During my time at the Chamber, I’ve spent a lot of afternoons musing over the idea of Halifax being a happy and successful city. What does that mean? How do we make that happen? Are we already a happy city? How do you measure something like that?
I was handed the Imagine Halifax project upon my arrival at the Chamber- a concept that asked questions about Halifax’s future, and allowed members to dream about what their ideal city would be like. In particular, we focused on the areas of transportation, economic development, cool culture, urban core and our final conversation piece, quality of life. We met in a boxing ring, a library, a park, and some other cool locations to dream big about our little city.
Eric Weiner had the same idea about happiness in his book The Geography of Bliss. He wanted to know what the happiest city in the world might be, and he took his search on the road. His philosophical rants are more than amusing and he travels to some unexpected places- Qatar and Iceland among them.
What’s the criterion for happiness? According to the Icelandic people, it might have something to do with failure. In Iceland, you can be bad at as many careers as you want, and if you don’t like your job, just find something else you want to try. There’s something to be said for not feeling pressure to be successful that just might breed some happy thoughts.
In Bhutan, happiness is a national priority. They measure it, monitor it and it’s actually a government project called Gross National Happiness.
Qatar has lots of money, but nobody seems very happy- perhaps economic strength is not the only key to a happy home.
Aside from being a great read, this book really got me thinking about happiness and the scale on which we measure it here in Halifax. We recently participated in a number of Economic Strategy consultations with our members, who cited words like ‘vibrant’ ‘prosperous’ and ‘sustainable’ as being what they want for Halifax. These are bright, descriptive words- but what do they mean? How do we measure whether we’re vibrant enough? Does prosperity equal happiness? Not according to Qatarians.
I would assume that the people of Halifax are generally unhappy when it’s minus twenty and we’re all stuck in the snow. However, the people of Iceland have proven that weather has very little to do with happiness. They band together, party, share stories, encourage each other’s dreams and do it all while bundled up in parkas in the freezing wind. It sounds easy to mock this lifestyle- but Iceland rates an 8 on the happiness scale.
If you were asked the following- “On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy do you feel you are in Halifax?’ what would you answer? Maybe we’re happier than we know- and maybe we’re trying to force happiness upon an already pretty positive group of people. Or maybe we’re miserable and long for some January heat waves. I’d be curious to know. In the meantime, I’m in favor of a Gross Municipal Happiness Index- do you think council would put it on their agenda?