Can cities make us happier, better people?

As the government devolves power to individual cities across England, the Happy City project argues it is our cities that hold the key to improved wellbeing

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The Independent Online

The people celebrated in The Independent on Sunday’s annual Happy List come from all corners of the UK and all cultural backgrounds. What unites them is their commitment to improving their local community, which in turn makes Britain a kinder, more caring place to live.

The Happy List began in 2008 as an antidote to greed-obsessed rich lists, and now the desire to honour these great Britons is growing across the country.

Inspired by our national search, Mike Zeidler ran the first citywide Happy List in Bristol in 2013, celebrating 50 local people for their joy-spreading endeavours.

Mike and his wife Liz, who co-founded Happy City  ( five years ago, are now helping other cities including Nottingham, Brighton and Bath produce their first Happy Lists. They have also received interest from places in France, Australia, the United States and 14 other countries.

“These Happy Lists are a fantastic way to recognise the value in cities that isn’t recorded by GDP growth,” says Mike. “It is measuring what really matters, and it encourages people to do more happy things, or say thank you to others. People look at it and feel pleased and proud to live where they live.”

Instead of seeing cities as alienating or unfriendly, Mike founded Happy City on the belief that they exist to both corral our conviviality and channel it. Happy City supports community groups in Bristol and works with them to involve more people and discuss what makes people happy. It identifies cities as the key to improved wellbeing for people and planet.

Last week, George Osborne seemed to support that same ethos by unveiling plans to devolve power to England’s cities to renew a sense of civic pride, as well as to reignite economies. It was another example of the growing interest among politicians in understanding and increasing the population’s happiness.


“We need to redefine what it means to prosper because GDP growth is too narrow a definition,” says Mike. “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?’ ”

We might be some way off using “happy” as the primary adjective for Britain’s cities, but Mike believes they all have the potential to be “happy-making”.

As well as appearing in a special section of the paper next month, this year's chosen 100 Happy Listers will be invited to a celebratory reception hosted in their honour by the luxury hotel group Grange Hotels ( in central London.

Every individual featured on the Happy List will also receive the additional accolade of being put forward for special recognition at the JustGiving 2015 Awards.

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