By: Vanessa King
A new book is out from YF venture Action for Happiness – 10 Keys to Happier Living – A Practical Guide. Both evidence-based and accessible, it’s aimed at inspiring a wide audience, helping people understand why happiness matters and what they can do for themselves and other people. Here its author, Vanessa King, explains what’s behind the book.
Five years ago, ahead of the launch of Action for Happiness (part of the Young Foundation family), I led the development of our 10 Keys to Happier Living framework. Areas that psychological and other evidence show that individuals can take action to help them feel good, function well and stay that way. This isn’t a nice to have and the interest in happiness is growing, for good reason.
An increasing body of research is showing that feeling happier is associated with many positive outcomes – such as better physical health, longevity, better relationships, higher engagement and performance at work, being more financially responsible and more likely to help others and volunteer. These actions can also help us deal with difficulties.
The book is about ‘unpacking’ happiness for people in a practical way and inspiring action, big and small. Most of would say we want to be happy, but do we really know what goes into that and what it means for our actions day-to-day? Since the 10 Keys were originally developed research into happiness, has increased exponentially and the book brings the evidence and actions we can take, bang up-to-date.
What is happiness?
Amongst psychologists, economists and social scientists there is a lot of debate over what ‘happiness’ is and how it is similar or different to ‘wellbeing’ or ‘flourishing’ and there are a range of perspectives ranging from ‘hedonic’ (it’s only about pleasure) to ‘eudemonic’ (fulfillment and meaning). In my experience from asking 1000s of people what happiness means to them, it’s almost always a blend of the two.
Of course many factors impact how we feel including our genes, early upbringing and our circumstances. The former isn’t in our control to change. We maybe able to influence our circumstances to some degree but that’s not always easy or available to everyone, but regardless of circumstances, there are some areas we do have some control over and it turns out that a sense of control is in itself a key ingredient in psychological wellbeing.
The 10 Keys are intended to be a menu not a prescription– different things work for different people at different times. Some are activities that we do externally – such as giving and being kind to others, nurturing our relationships and exercising, whilst others are more reflective such as noticing our patterns of thought, mindfulness practice and knowing what provides a sense of meaning in our life.
The 10 Keys in action
100,000s of people of all ages have already engaged with the 10 Keys around the world. They’ve inspired action and been used in schools, workplaces, communities and healthcare settings and we’ve had much feedback from people saying the framework has helped them. For example Lucy, recovering from addiction and experiencing depression used them to take small daily steps that helped her feel hopeful not helpless. They’re also the basis for many of the workshops we run, including Practical Ideas for Happier Living, which have been shown to increase the psychological wellbeing of community-based groups in settings such as GP surgeries.
The acronym for the 10 Keys is GREAT DREAM’ (which people love) and indeed it is our dream that people understand and take action to help themselves and other people be happier. But my dream goes beyond this. I believe these 10 keys can be used to inspire design and development beyond the individual to help create environments, education system and local policies that enable and enhance wellbeing. It’s early days but there are already examples:
- When Birmingham School of Architecture post-graduate students used the 10 keys to analyse the needs of post riots-Tottenham and as inspiration for new building design – these not only expressedly considered the wellbeing needs of the community but were also judged as more creative than those from other modules on the course. (Examples included – The People’s Police Station, The 21st Century Youth Centre, A Happy Prison, An Urban Farm, A Performance Space designed to Bring Music out to the Community). Whilst these were student projects, these students are our architects of the future, designing the environments we’ll live in. Shouldn’t all architects better understand how their work impacts on people’s happiness?
- Higher social and emotional wellbeing has a positive relationship to educational attainment and life outcomes yet it’s rarely taught in our schools. Recently a curriculum based on the 10 Keys has been developed for Key Stage 2 school children. The pilots have shown a positive impact for both staff and student wellbeing.
- When community-based libraries in my local borough of London were under threat of closure, I used the 10 Keys as the basis of an argument to save them. For example drawing on the evidence behind the keys of ‘Relating – connect with people’ and ‘Trying out – keep learning.’ We know that loneliness in our communities is increasing especially amongst the elderly and least mobile and can have psychological and physiological health consequences, which add to costs for the health and social care services. Libraries are one of the few, free places in our communities, available to everybody, where people old and young can connect that don’t cost anything at the point of use. They are also places that can help people learn, explore and find meaning.
- Could the products and services we regularly use or encounter also facilitate wellbeing? I’ve worked with design students from TU Delft, RCA and Ravensbourne to help them design products and services that enhance wellbeing through a better understanding of the 10 Keys.