Meeting with local community builder Anita Fonte at a local cafe is enlightening and enjoyable. In 2012 Fonte asked Deanna Chevas, Tucson Manager for Local First Arizona, for input on an endeavor she was embarking on to investigate community happiness and prosperity in Tucson. Ultimately Fonte spoke with thirty-two community leaders and members about what these terms mean to them, what the bright spots are in Tucson and what some of the challenges are. In 2013 Fonte put her notes, thoughts and findings together and self-published Talk UP^ Tucson: An Exploration of Community Happiness and Prosperity. This book is meant to be a conversation-starter and a tool to guide group talk about the kind of Tucson residents would like. Fonte has lead group discussions on the topics of happiness and prosperity and encourages folks to use her book and the resources within to lead their own discussions.
Naturally, Chevas shared her perspective that localizing is key to happiness and prosperity. "When we exchange time or money for goods we are having a human interaction. When you buy produce at a farmer's market, for example, you are going to interact with the farmer or a farm worker. You will have an opportunity to appreciate the hard work that brought your salad greens or eggs to you. Happiness comes from gratitude. And, prosperity increases when we keep our transactions with local, independent businesses. More profits stay in the community, rising the tide for all."
Fonte says she didn't set out to write a book. What prompted her were the feelings of unhappiness and loss of optimism she experienced after two major public events. First was the passage of Senate Bill 1070, the bill that allows officers of the law to detain anyone who cannot provide proof of being in the United States legally. The other was the tragic shooting at a Congress on Your Corner event hosted by Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords in which six people were killed and Giffords and a dozen others were injured on January 8, 2011.
Having lived in Tucson since 1971 and having earned her PhD from the University of Arizona, Fonte is firmly a Tucsonan and cares about her community. So she decided to get busy investigating community happiness for her own benefit as well as the benefit of her neighbors and fellow Tucsonans. "What could lift Tucson up?" she wondered. "Happiness, prosperity, kindness or something else?" The book highlights local and international examples of research and discussions of happiness as equally important to human existence as economics. Fonte also began to act out in ways she thought might spread happiness. In her neighborhood she began waving to passersby and getting to know neighbors and their dogs. Later she put a basket outside of her house of books and magazines that people were invited to take.
Although Tucson missed the chance to include language about community happiness in its general plan, Fonte hopes her book will spur conversations on the topic and help bring about positive change. She is available to lead discussions for neighborhood groups, organizations, businesses and civic groups. She also encourages folks to lead their own talks and begin to find ways individually and as a community to increase happiness.