The Fuzzy (Warm) Science of a City's Happiness

Positive psychology stakes a foothold in Cleveland, proving this really is a happy place after all

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Coming up - during National Happiness Week, no less - Thrive will host a dance party March 22 in Woodmere (check It's the natural contrast setting-wise to the recent Ohio City excursion. At least one point, Sterling emphasizes, is to get people to cross this superficial divide that's built up like plaque in Cleveland for decades.

"This is how it spreads through Cleveland," Sterling says. Momentum, passion, drive: The whole notion of observing the "happiness" of a city or a region can be filtered through simple lenses.

"How does a viral sweep of well-being take place?" Alloro asks.

He explains that much of the science and psychology behind happiness has to do with taking a critical approach to how one moves through life.  In the case of Cleveland, that could be described as how city stakeholders stepped back and - individually and collectively - tried to rewrite the direction of the region. His initial foray into Cleveland - the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit - is one of many examples.

By and large, it's a phenomenon happening outside political arenas. Whatever Cleveland "renaissance" people want to discuss is being crafted on the backs of dedicated volunteers, independent spirits and locally oriented creative niches.

SOMO's work locally tries to push that thinking outward and into the communities that comprise our region. Take a different route to work. Simple things like that will work to cause a person to look at the world differently. Leave the SOMO pods thinking, "I want to bring this to my network," as Alloro illuminates.

"We're human beings, not human doings," Alloro says. Reinvent systems intentionally.

In psychological terms, the variability of happiness is often broken down as 50 percent genetic, 10 percent environmental and 40 percent influenced through intentional activity. That last element is a pretty significant portion of our overall well-being.

So, again: "How does a viral sweep of well-being take place?" Alloro asks.

It's all on you. And her. And him. And all of us.

Positively Cleveland, housed as a window-lined landmark on Euclid Boulevard in the heart of downtown, is the region's convention and visitors bureau. Lexi Hotchkiss, communications director of the organization, explains that there's a notable fervor growing throughout town. She works with a lot of incoming, never-been-to-Cleveland-before visitors, all of whom are beginning to display a sense of fascination with our lake front majesty.

"These folks don't come in with a negative perception; they come in with no perception at all. They don't know what to expect," Hotchkiss says, countering concerns that the rest of the country views Cleveland as little more than the butt of a joke.

With a healthy and budding tourism sector (In 2009, 13 million visitors came to Cleveland for either leisure or business. The annual figure leapt to nearly 15 million in 2011.), Positively Cleveland is increasingly turning its sights toward Cleveland residents. The noted visitors bureau, you see, is really starting to work with people who are already here and who are expressing a growing interest in getting to previously unvisited parts of town.

Accomplished via outreach programming, the organization's blooming goal is starting to be seen across the region. The #happyinCLE Twitter hashtag, a sort of rah-rah batch of internal public relations surrounding good news of any sort happening within Northeast Ohio, garnered nearly 4,000 uses last year.

"It's such a different mentality than it ever was," Hotchkiss says. "There such an overwhelming civic pride lately."

So what is Cleveland's home-spun version of happiness? ...Is it different from other cities?

Well, yes and no.

Cleveland's certainly unique; no one would argue that. But it falls in line with this revivalist mentality that's really taking hold in the Great Lakes region. The unsung heroes of our town have been writing about "rust belt chic" for years. It's nothing new, but the world at large is beginning to pay attention, zoom in and discover the sheer authenticity of places like Cleveland.

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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