On Happiness


Richard Peake explores putting your happiness into your own hands, by meeting passionate artist Lucy Duggan in her project to make Bristol happier

What is happiness?

What is happiness? Is it crossing something dreaded off a list of things to do? Or is it walking through fresh snow and listening to it crunch? Happiness is something we all crave.  Some may say it’s the purpose of life on earth. That’s why Bristol’s Lucy Duggan has taken it into her own hands to bring joy to the city.

Lucy has a passion for social justice.  She is interested in politics and has a degree on the subject. She looks around at the greed in the world and the lack of regard for others a lot of people think is acceptable. ‘It pisses me off,’ she exclaimed. ‘I’m really interested in how the Pope has been going to South America and sticking up for the poor people there – I think that’s good. That kind of thing gets me going.’

Light Box, situated in the heart of a busy shopping centre, is an organisation co-founded by Lucy and her friend Lucy Barfoot. They’re both called Lucy – synergy at its finest.

…one in four of us will experience some kind of mental health problem in a year

Statistics show that one in four of us will experience some kind of mental health problem in a year, (according to the Mental Health Foundation). Lucys D and B think that ‘looking after ourselves and investing in our wellbeing can be both a preventative and therapeutic measure to take’.

‘I think there is a lot of unhappiness in our society, which is a paradox because we’re one of the wealthiest,’ Duggan told me. She said that moods and habits travel over social networks, and that’s why it’s important to take a proactive approach towards improving our own mental health.

November 2008 was the month that the Lucys met – both as artists – to discuss what makes people happy. Their early collaboration was the start of a blissful project. A year later, when their organisation was established, their vision was simple: ‘A world where people value mental wellbeing, creating strong and happy lives’. This idea affects everyone.

‘I think there is a lot of unhappiness in our society, which is a paradox because we’re one of the wealthiest…’

Using scientific evidence from psychologist Lucy Ryan, (yes, another Lucy!) they were introduced to ‘The Scientific Study of Wellness‘. Thus, Light Box’s Happiness Project spawned out of the artists’ creative brains.  Lucy D also has an interest in the findings of Applied Positive Psycology (known colloquially as the study of happiness), which investigates the driving force behind what makes people strong, happy and well.

Lucy insists that her workshops aren’t an ‘art-therapy or counselling service’. Her aim is for attendees to not discuss their personal issues, however they do provide creative Happiness Workshops with the following titles: Gratitude, Appreciation and Beauty, Mindfulness, Nurture and Kindness, Vitality, Humour and Playfulness, Confidence, Strengths and Goals. Lucy’s workshops innovatively engage people with creative activity in order for them to take something away with them.

At the start of the venture, Lucy D found the hardest part being not able to pay herself for the first couple of years before Light Box had received Big Lottery funding.  She was forced to juggle her time between her passions and making money to survive.

Lucy’s workshops innovatively engage people with creative activity in order for them to take something away with them.

Lucy D, a confident, creative 30-something enjoys her job a lot. She finds the best part of working for her organisation is the fact that she’s working for herself – she gets a lot of enjoyment out of autonomy. She feels that the Happiness Project is making a lot of change in Bristol. As head of business development, she evaluates the project carefully. She receives a lot of feedback from individuals who attend the free workshop sessions and she is always surprised at the long-lasting impact it has on people. The positive feedback has proven that the project has enabled people to increase their overall happiness in a proactive way.

As I entered Light Box, I immediately felt positive vibes with the open, bright spaces and the quirky trinkets scattered around. It is a relaxed atmosphere and the creative energy is all around you. Duggan is warming and approachable and her strength really shines through in her personality.

For an hour every day, Lucy chants the Buddhist mantra ‘nam-myoho-renge-kyo’. This allows her to acknowledge the universal cause and effect process, and humbles her.

For an hour every day, Lucy chants the Buddhist mantra ‘nam-myoho-renge-kyo’. 

Her interest in happiness stems from her being diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 21. Essentially, this is what sparked her desire to help other people. ‘I feel proud that I’ve managed to overcome my own barriers and my own mental health obstacles and I feel pleased that some value has been created out of what was a very difficult situation at one point in my life,’ she told me, when asking about how her job makes her feel.

Lucy is currently working on another project with her partner, called ‘Barfoot and Duggan’. The pair sell home-wares made in England, designed by them.

Her love for this started early on as she explained to me, ‘since I was a small child I’ve enjoyed finding things and selling things and thinking about money – that’s part of my personality and I think it’s good to be true to your own character and explore your potential in the areas that you have an innate interest in’.

In the future, Lucy hopes to pass the Light Box baton on to other people, to expand the project, to make the entire world happier, but she would want to still be a director for as long as the service is needed and wanted. ‘I won’t ever be stepping out of the art world. I’ll just be doing something else parallel to it. It’s fun and business has always been something that’s appealed to me,’ she told me.

Happy? Not so happy? Know of someone in Bristol working to make our city a better place? Let us know: @rifemag

Support more young people to have their voices heard

Rife is Watershed‘s online magazine created for young people, by young people.

We offer paid internships and publish work by young writers, photographers, illustrators, and filmmakers from all sorts of backgrounds, helping them get into creative careers. Rife has reached over 8,000 young people through our workshops, over 220 young people have made stuff for Rife on topics ranging from mental health to identity to baked beans, and last year, over 200,000 people visited our website.

In these complex and uncertain times hearing from and supporting young people who are advocating for social change and contributing fresh perspectives has never been so important. 

Through supporting Rife you can ensure that this important work continues and that more young people have their voices heard.