one study, researchers gave elderly residents of a local nursing home a
houseplant. They told half the residents that they were in control of the plant’s
care and feeding (high-control group), and they told the remaining residents
that a staff person would take responsibility for the plant’s well-being
(low-control group). Six months later, 30 percent of the residents in the
low-control group had died, compared with only 15 percent of the residents in
the high-control group.
follow-up study confirmed the importance of perceived control for the welfare
of nursing-home residents but had an unexpected and unfortunate end.
Researchers arranged for student volunteers to pay regular visits to
nursing-home residents. Residents in the high-control group were allowed to
control the timing and duration of the student’s visit (“Please come visit me
next Thursday for an hour”), and residents in the low-control group were not (“I’ll
come visit you next Thursday for an hour”). After two months, residents in the
high-control group were happier, healthier, more active, and taking fewer
medications than those in the low-control group. At this point the researchers
concluded their study and discontinued the student visits. Several months later
they were chagrined to learn that a disproportionate number of residents who
had been in the high-control group had died. Only in retrospect did the cause
of this tragedy seem clear. The residents who had been given control, and who
had benefited measurably from that control while they had it, were
inadvertently robbed of control when the study ended. Apparently, gaining
control can have a positive impact on one’s health and well-being, but losing
control can be worse than never having had any at all.
Gilbert, “Stumbling on Happiness,” (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), p.23.
…the person should never be reduced to mere social meanings
because no person is only a social construction. The person transcends
reductionistic labels and simple categories buy virtue of his or her dignity.
To relate to the other person as a person of dignity is to engage with him or
her in an I-thou encounter, as opposed to an I-it encounter, as Buber
described; it is to bear witness to the other as a person rather than a thing.
Stephen Joseph (ed.), “Positive Psychology in Practice:
promoting human flourishing in work, health, education, and everyday life”,
(New Jersey: Wiley, 2015), p.37.
What should a city accomplish,
after it meets our basic needs of food, shelter and security?
The city should strive to
maximize joy and minimize hardship.
It should lead us towards health
rather than sickness.
It should offer us real freedom
to live, move and build our lives as we wish.
It should build resilience
against economic or environmental shocks.
It should be fair in the way it
apportions space, services, mobility, joys, hardships and costs.
Most of all, it should enable us
to build and strengthen the bonds that represent the city’s greatest
achievement and opportunity.
The city that acknowledges and
celebrates our common fate, that opens doors to empathy and cooperation, will
help us tackle the great challenges of this century.
None of these goals are radical.
The challenge now is to see just how the shapes and systems of our cities
contribute to meeting them. How are today’s cities performing? How would we
build differently, and live differently, if we could chart the connection
between design of our cities and the map of happiness? What would we change if
It is audacious to believe that
the city might build happiness just by changing its shape. But it is foolish
not to chase the thought, because around the world, and especially amid the
sprawlscapes of modern North America, the evidence shows that cities do indeed
design our lives.
Montgomery, “Happy City: transforming our lives through urban design”, (UK:
Penguine Books, 2013), p.42