Can City Government Make Us Happy?
Seattle's First Happiness Open House Was Super-Depressing
The sun took center stage on Monday, April 22. Flowers flowered and birds cackled as half of Seattle sat outside, basking in one of the first warm evenings of spring. I heard the muted, joyous laughter of pedestrians outside while I was stuck in a conference room at City Hall, where I sat with three other unhappy strangers and listened to a two-hour panel of "experts" lecture rows of empty chairs on happiness. As part of a "Happiness Initiative," Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin had summoned a New York group called Make It Happy to come to Seattle and explore the topic with the hopes of "integrating happiness into public planning," as he explained. (As of press time, queries about the taxpayer cost of the Happiness Initiative had not been answered.)
Here was their methodology: "The last four days, we were out on the streets asking, 'What makes people happy?'" explained Laura Musikanski of Seattle's Happiness Initiative, which was tasked with surveying Seattle's happiness levels in 2011 (spoiler: Poor people are less happy). Behind the panelists sat a wall of sticky notes with the answers to that question, including sex, fish, power, free parking, corn, and sun.
"A lot of people said water—they love the rain," added Mario Chamorro of Make It Happy. "People in Seattle are waterproof!"
Judging by the emptiness of the room, we're also bullshit-proof.
As the event wrapped up, panelists invited us to discuss on camera what makes us happy. Instead, there was a four-person stampede for the door as we rushed out to catch our happiness in the last lingering rays of sun, a strong drink, or the fantasy of masturbating in a bathtub filled with Richard Conlin's tears.