cities | June 20, 2013

Charles Montgomery: Make Your City A Happier Place In 10 Easy Steps

"The city is a behavioral device," Charles Montgomery, the author of Happy City says. "Its shapes and systems alter how we feel, how we see each other, and how we act."  He adds: "This would be a terrible thought if it were not for a second truth, which is that the city is malleable. We can change it whenever we wish." In a recent blog post, the award-winning journalist shares 10 tips for shaping your urban environment into a happier place. (He also expands on these ideas in his keynotes). Try one of the following ideas to help you fall in love with your city again, and make yourself—and those around you—a little bit happier. 

1) Strike up conversations while riding the elevator: 
"We need not be imprisoned by design," Montgomery says, "and even a casual conversation with strangers has the potential to flood your system with feel-good hormones. Go ahead. Talk about the weather."

2) Cut down the commute and move closer to work: Montgomery notes that studies have proven longer commutes equate to less friends. Do the math: Less travel time + more friends = a happier you.

3 ) Plant a tree: It pays to go green. That's because even a little exposure to nature cuts down on your stress and improves both your concentration and overall mood. Get planting!

4) Live on an expensive street—in the cheapest house on the block: While we do get a confidence boost from living on a street that improves your social standing, we can also get a similar boost from enjoying the neighborhood on a whole. We affiliate with our neighbors in that seeing Mr. Jones next door park a nice car outside boosts your mood, too.

5) Live within 5 minute walk of public transit: "In Charlotte, North Carolina, people who live near the new light rail line lost an average of five pounds within a year because they started taking the train instead of driving," he explains. Even that few minutes of extra walking a day made a big difference—embrace it.

6) Don't waste your time finding the "closest" parking spot: The further you are from your destination, the more time you'll have to take in the sights and sounds around you as you walk. "Velocity is the key to conviviality—the slower you move, the more likely you are to experience those little moments of intimacy—from glances, to smiles, to quick chats—that can improve your relationships with strangers and the city," Montgomery adds.

7) Try riding your bike to work: International studies have shown that bike riders enjoy their commute much more than other travelers. Even if you hate the bike lane, give it a shot and see how it improves your mood.

8 ) Meet your Facebook friends in real life: There is still no real substitute for in-person communication. So, unplug once in a while and go see your friends off the screen.

9) Enjoy the sound of silence: Try to seek refuge from the noise of the city. The constant murmur of things around you can be a huge distraction—tune them out when possible.

10) Be nice to strangers: "Help little old ladies across the street. Merge politely in traffic. Open doors for people. Feel the buzz and pass it on."

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