What Does "The Pursuit of Happiness" Mean For American Communities?

declaration of independence image

The writers of the Declaration of Independence had a way with words; the promise of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness has a ring to it in a way that Canada's Peace, Order and Good Government doesn't. Over at the NRDC Switchboard, Kaid Benfield writes a long post about happiness, trying to answer the questions:

So the concept of happiness is embedded in our national DNA. But does "the pursuit" of this "inalienable Right" have meaning for public policy? For community? For the environment? For land use and planning?

Benfield makes the case that happiness owes much to our environment. He quotes Alain De Botton:

One of the great, but often unmentioned, causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kind of walls, chairs, buildings and streets we're surrounded by.

Yet for a nation that has happiness written into its declaration of independence, it is surprisingly unhappy. Only San Francisco makes Forbes' list of the world's happiest cities, coming in at number 7.

Benfield discusses just about everyone who has mentioned happiness or joy in relation to cities. He writes:

I pretty much agree with all of the concepts put forward by Holland, Penalosa, O'Brien, the Knight study and de Botton regarding how our physical environment can and should be shaped in order to nurture our well-being. With respect to environmental issues in particular, I see cities as a solution for environmental quality, not the problem, and everything we can do to make them more attractive, hospitable and appealing is to the good.

But in the end, Benfield appears frustrated and notes that "Right now I'm thinking a freshly drawn pint of Guinness". Certainly it is not a happy time in America right now, and he is not the only American looking inward because the issues are so complex and intractable.

Perhaps happiness should be put back on the agenda, and given the attention that the founding fathers gave it. More in NRDC Switchboard
More on Happiness:
The Economics of Happiness as a Response to Environmental Crisis (video)
Simpler Living May Make Us Happier, But Happiness is Not Enough
Asahi: "What Is Happiness? Where Is Peace To Be Found?"
Happiness: No Purchase Necessary, Says Study

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