Unlocking the Key to Happiness
Perhaps one day we will look back on this period since 2008 wistfully, as the time we gained a new and better perspective. Discredited were the institutions we relied on to keep our country stable. The economy that depended on growth and building more outrageously expensive houses stopped making any sense. Personal tragedies abounded. Sad and frightening tales, losses of homes and jobs, were the result of an economic “adjustment.”
Still, freed from the enormous pressure that this speeding out-of-control money transferring machine was pushing on our way of life, we could look and see what we as individuals and as a community could do to make our lives more meaningful. We had less money but more time. How could we spend that time to make life better, and happier? Will we look back and see that we became even happier than we were in “wealthier” times?
Charles Montgomery thinks the answer is yes, if we look at our lives and society differently. This author of “Happy City” proposes that a societal goal of achieving happiness rather than an emphasis on raising the GNP will be what will put us on the right track again. Speaking this week at the conference of the American Society of Landscape Architects in San Diego, he suggests that we view our cities as mechanisms for achieving happiness, and not solely as economic entities. The happiness key relates to social ties, health, meaningfulness and feelings of self-worth.
Community building, opportunities for being and working together are the impetus.
Here was our experience. The post-2008 time was right for the community garden. For one thing, the owner of the vacant lot would not be ready to build for awhile. Still, he could have just let it sit there empty and full of weeds. Instead he took the generous path and donated the use of the land. Construction workers were low on work. They could have complained and gotten bitter thinking of who was to blame. Instead they reached out and said, “How can I help to build a garden?” For some, growing our own food was a way to take back some control, to make a direct connection with what we were eating. Not depending as much on foods packaged and delivered to our markets. Getting back to the earth, to basics. Much more than we expected, it was community building. It was making new friendships and links to new networks of friends. The Transition Laguna garden-making movement is a catalyst to the same experiences and on-going positive adjustment.
What is going on in Washington is the opposite of all this. What comes from actions that foster conflict and hostility? How does happiness build in an atmosphere of mistrust and accusations? We see it so clearly from here, but do we see those same actions sometimes reflected in our own community?
Lagunans are busy, busy with projects—assisting the senior center, preserving open space, helping the homeless, supporting the hospital, addressing drug and alcohol abuse, cleaning up trash, protecting the ocean and water quality, supporting community theater, broadening cultural life through music and art, preserving heritage structures and trees, promoting gardens and landscapes, improving city processes, educating youth, preparing for disasters, providing sports programs, working on the Patriot’s Day Parade, increasing opportunities for walking and biking… have I missed your favorite community-building focus?
Has this made us happy yet? Not as much as it could. We are doing all the right things to build a strong and happy community, but we have bought into some of that conflict and hostility. Not seeing how all those goals and activities are complementary, sometimes we find criticism and lack of support.
A broad view will show that none of the things we are working on have to conflict. There is nothing to argue about. It’s not about the next election, as it is in Washington. There is only digging in together and working out how we can achieve all these worthy goals. Our leaders can facilitate this with kindly understanding, looking for ways to accomplish the goals of seemingly opposing groups. As individuals we can reach out to people whose heartfelt concerns are different from ours.
We are building a garden of happiness and everyone can dig in.
Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former mayor.