Bestselling author and researcher Dan Buettner traveled the globe for National Geographic to find out where the happiest people in the world are living, and what is making them happy. The results, as captured in his book Thrive, are surprising. The truth is that happy people are not necessarily rich and living on tropical islands. Joyful, thriving people are found in communities with qualities much like Benicia.
We've listed ten good reasons to be grateful that you live in what Buettner would call a “happiness hot spot.”
Natural Beauty and Outdoor Activities
Benicians enjoy expansive views across the water of one of the last unspoiled coastlines in the Bay Area. Our own side of the strait can be explored via walking trails and bike paths that give way to hidden beaches, tranquil inlets, and a popular State Recreation Area. Sailing, kayaking, fishing, jogging, and picnicking are favorite local pastimes and great morale boosters cited by Buettner. Benicia is becoming increasingly biker-friendly, with new bike lanes throughout town, new pedestrian/bicycle bridges over Rose Drive and the Benicia Bridge, and is earning its place as a premiere destination along the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
Recognized as a California Main Street City, downtown Benicia’s walkable appeal and historic architecture beckons visitors and Benicians alike. Even as the Great Recession has taken its toll, Benicia has maintained its charming character. The downtown is home to a mix of independent shops, cafes, bars, art galleries, fashion boutiques, beauty salons, live music venues, and as many restaurants per block as some popular neighborhoods in San Francisco.
Arts and Culture
According to Thrive, happy people have access to art, and Benicia is one of the most vibrant art spots in California. The arsenal is home to hundreds of professional artists, and Arts Benicia, The Benicia Plein Air Gallery, Gallery 621 and other art venues help put us on the nation’s cultural map. Our glass artists are considered among the best in the nation. Benicia Old Towne Theatre Group and Benicia Ballet highlight local talent. VOENA, Benicia’s heavenly children’s choir, is slated to perform at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Human Kindness/Small Town Feel
For some of us who came from the big city, the warmth and kindness first encountered in Benicia was a shock to the system. Strangers who smile and say hello? Shop owners who want to know about your day? Eventually our hearts are opened and our edges are softened, giving way to deeper friendships and the secure feeling of extended family. Beuttner’s research reveals what we know instinctively: enjoying a sense of trust and connectedness in our community can add years to our lives.
It’s as if this city were built for families and children, with playgrounds in nearly every neighborhood, great baseball fields, the Benicia Marina, James Lemos Pool, the Farmer’s Market, Outdoor Concert & Movie in the Park, holiday gatherings and parades, and community gardens. Parents can find support and social connections (contributing factors to well-being) through the Benicia Mom’s Club, the Benicia Public Library Storytimes, Kindergym, BUSD’s Stepping Stones preschool program and the city’s Parks and Community Services programs. The low crime rate is especially important for the sense of safety and happiness of families.
Benicia was already long established before it became the first incorporated California city in 1850, and its proud history is alive today. The State Capitol building, Jack London’s waterfront haunts, the historic arsenal, the barns that housed real camels for the army after the Civil War, and many 19th century homes and other landmarks are preserved and part of the fabric of our civic life.
The first public school in California was in Benicia, as well as the original campus of Mills College. Given the town’s history, it shouldn’t be surprising that Benicia Unified boasts some of the top performing schools in the state. Benicia schools regularly test well above the state’s target Academic Progress Index of 800, and some even into the 900s.
A Green City
It seems fitting that Coda Automotive, the start-up electric car company, would plant roots in Benicia—a Tree City USA with a sustainability commission and climate action plan in place. And more Benicians are reducing the carbon footprint in their own backyards with organic gardens, chicken coops and beehives.
Prominent factors in human happiness cited in Thrive are avoiding a long driving commute and having access to a big city. Historically used as a transportation portal to the Central Valley and Sacramento, Benicia’s enviable location on the Carquinez Strait allows quick and easy access to the best the Bay Area has to offer. The Bay Bridge, Napa wineries, and luxury shopping in Walnut Creek are all under a half-hour’s drive. Amtrak, BART, and the ferry to San Francisco are minutes away.
A Bright Future
More than income, education or religion, the place where you live determines your level of happiness, says Buettner. Benicia is still striving to reach its full potential, but it provides many of the necessary ingredients for humans to thrive. Because of this, Benicians are more likely to lead long and happy lives.