at the mental health charity Mind, said: “For people living busy lifestyles in densely populated areas, being able to get outdoors and access green space is a great way to escape the stresses of day-to-day life.
“Our research has shown that 94% of people who took part in outdoors ‘green exercise’ said it benefited their mental health and can have huge impacts on physical health.
Avoid the concrete jungle: A new study finds that people who live in cities with more green space feel better than those surrounded by stone and steel.
In fact, the well-being boost associated with green space is equivalent to one-third the jump in well-being people get from being married and to one-tenth of the extra life satisfaction derived from being employed versus jobless, according to a study to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science…
Studies show that fractals mimicking natural forms can improve our health and wealth. These findings have major implications for how we design our spaces, Lance Hosey writes in his new book The Shape of Green: Aesthetics, Ecology, and Design.
In iconic nature scenes, one shape is ubiquitous: the tree. Based on evolutionary biology’s findings about innate human preferences for savanna-like environments, Judith Heerwagen and other psychologists have focused on tree images as signals of refuge that offer the potential for shelter, shade, and nourishment. Trees and other vegetation have inspired the art and architecture of every culture throughout history, which suggests their universal appeal. One species in particular, the Acacia tortilis, dominates the African savannah, where its silhouette emblazoned on the human retina for thousands of millennia, and research verifies that people are drawn to its shape–broad, spreading canopies and branches close to the ground. In a study by Richard Coss and his colleagues, a diverse group of preschool children, regardless of nationality, background, or experience, consistently chose acacia-like trees as the most inviting, offering the greatest feelings of security. In a 2000 experiment conducted by Heerwagen and others for furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, people sitting at desks decorated with acacia images scored better in memory and problem-solving tests. So the acacia isn’t just visually pleasing–it actually elicits a physiological response. What’s so magical about this tree?
Is your office bad for your health and well-being? Unfortunately, a growing body of scientific evidence says yes.
The modern workday pose — fingers on keyboard, slight slouch, glassy eyes fixed on glowing screen, bathed in unnatural light – can drain vitality, happiness and creativity. Designed to maximize efficiency, this sterile setup actually reduces productivity and job satisfaction.
In fact, modern workplaces are the main reason adults now spend about 9.3 hours a day sitting. Medical journal The Lancet estimates this unprecedented level of inactivity is causing 5.3 million deaths a year worldwide, similar to smoking – prompting the Harvard Business Review to suggest “Sitting is the smoking of our generation.”
The good news is that researchers have built an increasingly persuasive case for what most of us know intuitively: nature is good for us. Being regularly immersed in a natural setting can reduce stress while boosting immunity, ingenuity and energy.
As neuroscientist Marc Berman explains, adding a daily dose of green to your routine may be the best prescription for dealing with workday stress. His research shows that even simple, brief interactions with nature can improve cognitive control and mood…
Treat yourself and take a break to luxuriate in the visual richness of Steve McCurry’s latest photo collection:
I am not thesis
I am not antithesis
I am dialectic
Just a contradiction
Patched up in palimpsest.
– Portion of poem by Zeyar Lynn, Burma
Translated by Ko Ko Thett
A group of African refugees in the north-western Sydney suburb of Baulkham Hills is turning their experiences of the horrors of war into an entertaining story of resilience.
The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe brings together women from different parts of Africa who have ho have survived abuse, kidnappings and war.
They are now using song, dance, rap and drumming to share their stories in the hope that it will help other women deal with their trauma.
It’s hard to be a human being. We’re constantly confronted by negative events, to which our brains are biologically programmed to automatically react with fear, anger, and a desire to get as far away from the problem as possible.
There are trials in our personal lives: our kids get into trouble, our parents decline into infirmity, our spending exceeds our income — the list is endless. And it’s just as bad at work where feeling overloaded is commonplace, conflict with a coworker is always looming, and our boss seems oblivious to what we need to be successful in getting our job done.What is amazing is that, in spite of all of these challenges, some people find ways to be successful and satisfied with their lives. Positive psychologists have been studying how to survive the stress and go on to thrive in our lives. The American Psychological Association has assembled information from topnotch experts and developed 10 tips for building resilience…
Happiness At Work
Motivation is an issue that comes up frequently when you’re trying to make your life happier. How do you stick to the resolutions that you’ve decided to make?
Gretchen Rubin puts her great questions about happiness to Heidi Grant Halvorson, expert in the science of motivation and author of a new book: Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World for Success and Influence:
I think that there are so many of us who are hard on ourselves, who don’t understand why they are good at some things but not others, who are convinced that they can’t improve, and who wonder why the things that motivate other people don’t seem to work for them. A big part of why I wanted to write Focus was to help people understand that we don’t in fact all “tick” the same way.
There are reasons why some things come more easily to you than others, reasons why being optimistic and upbeat doesn’t “work” for everyone, reasons why some of us are creative and risk-taking, and others are thorough and reliable, but it’s very hard to be both… being able to identify our own dominant motivation, helps us to not only be more effective and happy, but to be more understanding of both ourselves and others…
Have you ever noticed how when someone tells us how they’ve been really busy with work, we automatically interpret this as being a bad thing? Certainly, no one associates having a lot of work to do with sunshine, love, happiness or any other positive experience.
In many ways, this is a natural product of both our schooling and work experiences, where we’re not guided and supported to use our genius, creativity, and talents in order to do the work we should do. Rather, what is the more common experience is being funnelled through a system that puts us into neat slots like gears in a complex piece of machinery.
When it comes to work, we’ve come to accept the concept of ‘no pain, no gain’ as being the proper route to success and prosperity. That we need to tough it out in the hopes that – someday – we might finally be able to do what we want to do because we’ve ‘paid our dues’…
While the growing levels of anxiety, fear and stress we see in today’s workplaces are partly due to the prevailing uncertainties surrounding the global economy, it is also a manifestation of that disconnect between what we do and why we do it.
And it’s becoming clear as we move further into this century that this approach to our careers and lives is no longer sustainable; that we’ve reached a tipping point where people can no longer be expected to feel happy or fulfilled by working to live. Instead, we need to shift the paradigm to one where people live to work…
All that’s required is our willingness to no longer play it safe or waiting until later to commit our creativity, our passions and our dreams to that which not only creates meaning for others, but which also instills a sense of purpose and fulfilment within ourselves…
I’m now in the process of adjusting to my decision to do new things, and I’ve realized it requires four conscious choices:
- Recognizing my non-negotiable needs and prioritizing them
- Setting realistic expectations about what I can do and what I can’t
- Regularly checking in with myself to ensure my choices support my intentions
- Learning from my emotions instead of reacting to them
If you’re also adjusting to a busier lifestyle—whether you’re working toward a dream or taking on new responsibilities at work or at home—these tips may help…
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker
What is busyness? Simply put, busyness is a when we have a lot of work. It’s the drug of the 21st century. Busyness happens when we react to what’s in front of us, without stopping to consider if it matters or not. We get caught up in the urgency of the moment, soon it becomes a habit and before we know it we end up busy. We become trapped in the urgent. Leaders fall into the busyness habit when they allow weeks and months drift by, attending numerous meetings and drifting from activity to activity without stopping to consider if what they’re doing is making any difference.
One of the best ways to identify busyness is to look for instances where there is a lot of effort or activity and limited results. It’s in these areas that attention is required to manage more effectively.
- Are you in a busyness trap?
- What are the few major areas that define your great work?
- What do you need to stop doing so you can give more attention to the your great work?
Stereotypes are, by their nature, simplistic, yet a number of labels are still attached to women in leadership. When high-powered women were asked to single out the stereotypes they most disliked, the following came up: Ice Queen; Single and Lonely; Tough; Weak; Masculine; Conniving; Emotional; Angry. The media dubbed city hedge fund boss Nicola Horlick “Superwoman,” because she successfully juggled career and a large family. The late Margaret Thatcher was often accused of being too masculine — MP Barbara Castle called her “the best man among them” (while adding she would “have enormous advantages in being a woman too”).
Sticks and stones? It depends. Media gibes may be easy to brush off, but stereotypes are harder to ignore if they create systemic bias…
Shifting stereotypes out of organizational systems is a tougher task. It will come, in part, from simply recognizing the value of traditionally feminine traits — being able to engage people, bring them along, communicate and collaborate well, and build vision while still seeing the details. Old “post-macho” models of leadership, which rely on hierarchy and control, are giving way to an approach that creates workplaces “fit for human beings,” as Gary Hamel puts it…
A Zen Buddhist monk guides us through the brief mindfulness meditation “Pebble for your Pocket,” based on the teachings of the famous Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, poet, and human rights activist Thich Nhat Hanh.
A counter-balance to too much busyness. This video is very accessible even if you’ve never encountered mindfulness exercises before.
What is most valuable to know is not where to look for a particular idea, but how to train the mind in the method by which all ideas are produced. James Webb Young
The first principle is the notion that an idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements. In other words, ideas are just remixes and combinations of old stuff.
The second principle is about what helps make new connections between old elements. What fosters new connections is being able to see relationships between seemingly unrelated things. To some, seeing connections may come naturally and others may have to work at training it.
Here are techniques for doing just that…
Happiness & Wellbeing
How to fight a psychological scourge of the modern world.
We worry about work, money, our health, our partners, children…the list goes on.
And let’s face it, there are plenty of things to worry about, and that’s even before you’ve turned on the news. This means that when the mind is given an idle moment, often what it seems to fill it with is worrying.
Worry can be useful if it’s aimed at solving problems but less useful when it’s just making us unhappy or interfering with our daily lives.
The standard psychological methods for dealing with everyday worry are pretty simple. But just because they’re simple and relatively well-known doesn’t mean we don’t need reminding to use them from time-to-time. So here is a five-step plan called “The Peaceful Mind” that was actually developed by psychologists specifically for people with dementia..
In a study, “Hedonic consequences of social comparison,” Sonia Lyubomirsky and her co-author Lee Ross from Stanford University looked at how happy and unhappy people respond differently to feedback, both positive and negative.
While modest comparison to other people makes for healthy competition, those who are consumed by peer comparison are simply choosing to live an unhappier life. ..
A generation after the feminist revolution, are women still, on average, less confident than men?
For decades, surveys indicated men had a higher self-esteem than women. But there is some evidence that the gap has narrowed or vanished. A 2011 study from the University of Basel based on surveys of 7,100 young adults found that young women had as much self-esteem as young men.
But I’m not sure that this classroom assertiveness carries out into the world of work, or today’s family and friendship roles. And I’m not sure we’ve achieved parity when it comes to elemental confidence. When you read diaries of women born a century or centuries ago, you sometimes see them harboring doubts about their own essential importance, assumptions that they are to play a secondary role on earth, and feelings that their identity is dependent on someone else. How much does that mind-set linger?
And…do we undervalue the talent for self-criticism the women display…?
Obviously, you want people to be assertive enough to leap forward, but you also want them to be self-aware enough to honestly evaluate themselves. We have piles of evidence to show that people overtrust their judgment and overestimate their goodness. Also, there is no easy correlation between self-esteem and actual performance.
Maybe the self-criticism that women display is a rare skill to be harnessed and valued, at least to a degree. Maybe the self-observation talents that lead to bad feelings because we are imperfect also lead to better decision-making and better behavior for those capable of being acutely aware of their imperfections…