We’ve previously brought attention to the effects of stress, loneliness, and depression on our ability to enjoy urban life. Of course, for many, depression is a physiological condition and medication is helpful for managing the condition. Yet, for these and many others, depression is also a result of stress and urban life. It can be helpful to know that our emotional and mental health is struggling due to external factors, but the powerful thing about awareness is always that we have the ability to be proactive and intentionally change our reality and experience.
It’s always encouraging to see how others are already doing this well. At the very least, you can share discovered links, books, and ideas with friends, family and coworkers just to stir dialogue and thought. Charles Montgomery, who spoke at this past weekend’s TEDx conference in Vancouver, Canada, shed some light on good examples of improving city life:
The Happy City
Mongomery is an urbanist who interacts with city planners, psychologists, economists, mayors and residents to renew our experience of city living and promote positive interactions and happiness. Take a look at his urban experiments, and get inspired at the possibilities of individual and communal participation in making an enjoyable urban life.
Besides thinking about the effects of city design, public life and intentional exchanges, we can also look at specific features about reported top cities with the happiest residents. While we may not be able to apply or duplicate things like natural climate (Hawaii or California coastline) or architecture, there are other examples from this list of 10 happiest cities that can stir ideas on activities we can incorporate into our personal and communal urban experience. Note the points that speak to you as a signal of what you crave and can actively seek out or create more of in your city life.
People living in San Jose attribute much of their happiness to the organic food culture. Organic food is widely available at farmer’s markets and restaurants. Creating greens brings as much joy as consuming them, as many people have personal
gardens or plant in community gardens.
Salt Lake City shows us that healthy choices can bring tangible health and happiness. This city is known for having both the lowest cancer rate as well as the best cancer-survival rates. This is largely due to residents having a lower practice of smoking and drinking, two habits that contribute to cancer and affect physical health.
In both San Diego and Anaheim, happiness is all about the endorphins. Both cities have many gyms, and locals live very active lifestyles, which also contributes to their good weight management. San Diego has the highest percentage of people who regularly work out, but if gyms aren’t your thing, you’ve always got the outdoors. Outdoor activity brings down stress and increases well-being.
There’s more to wholeness and happiness than physical health. San Francisco’s cultural options for arts, food and entertainment are reported to be spirit nourishing by residents. A vibrant arts scene also impacts health positively: “Research suggests that attending cultural events may lower blood pressure and help ward off anxiety and depression.” (1)
Often, city life is depressing because people feel alone or isolated. Madison gives us an example of what it looks like when people think and band together for the greater good. The city enjoys the lowest crime rates as residents work together in neighborhoods to protect each other against crime.
We can see that many of the things that make city life so fulfilling in these examples are things we can bring into our own regular routines. We can start community gardens or start with an indoor herb garden for healthy home cooking. We can plan to go to local art galleries or find live music even if we don’t live in San Francisco. We can go for outdoor walks or take a yoga class or take tennis lessons to get our bodies feeling better. We can start neighborhood watches or book clubs and get to know our neighbors.
As we start investing into our own happiness, we’ll be sure to see and appreciate more of what our cities offer. Also, don’t forget to look through your new lenses with others. Sharing your activities with friends and family is sure to boost your happiness no matter what. Start planning something new today, and enjoy the city that’s your home!