Happiness: The Foundation of Human-Centric Design

Jim Henry March 24, 2021

Happiness is a universal goal for humankind. Happiness, as an emotion, is vague and personal– because there are so many ways to describe it.  It depends on the individual, and yet, there are consistent, universal truths. We pursue it as if it were the holy grail– and yet, it is quite accessible, like air, but elusive to many.  What makes us happy?

Adventist Healthcare White Oak Medical Center Light-filled public spaces, roof gardens, courtyards, a dining terrace and walking trails promote a restorative healing environment for patients, family and staff.

Ed Diener, in his book The Science of Well-being, uses the term “subjective wellbeing” as the scientific description of happiness.  It is primarily self-reported, hence the term subjective, but describes an important dimension of wellbeing that looks at your overall life satisfaction.  In his research, Diener says happy people have strong social relationships and have a greater sense of belonging.

Other research studies, including the Terman Study and Grant Study, both conducted over 80 years following a cohort of individuals, examine what makes people live longer and healthier lives.  A key component of each study is looking at many factors of one’s life– including one’s happiness.  In each of these studies, the personal perception of one’s happiness aids in long-term health and longevity.  They also explore the link between happiness, which is part of your psychological health, and your physical health.

Canyon Falls Connected communities enhance your overall well-being.

At CallisonRTKL, we aim to be part of helping people live healthier and happier lives.  We believe in it so much, in fact, that it is one of our core beliefs that shapes our architecture and design practice.  We have learned from these scholarly studies and conclude that we have a role to play in creating experiences and places that impacts human wellbeing.  We want to be a transformative force in improving human health, and to do that, we also have to look at other dimensions of our lives– and make meaningful and impactful design solutions that improve our wellbeing.

Although there are many factors improving overall wellbeing, we believe, as a design firm, we can impact these top five to design happier places for people.

  • Physical – encourage humans to better habits that impact their physical health
  • Mental – help people manage stress and practice mindfulness, engagement with their surroundings, build relationships with other people, have deep and meaningful experiences.
  • Emotional – evokes positive emotions, a sense of comfort, peace, confidence, safety, empowerment, joy, and happiness.
  • Social – build a connected world, build community, culturally rich and diverse, accessible and barrier free, a place for everyone, inclusive, and empowers communities to move forward and advance, resilient.
  • Environmental – the integration of nature, connects humans to nature, brings the outside in, practices environmental stewardship, regenerative, eco responsive, sustainability focused, carbon sensitive.
Central Park at City Walk The impact of nature on general wellbeing inspires feelings that not only connect us to each other, but also our environment.

Overall wellbeing includes how you feel.  Happiness is a key emotion that comes from being connected to people, feeling a sense of belonging, having meaning and purpose, living into our giftedness, and the pursuit of the activities that bring us joy.  The research shows connectivity between these consistent behaviors and active measures to improve one’s wellness will lead to a more fulfilled life.  We will continue to design places and experiences that help with this, by creating places where people come together in healthy ways and help each person achieve their best life.

Author Spotlight

Jim Henry
Jim Henry, leader of the CRTKL healthcare sector, has an extensive portfolio and two decades of architectural experience. His visionary leadership and commitment to innovative design enriches lives, promotes humanistic principles and is pivotal in exceeding client expectations and delivering award-winning projects. Jim has a passion for improving the health of humankind and leads the effort to transform our practice to radically impact inhabitants’ health and well-being on all of our projects.