By Mary Souza, Jan. 7, 2009
Five Resolutions for Citizen Happiness
Did you know that voting makes us happy? And that good government is an important factor in our positive outlook as well?
In his fascinating book called "The Geography of Bliss", Eric Weiner travels the world searching for the places and factors that combine to create a happy community. Many of his discoveries are applicable here in our corner of the globe, and our local leaders could definitely benefit from Eric's happiness research.
To help our officials, I've compiled a list of resolutions to improve citizen happiness:
1. Let us vote! In Switzerland, people vote constantly, on issues large and small. They actually vote about six or seven times per year and they count this right as a big factor in their happiness.
Here in Coeur d'Alene, our ability to vote has diminished as local officials have gone to great lengths to circumvent the voters. North Idaho College turned to foregone taxes, increasing their portion of our property taxes by 35%, rather than come to us with a bond issue and allow us to vote. Our local school district 271 asked our urban renewal agency, LCDC, for public money rather than include their need in a school levy vote.
Other large public expenditures were not brought to a vote as well. The city of CdA gave a total of $4.5 million dollars to the privately owned Kroc Center without a public vote or even public comment. And what list of mine would be complete without reference to the enormous tax money controlled by LCDC, a group of people we did not get to vote for. LCDC is a convenient way for our mayor and city council to avoid the voters. Important development decisions, which involve immense tax dollars and change the nature of our community, are decided without a vote of the people.
2. Give us good government! Happiness research shows " that quality of government is the single most important variable that explains why some countries are happier than others." Here are some specific suggestions for our local officials:
--Establish a mandatory yearly review of the Idaho Open Meeting Law for all public entities.
--Stop making decisions behind closed doors. Invite public input and recognize the valuable talents and experience of citizens.
--Keep the "rainy day fund" for real emergencies, not pretty development "opportunities".
--Work with the other cities in our area. All of Kootenai County pays for NIC and more in taxes because of LCDC. Bring all the players to the table with equal respect and consideration.
3. Help us find Meaningful Work! This ranks up near the top of the happiness scale. Everyone wants to feel they are making a difference. Most wealthy people rate themselves as happy, but only slightly more than poor people. It's not the money, it's one's sense of personal worth, and a good job goes a long way toward that end.
4. Protect Nature! Biophilia is the term used in happiness research: Attraction to nature. Studies show proximity to nature improves our physical well being and makes us happier. In North Idaho, we are fortunate in this regard but we must be cautious about incompatible densities and overdevelopment.
5. Don't change our style! The bliss book gives great weight to "cultural fit" being part of happiness. We all want to feel at home in our environment; we live here because we love it. Our community leaders should take care not to change our North Idaho style by trying to imitate Las Vegas or Seattle.
So, which country tops the list as the most happy? It might surprise you. It's not a warm and tropical place with white sand and palm trees, it's Iceland. Yes, the cold land of total darkness for three months out of each year, has the happiest citizens, according to the World Database of Happiness. The theory is that cold places require more cooperation, and that interdependence bonds people together. Perhaps the community teamwork we crave as active citizens of North Idaho will improve our happiness for 2009. Cheers!
Dear Newsletter Readers,
The news is full of stories about businesses closing and people losing their jobs. There are cutbacks in the newspaper business as well, so my weekly column in the Press will now change to twice per month until this economy gets back on its feet.
The change will give me an opportunity to write newsletters that are longer or shorter than my newspaper column limits, and perhaps even talk about some bits of things flying around our town, rather than all on one topic.
There's been quite a backlash against the tone and attitude that seems to come from this Communication Director; he does not offer respect for public input and begrudgingly admits that some public debate may be "necessary". Check it out and form your own opinions. If you want to comment, www.OpenCdA.com
has a discussion going on this topic.
Have a great week and tread carefully on this wet snow/ice mess! --Mary
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Mary Souza has been a concerned citizen
of CdA for over 20 years. She's a local small business owner,
former P&Z Commissioner
and wrote an opinion column in the CdA Press on local issues. Her
opinions are her own.
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