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Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

Richard Florida, professor of Business and Creativity at the University of Toronto, and the author of ‘Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life‘, was on NPR Talk of the Nation yesterday. Richard Florida had a lot to say about a wide range of fascinating topics. Most interesting to me were the results of his Gallup Survey on Place and Happiness.

What makes people happy?:

  • A job they love
  • Social connections and relationships
  • A good place to live 
Richard Florida added some observations:
  • Beyond a minimum threshold, income does not make a difference. 
  • People are suffering from fewer and fewer close social connections (with one the average)
  • Good places to live all share the following five factors: 1) safety and good schools, 2) economic and social opportunities, 3) good mayoral and business leadership, 4) good across the board for a variety of people, 5) physically good in term of aesthetics, pleasant to live in. 
What I find especially encouraging about this research, is that it supports visions for a more sustainable world as well. This includes the need for strengthened communities, and some ideas such as David Holmgren’s permaculture that could be adapted to living in the big cities. Note that accumulating more stuff, driving more, living in bigger houses, and more generally engaging in activities with a big footprint, are not part of this ‘make you happy’ list.
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We are social beings

Prad has been gone a little less than two days. I thought I would enjoy this weekend alone, and purposely did not schedule any social activities with my girlfriends. Fourty eight uninterrupted hours, that I could spend doing all the things I love most! Blogging, swimming, taking long walks, reading, vegging. With only a few interruptions from Catherine, on the rare occasions when she still needs something from me. The truth is, being alone sucks. And virtual connections are no substitute for flesh encounters with good friends, family, and even strangers. Every day, my eighty five year old mother goes out for grocery shopping. She does not need to go that often, but she ventures out, still, for the human interaction with the shopkeepers. “Otherwise, I would go crazy.” She lives alone, with only one neighbor she can visit. All her friends have died, and she lives far away from me and my brother. My mother has never been very good at making social connections outside of our immediate family. Over the years, her active social network has diminished to practically nothing. Her life is hell.

Socialization, the way it used to be

Being in the house, alone, I was thinking about all the ways that people socialize nowadays, versus, let say, fifty, a hundred years ago. And I went right back to my days on the farm, with my mother and my grandparents. Socialization was embedded in the fabric of our lives, then. Sunday was going to the market on the horse carriage to the nearby town. The market was a social event, where you got to meet all your friends from other villages. It took us forever to make our way through the whole square, so busy my grandfather was talking to one or the other. Then there was Sunday mass right after. The best part was sitting in the church, and feeling surrounded by the whole community, our community. Of course, the whole village was out and about during the day. Everybody knew everybody, and would stop at each other’s houses. At night, during winter, there were stories told around the fire. My favorite sitting spot was way in the far corner of the fireplace, real close to the flames. I had a little chair that barely fit. If I got too close, my face started to burn. Too far, I started feeling cold. I would spend my time, trying to find the right distance, while listening to the adults’ conversations. The highlight of the year was the batterie, a day of celebration for the whole village signaling the completion of a successful harvest for the wheat crop. Each year, the batterie took place in a different house, and I still remember the time whey we were the hosts. The women had prepared a feast and I had helped. The men, all sweaty from a day in the fields, were laughing and drinking wine, and everybody had something to say to me, la petite. We were pretty happy on the whole, back then. Our basic need for socialization was taken care of.

Estimated score on the collective happiness index: an 8. Total carbon footprint: zero, with the exception of the wood burning.

Socialization now, and why it’s not working

Things are different now. In Silicon Valley where I live, there is a lot of socialization, but you’ve got to plan it. I am fortunate enough to live in a great neighborhood, with neighbors who actually talk to and help each other. But the bulk of our socialization centers around driving from place to place, from activity to activity. For parents, it often means chauffeuring a bunch of kids in SUVs, to sports events. I live very close to the Stanford campus. The other day, I was walking at night, and noticed the soccer field, brimming with activity. There was a night game, and parents had come cheering. What got to me were the bright lights, and the amount of electricity that’s required for that type of social event. Shopping is another big pet peeve of mine. Shopping is a social outlet for many women, and men, and teenagers. All driving to the mall, often without any real need for anything. Only the need to shop. And to go to a place filled with people, with guaranteed opportunities for social transactions. These are just two examples. I keep reading reports that our happiness is way down. Our lives nowadays tend to be fragmented between various networks, that are geographically dipersed. This requires more work on our part, and results in more superficial social ties.

Estimated score on the collective happiness index: 4. Total carbon footprint: it’s going to kill us, unless we change our ways.

Socialization, as part of the green solution

In the search for a green solution, maybe we ought to consider strategies that address this fundamental need we have as social beings, for relatedness and community? It may not be all of the solution, but in my opinion, it ought to be a main part. Looking for ways to rebuild local communities, around non carbon producing activities, or even better, around carbon reducing initiatives. Recognizing that the deeper human need is not about consuming, but socializing instead. The emergence of virtual green social networks is a step in the right direction. It is only one step, however. Virtual connections can only go so far. Eventually, people need to meet, and feel physically connected to each other, around a common activity. The churches, the villages are gone. We need to find a substitute for the mall culture. To do with community, neighborhoods, nature, stories, rituals, work, play, and celebration.

Anticipated score on the collective happiness index: 8. Anticipated total carbon footprint: negative. What do you think?

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I ran across an interesting article in last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle. The article, by Arthur Max and Toby Sterling discusses the ways in which happiness differs amongst citizens of different nations, and steps that can be taken towards increasing the overall happiness level on a national level: ‘The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan long ago dispensed with the notion of Gross National Product as a gauge of well-being. The king decreed that his people would aspire to Gross National Happiness instead.’

This is no joke, and the fact that Bhutan, ranked way higher on the happiness scale than the US – #8 versus #15, deserves further examination. In Bhutan, ‘less than half of the people can read or write, and 90 percent are subsistence farmers. . . Its notion of GNH is based on equitable development, environmental conservation, cultural heritage, and good governance.’ I feel this very much. Some things are amiss in our modern culture, and I am yearning for a change, a new life built on a different value system, that promotes connecting with nature, and others, and reverses the state of alienation I am (we are) increasingly feeling as a result of so called progress and industrialization. Not that I trying to get off the hook. I know I still need to do my share. Good governance, the glue that can solidify and multiply of all our individual actions, is what I am after.

The authors quote Martin Seligman, the University of Pennsylvania psychologist: “Although economic output has risen steeply over the past decades, there has been no rise in life satisfaction during this period, and there has been a substantial increase in depression and distrust”. Not only is our steadily increasing consumption slowly killing the planet, it is also not helping us become any happier. Something is wrong with this picture.

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I have been thinking about this whole business of needs versus wants. When it comes down to it, what do I really need to be happy?

  1. Love, friends and family. Sounds corny but love is the most important thing.
  2. Clean air to breathe.
  3. Access to good medical care.
  4. My computer.
  5. A place to swim.
  6. Bathing suit
  7. Baraccuda swim goggles
  8. Swim cap.
  9. A roof over our head.
  10. A creative project I can be excited about. Preferably work that will contribute to the community.
  11. Enough food to sustain me and my family. I could do with vegetarian only.
  12. Clean water.
  13. Ways to get places. Walking, biking, public transportation will do. Flying, only to go home to France, once a year.
  14. Pens and paper to write. I still like writing on real paper for certain things.
  15. My diary book.
  16. Sunglasses.
  17. Basic toiletries.
  18. A bed to sleep on.
  19. Bedding.
  20. Glasses to see at night.
  21. Fridge
  22. Wash machine
  23. Stove and oven.
  24. Trees and all the living things that make up nature.
  25. Access to public utilities. Garbage collection, sewer, are essential. Electricity, we can generate with our own solar.
  26. Beauty.
  27. Hairdresser once a month, to get my roots done and haircut.
  28. Enough clothes for all circumstances. Black wool dress, pair of jeans, couple T-shirts, summer dress, skirt, jean jacket, dress jacket, walking shoes, city shoes, raincoat, coat, umbrella, underwear, sweater.
  29. Purse.
  30. Traveling bag.

This is a comfortable ‘I need” list, one that satisfies all my requirements for happiness. It even includes a few ‘wants’, but tha’s ok. I am not a nun, and I need to be realistic.

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From my friend Christian Forthomme, a gift of lightness, in response to previous post: Swami Beyondananda‘s 2007 State of the Universe Address
Christian’s note: In an emergency we have to remember to emerge-and-see…:-)

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