Don't Worry, be Happy!

Posted Feb 26th, 2020

Don't Worry, be Happy!

Are you happy? You smile. You laugh. You feel pleasure and maybe some pain. But like most of us, including me, you prefer to be happy and make choices to stay happy. Right? Did you know that being happy is a choice, one which we make every day, even several times a day...? So being happy is a choice? Wow, didn't realize that!

Being happy is indeed a choice, which is based on a bunch of things: location, environment, people, situation and weather.

Think of a sunny, Saturday afternoon being in your favourite place, with your favourite people. You hear laughter. You feel the positive energy. You're happy, right? I hope so.

Now, thinking about your favourite place, what makes you happy being there?

Urban planners, like me, are trained to make our communities better, stronger, and...happier! It's part of something we call the public interest. We are educated and trained to improve our building design, the look of the street, the flow of traffic and the overall form of the community. In short, we are trained to create "places" where people can be happy, or "place making". Think of your favourite waterfront park, city square, downtown, tourist area. These places didn't just happen. They were very likely planned and ideally by someone like me. Being in your happy place involves both psychology and an understanding of built form. Let me explain...

I am an avid Tony Robbins fan. I am also reading "The Perfect City", a great book by fellow planner Joe Berridge. And then there is a British movie entitled "Pursuit of Happiness" (Netflix). The common theme of each source is happiness. Tony speaks about the psychology of happiness. Joe speaks to what places/forms/situations make us happy, and the movie provides an entertaining scenario on one person's quest for happiness. They all discuss the "happiness factor", which differs for each of us. 

Tony speaks about finding your purpose (not passion) in life and pursuing it. He speaks to making choices that make you happy, including jobs, relationship, travel and even shopping. He advocates that happiness relates to our own personal energy levels, which are influenced strongly by the food we eat. So make choices that give you happiness. This doesn't mean go out and eat a burger! It means eat foods that give you a positive, happy outlook on life, over the long term. Less red meat. More chicken and fish. You get the picture.

For me, I love to be in cities, enjoying the architecture and energy. I also love nature, preferring mountains. Europe is one of my favourite places, because I can sit at a cafe, and people watch for hours. I love to guess at each person's story: late for a meeting; anxious to shop; content in being; having fun with friends; and many others. How people dress tells me a lot about them. I also love being in the Caribbean, soaking up the sun, and just being. Food is a common factor for me. I LOVE food, especially ethnic food! I try to eat local cuisine wherever I go. Thai, sushi, Pho, and shawarama. I love the varied spices, texture, smell and taste in food.

Joe Berridge's book explores various cities, including Toronto, and what makes them good or bad. For example, he considers Toronto to be an accidentally happy city. City Council never planned to make it happy. Government leaders have historically bashed Toronto for one reason or another. But yet it thrives. Why? Joe suggests, and I agree that immigrants have made it a happy place. Consider China town, Greek town, Little italy, and many, many more. Each of these places houses a concentration of Chinese, Greek or Italian households, along with the obligatory restaurants, markets and retail stores. And the restaurants usually offer a variety of wonderfully prepared and low cost dishes that make your mouth water. Well, they make my mouth water :-)

For planners, we make recommendations to our employers (Councils or Clients/Developers) based on what will make the community/place better, happier. We can this the public interest. How do we help make our community better? By creating places that will help make people happy. For me, it's a life-long goal, which I try to achieve through every project my company works on.

What's your favourite place, and why?

I would love to read your stories below.

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