We just finished reading a fascinating book, Thrive, by Dan Buettner, a researcher and writer for National Geographic. The book examines the places on earth where people are the happiest – and figures out what makes these locations produce exceptionally happy people.
Buettner found that the happiest place in the U.S. is San Luis Obispo, on the Central Coast of California about 200 miles north of Los Angeles. He gives a lot of credit for the city’s happiness to good local government policies over the past four decades. A list of these policies reads pretty much like the opposite of what we have done in Los Angeles – and perhaps there is a lesson in that for people who don’t feel content living here.
Here is a summary of the author’s lessons from San Luis Obispo:
- A civic project (like a new park or community center) can galvanize a population
- Antismoking polices can make people happier
- Minimize signs (including neon signs and all types of commercial signage)
- Prohibit drive-through restaurants (which create traffic, trash, and obesity)
- Build a greenbelt
- Support the arts
- Favor the pedestrian
- Make it easy to work for yourself
- Build a town square (and community meeting places)
These are all good lessons – and ones that we should follow in our neighborhood. Of course, when we promote policies to make people happier and healthier, we will run into resistance from the vested interests and the NIMBY types. (For example, the people who oppose pedestrian areas and mass transit, because they think everyone should drive everywhere all the time, because they believe that cars are more important than people.) But have you noticed that those NIMBY types don’t seem very happy in the first place? Hmm.
Pick up a copy of Thrive. It’s a fast read, and well worth your time.