Have you ever wondered about those “Best Places to Live” lists?
How do these lucky cities get chosen? And furthermore, how do they get to be “best places” to begin with?
The recipes for a great city are many and varied. And the common denominator is likely high quality of life.
But here’s the most important thing of all to understand: being a “best place” is a living designation, not a static one.
Meaning, you might receive the honor one year—but you could lose it by the next year! In reality, it takes the participation of everyday citizens like you and me to keep a high quality of life going.
Now, you probably want your city to be the best it can be. So, it’s natural to ask yourself, “What can I do to help create a happy community?”
The bad news is you can’t fix any local problems just by clicking your heels together and wishing upon a star.
But the great news is a thriving place is something that can be cultivated over time. How? By paying consistent attention to some fundamentals.
Before we get into what those key areas are, let’s get clear on the terms of our discussion.
What Exactly Is a “Happy Community?”
Let’s break the concept down.
For starters, “happiness” is a subjective concept. Human beings aren’t really meant to be in ecstasy all the time. In addition to joy, we’re designed to process sadness and frustration.
In fact, the ability to face life and all of its challenges is an important sign of mental health. We’re meant to keep it real!
So, more accurate synonyms for happy could be “well” or “full of optimal well-being”.
Community simply refers to “people that are connected to each other”.
Therefore, a good definition of a happy community could be – people living well together.
What does "people living well together" look like and why does it matter?
There are concrete indicators of what people-living-well-together looks like.
- Interactions and gatherings happen regularly
- Crime and homelessness are low
- The environment is clean and well-maintained
- There’s a strong local economy with flourishing small businesses
- People feel supported by each other and by area institutions
A happy community matters for a variety of reasons.
For one thing, it means higher levels of mental health.
Residents truly want to live there.
Finally, places like this are usually safer because of high social trust.
Want to make sure these trends take root in your area?
Here are the steps to take:
1. Pay Attention to People
This first step toward a happy community starts inside each one of us. We take that step as we make the decision to stay present to others.
To show that you care, check in regularly with the neighbors, coworkers, friends, family, and colleagues around you. Try opening up a little bit more. Really communicate. You not only want to build connections, but maintain them over time.
As you go, be thoughtful. Do little things to improve community engagement each day. As more people join you, those seemingly small gestures often end up creating a “best place to live.”
Also, vow to help others, in small situations and emergencies alike. This builds a culture of trust and support – which tends to increase interaction and all the other good stuff down the road.
Collaborate with others
Throughout each day, proceed with a sense of purpose, or a vision for how you’d like your neighborhood to be. Then work toward that vision every day, through actions large and small.
A natural next step is to find others with a common sense of purpose and do some cool stuff together!
Organizing some social events together is a great place to start. Consider holding dance nights or simply conversation cafes. You can organize a friendly sports tournament, a walking club, or a church cookout.
The sky’s the limit. Really anything that gets people to be social and gather helps create a happier community!
Show up for others’ community events as well. This lets others know you’re engaged and you care. It also helps keep the events going – which means more people and income flows to your neighborhood.
2. Be Civic and Service-minded
Think about the higher level strategic needs in your community and find ways to get involved.
Do an initial assessment along with your neighbors or other community leaders. Then come up with a plan to pitch in and help out with the solution!
Some classic ways to be of service are:
- Hold fundraisers and donation drives
- Participate in time banks
- Tag along on trash clean-up field trips
Volunteering is another tried-and-true way anyone can get involved.
Look around. Who or what could you help just by showing up?
Does that classroom need a new coat of paint? Does that lawn-bowling charity event need greeters or ticket collectors? Could the nursing home down the street use volunteers to take their residents out for some fresh air? What about showing up for parent-child support circles?
Again, think about what your community needs.
Another vital thing to do here is to get involved in local politics and city affairs.
Start with the basics, like making sure you vote.
Then, consider speaking up at your town hall meeting. Offer constructive criticism and suggestions for what the city could do better. Listen to others. In general, help create a dialogue and let your voice be heard in decision-making that matters to you.
Always remember that a happy community doesn’t run from challenges – instead, it faces them together.
3. Support your Local Economy
Happy communities are generally not dangerous or destitute ones. Instead, there’s a sense of common prosperity and “a rising tide lifts all boats” atmosphere.
The presence of thriving small local businesses is especially important to a city’s wellbeing. At their core, happy communities are a fundamental, grassroots form of people cooperating, collaborating, and helping each other.
Here are some key ways to boost up your area’s economy:
- Support small, local businesses whenever possible
- Look for more ways to keep money in your community
- Ask your city government and local organizations to purchase from regional vendors
- Thank area businesses for what they do and let them know they matter! Come out in support of them at community fairs, events, etc.
- Consider starting your own small business!
Whatever your situation, do your part. Putting your money where your heart is can make a massive difference in your community.
4. Help Maintain a Clean Environment
To some, this might be the most surprising aspect of a happy community.
But it's already clear to many of us: the context we operate in every day profoundly influences each one of us, for better and for worse.
People tend to experience greatest wellbeing – a relaxed, open and positive state – in a safe and clean environment.
As far as getting involved, it’s actually exciting: there are TONS of ways to boost your area’s human habitat!
- Do your part to pick up litter – maybe organize a citizens groups to do this together
- Communicate with your local city offices about any problem areas that need to be cleaned up
- Live clean and green – do things like recycling, composting, riding your bicycles, and saving energy
- Add natural elements to your neighborhood, such as flowers, plants, trees, and community gardens
- Patronize local parks and other facilities in your area
On that last note, it definitely makes a happier community when you take full advantage of the great spaces around you. DO use them as excuses to gather your people more often!
Happy Communities Happen When People Come Together
At the end of the day, you really shouldn’t focus on making any kind of “best places to live” list. Just focus on making YOUR neighborhood a little bit better everyday.
You'll find all the most important rewards in the faces of your neighbors. And you’ll love the high spirits coming back to your area in the form of bustling shops, event spaces, parks, and streets.
Finally, you see that ALL of the ideas above are better when done with others. Because in the end, people are what make up a happy community. And that’s something to celebrate!
So what are you waiting for? Reach out to someone for a get-together today!
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