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About A Week: Happy To Live In Huddersfield

Peter Hinchliffe reports that his home town, Huddersfield in Yorkshire, has just been designated the happiest town in the north of England.

Folk in my hometown -- Huddersfield, West Yorkshire -- are strolling around with extra-wide smiles this morning. We've just been designated the happiest town in the north of England.

A poll carried out by Research International, a leading market survey firm, discovered that 75 percent of us describe ourselves as being happy.

The top of the British happiness league, according to the pollsters, is Bournemouth on the south coast, where 82 percent declared themselves happy. The research was carried out for first direct bank (the bank insists on a lowercase "f" and "d" in its title), part of HSBC, the world's third largest bank.

The poll results come at a time when Prime Minister Tony Blair's government is reportedly putting happiness at the heart of a policy review. Ministers are considering ways to encourage people to be kind to one another. Good works have been shown to increase happiness for both giver and receiver.

Researchers are now convinced that happy people live longer -- and the most significant ingredient in happiness is being able to say yes to the question "Does somebody love you?" Happiness lowers blood pressure, and happy people are less likely to become dependent on alcohol or other drugs.

Family and friends are crucial to happiness, say psychologists. American scientists claim being happy can extend life by up to nine years.

A series of BBC programs on happiness suggested that people in richer countries tend to be happier than those in poorer ones. However, when people reach a certain standard of living -- a good home, plentiful food, sufficient clothes -- then extra income does not result in increased happiness.

David Halpern, a senior policy adviser in Prime Minister Blair's strategy unit, said recently that a pro-happiness policy would value more highly informal care, such as looking after elderly relatives. It would promote voluntary service.

Halpern said that happiness is ultimately dependent on the way people treat each other. Considerate acts of kindness are the vital ingredient of happiness. He added, "In other words, to do yourself a favor -- first do a favor for someone else. It could just save your life."

"Happy" Huddersfield is an industrial town of 130,000 people, set in the hills of the southern Pennine Chain. It is on the edge of Peak National Park, with its rolling hills and rugged moorland.

For nearly two centuries, the town produced the finest woolen worsted cloth in the world. Cloth from Huddersfield's looms was turned into suits for prime ministers and American presidents. President Jimmy Carter and Prime Minister James Callaghan wore suits of Huddersfield cloth into which the initials JC and been discreetly woven.

The town has hundreds of amateur sports clubs -- football, rugby, cricket, bowling. Thousands of people of all ages participate in sport -- and thousands more are happy spectators.

It has an international reputation for music making. Some of Britain's best brass bands and musicians are based in this area. Huddersfield Choral Society, which has 220 singers and was founded in 1836, has performed in all parts of the world and regularly broadcasts on the BBC. The choir is famous for its live performances and recordings of Handel's Messiah. Every year the town hosts a renowned contemporary music festival.

There are also numerous social clubs and special interest groups. Older people in Huddersfield are particularly fortunate in their opportunities to keep mind and body active. The town has the biggest University of the Third Age branch in Britain.

Shirley Herbert, Huddersfield U3A's administrative manager, reports that the branch now runs more than 100 classes and has a total membership, which is open to anyone aged 50 or over, of 2,400.

Activities range from learning Spanish, German or Latin, to ballroom dancing, playing bridge and writing. There are two choirs and 10 hiking groups. The class leaders and the backroom staff who keep things ticking smoothly are all volunteers.

"Working for U3A keeps us active and young," says Herbert. "One of our tutors is in her nineties and is still very active. It makes you feel good to know that you are doing something worthwhile for other people. Yes, we do contribute to the happiness and well-being of the people in this town."

That contribution was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen's Honor for Public Service was awarded to the Huddersfield U3A two years ago. Huddersfield is the only U3A branch to receive the award.

Western European countries all rank near the top of the happiness league. A magazine published in Finland commissioned a survey to find out what made people happy.

Here is the Finnish feel-good list, which confirms the findings of researchers in other parts of the world:

Finnish Feel-Good Factors

1. Home sweet home, a home of one's own.
2. Sunny weather.
3. An honest relationship.
4. A trusting relationship.
5. The freedom to be oneself.
6. A freshly cleaned home.
7. Friendship, gestures/words in a relationship.
8. Friendship, actions in a relationship.
9. Fidelity in a relationship.
10. Security in a relationship.

Why did first direct bank commission a happiness survey?

One can only presume it made them happy do so.


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