Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

101 ways to feel happy

In happiness, what i'm reading on July 30, 2009 at 8:16 am

There are plenty of these lists of things that make us happy bouncing around the Internet, but I was quite taken with this one, which I discovered today. It’s reasonably self-explanatory:

101 ways to feel happy by motivational writer Annabel Candy.

Also, do take a look at her seven reasons to go for a good walk. I quite agree.


The Micawber Principle

In happiness, what i'm reading on July 29, 2009 at 8:57 am

The character Mr Micawber in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield is a good source of quotes on the subject of happiness. In the novel, Micawber, an eternal optomist in the employ of Uriah Heep,  is repeatedly convinced that ‘something will turn up’. His name is, therefore, used to refer to someone who lives in constant expectation of a better life.

For example, in chapter 11, he says: ‘I have no doubt I shall, please Heaven, begin to be more beforehand with the world, and to live in a perfectly new manner, if -if, in short, anything turns up.’

A Dickens quote has even given rise to the ‘Micawber Principle’, based on the character’s following observation:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six. Result happiness.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six. Result misery.”

What makes the Danes so happy?

In happiness on July 28, 2009 at 12:01 pm

We’ve known for quite some while that the Danes are the happiest people on the planet. The 2006 international happiness survey confirmed it. There were a couple of pieces about it last week on Radio 4.

This article on the Today programme on Friday 24 July 09 explains why James Naughtie thinks the Danish people are so happy after a visit to Copenhagen.

Here’s a quick summary of what he found out. The Danes are so happy becuase they have:

– a comparatively small difference between high and low incomes.

– greater gender equality with very few ‘home-makers’ or ‘housewives’.

– social care from cradle to grave – childcare from six months; healthcare provision that means people don’t need private treatment; free universities etc.

– a sense of modesty about their equality, but also about their happiness (which is an unthreatening value about which to brag).

– a sense of ‘social capital’. And that the government values the happiness, health and well-being of the people.

– an inclusive business atmosphere where everyone’s opinion is heard, from the MD to the tea-boy.

– a sense of community where there is a core of society in which everyone feels proud.

It’s this last one that appears to be somewhat of a challenge for Denmark today. Danes have begun to realise that their egalitarian principles are not necessarily a simple sense of equality for all, but are tied in with ideas about how similar they all are as a nation – a sense of pride in ‘Danish-ness’. Is that ever likely to be eroded in a world where the composition of populations becomes more and more like a patchwork quilt?

It’s not to say that immigration into Denmark is a potential threat to that pride in common Danish values, but that’s because there is perhaps an expectation that people moving into Denmark are supposed to integrate and become part of the common denominator.

So, they have a clean, handsome, polished and contented country. But perhaps that’s because they are a country that wants to protect their happy state. They have some of the highest taxation in the world (most people pay over 50% tax), and as long as they see their services being delivered and their happiness continuing, they are sure to pay their fair way.

But will it be preserved into the future?
We’ll keep an eye on the Danes and see if they’re as happy next time they measure international happiness.

British Museum to open NEW museum in Abu Dhabi

In Museum [Insider], Museums, new content on July 28, 2009 at 10:33 am

News broke this weekend that the British Museum is to work on a new museum for the United Arab Emirates. Saadiyat Island, a natural island along the coast of Abu Dhabi, will be home to the new Zayed National Museum, which will reflect the life and achievements of Sheikh Zayed (1918-2004) – a major player in the establishment of the federated UAE.

Unlike the Louvre and Guggenheim projects currently underway on the island, this will not be an outpost of the British Museum, rather a partnership project delivered in conjunction with the museum. The BM is acting in an advisory role as a consultant. There’s an article about the new Zayed National Museum on Museum [Insider].

I also had a piece published there last week about the work taking place in Bedford City centre as they begin an HLF-phase 1 project to link Bedford Museum with its neighbour the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery.

Who ever knew there was a zoo in south London?

In Dulwich OnView, new content on July 24, 2009 at 9:18 am

Lions, tigers and bears all used to live in the former Royal Surrey Zoological Gardens, just off the Walworth Road. Who knew?

Apparently Queen Victoria used to pop down there for a nosy at the animals, from time to time.

There’s a piece about the Lost Zoo of Southwark on Dulwich OnView.

Is happiness a useful political aim?

In happiness on July 23, 2009 at 3:45 pm

James Naughtie started an interesting discussion on the Today programme this morning about the advantages of governments aiming to set policy that is in the interests of the well-being and happiness of the general public. I’ve written before about how David Cameron claimed, well before the recession began, that we shouldn’t be looking at GDP, but GWB – general well being. But Naughtie introduced some key thinkiers who are writing about this at the moment.

Richard Leyard (social scientist and economist) – claims that in 20 years we’ll be basing policy on the well-being and happiness of the people.

Michael Sandell (social scientist) – spoke at the Reith Lecture about the common good.

Iain Duncan-Smith (former Tory leader) – convinced that happiness is just as important for the left and the right in politics and that the current banking crisis gives us a chance to ask questions about the way we live our lives. Apparently we are deeply unhappy because our society is broken.

Will Wilkinson (Cato Institute, Washington) – suggests that the idea of contentment has to be reconciled by progress. On one hand we could all be Buddhists and remove all desire and wanting – and therefore remove ourselves from any potential disappointment. But on the other hand, he claims that while the ‘treadmill of striving’ causes a huge amount of anxiety it also drives progress and this should not, and cannot, be stopped. So his solution is to for us to find the balance between ambition and expectation. Simple.

Naughtie is off to Denmark tomorrow – where the people are said to be blissfully happy. I’ll be tuning in to find out their secret.

In the meantime, here’s the link to the Radio 4 website for this morning’s broadcast. And if you like, you can read James Naughtie’s accompanying article online.

With thanks to Nick Hopwood, who actually heard the piece!

BBC FOUR’s take on happiness

In happiness on July 23, 2009 at 9:05 am

Are we having fun yet?

Happy Families is a new BBC series looking at changes taking place in British society, examining how childhood and families have transformed over the last decade. But from the scramble to get into the best schools to the pressures on working parents, are we too stressed to be happy?

It was screened on Wednesday morning and is available to view on on iPlayer until Wednesday 29th July.

Bristol’s new harbourside museum

In Museum [Insider], Museums, new content on July 20, 2009 at 9:09 am

Hot on the tail of their Banksy exhibition promotions, the council-run museum service in Bristol is now set to open their new flagship Museum of Bristol in 2011. It’s housed in a reconditioned harbourside building in the emerging arts quarter of the city, not far from the SS Great Britain and the Arnolfini Gallery.

Read all about the plans and see lovely pictures of what’s going to be going on inside the build on Museum [Insider].

Proverbs on money and happiness

In happiness on July 16, 2009 at 10:11 am

This morning’s Thought for the Day on Radio 4 was by the ever observant Rev. Angela Tilby, who was recounting a TV drama she saw recently, underlining the folly of chasing money in the pursuit of happiness.

Who end up happier? The city banker, the ruthless salesman or the security guard. Perhaps there’s a certain predictability about who ends up being happiest at the end of the story. But Angela Tilby astutely links the story to the book of Proverbs: ‘Riches do not profit in the day of wrath’ and ‘Better to be poor and walk in integrity than to be rich and crooked in one’s ways.’

And as she concludes: ‘The longing for the happiness that money promises is so embedded in our minds that we are in danger of falling into a new delusion. This week all kinds of lobby groups have argued for more money; all for good and necessary things. But the cash has run out, and deep down we know it. There is no one to blame, but ourselves, who believed that money was infinite, like God and all we had to do was want it. We are going to have to learn to be poor and to find our security from within.’

The full text of her broadcast is available here.

Quoted text, copyright BBC.

Evaluating electronic media

In Museums on July 14, 2009 at 11:59 am

I’ve had a letter printed in the Summer 2009 edition of Museum Practice (MP) magazine. MP is the sister publication of Museums Journal (MJ), both of which are  published by the Museums Association in the UK. While MJ is a monthly magazine devoted mainly to news, reviews and the strategic direction of the museum sector in this country, MP is a more reflective, quarterly publication which aims to highlight best practice across the sector and give lots of practical examples of work going on around the world.

My short letter was in response to a series of pieces in the Spring issue about technoligical advances in interpretive media in museums. I just wanted to make sure people were aware that while we are all keen to develop new and exciting means of interpreting museum objects for visitors, it’s important to bear their skills and needs in mind. And that it’s possible to quite easily and cheaply evaluate this with visitors.

If you’re a member of the Museums Association and have a log-in you can read the letter here.

We did some really straightforward, but incredibly worthwhile, formative evaluation of electronic media at the British Museum before I left there earlier this year. And now I’m freelance I’m still available to carry out evaluations using questionnaires, surveys, focus groups and observed visitor study sessions.

Do get in touch if you’d be interested in hearing about my work in this area.