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Don Corrigan

Thomas Jefferson, Happiness & Cycling

June 13, 2018
Enter the Missouri History Museum and it's hard not to be wowed by the statue of Thomas Jefferson. Sculpted by Karl Bittner and dedicated in 1913, the statue is the first national monument to America's third U.S. President.

Jefferson's achievements are many, from his Louisiana Purchase doubling the size of America to his advocacy of public education and religious liberty. Don't forget the Lewis and Clark Expedition, thanks to Jefferson, a trip that began in 1804 near St. Louis.

Perhaps Jefferson deserves special recognition for his work on the U.S. Constitution and his insistence that it include a fundamental right to life and liberty and "the pursuit of happiness." Jefferson did not actually define what constitutes happiness, nor did he offer instructions on how to achieve it.

That's where Saint Louis University can be of assistance. The two-century old university on North Grand is now the site of a three-year, $5.1 million project known as the "Happiness and Well-being Project."

A $5.1 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation for the study of happiness is bound to put a smile on most university professors' faces. In this case, the project leader is SLU Professor of Philosophy Dan Haybron.

"Happiness is a key value for nearly everyone, and yet we still have a great deal to learn about it," according to Haybron. "There is no shortage of unhappiness, so what can we do to be happier? Is happiness purely an individual matter, or is it also important to work at it together, building healthy communities for instance?

"Over the last three years, SLU has had the unique opportunity to help shape the future of happiness research, building collaboration between science philosophy, and religion."

Haybron is the author of "Happiness: A Very Short Introduction," as well as "The Pursuit of Unhappiness." The SLU professor has been joined by over 150 researchers in the project.

In his short happy book, Haybron notes such keys to happiness as:

• Strong relationships and feeling a keen sense of belonging.

• Worthwhile and meaningful activities that are performed well.

• Autonomy – being able to control your life and the use of your time.

Happiness and Bicycling

One big key to happiness for many residents of St. Louis is the ability to bicycle in a bike-friendly environment. This is evident in the number of bike events, such as the Midnight Ramble, the World Naked Bike Ride in The Grove, as well as more sedate rides as Pedal the Cause and Tour de Cure.

The many bike paths, trails and greenways that have emerged as part of a new St. Louis landscape are also evidence that this is a bike happy town. "I want to ride my bicycle" was the refrain of the rock group, Queen. That could be an anthem for St. Louis, despite all the conspiracy theories about hidden meanings in the song.

Of course, all the biking hubbub in St. Louis lately has been all about the Chouteau Greenway. A team of experts was recently selected to develop a city corridor that will be transformative for St. Louis. It will be multi-use, but I am focused on the biking aspect.

"We are in the refinement period for the entire project and it will take several years to put the project together," said Emma Klues, vice president of communication and outreach for Great Rivers Greenway (GRG) .

"When it is finished, it will be worth the wait to bicycle, run and hike from Washington University, through Forest Park and the Central West End all the way to the Gateway Arch," Klues explained.

Folks can get a small taste of this project later this summer when a segment in the Cortex Complex becomes available for biking. It's a small glimmer of what is to come for St. Louis.

Our city is now rated as one of the fastest-growing bicycling cities in America. The Chouteau Greenway will be the "Great Connector" for St. Louis.

According to Susan Trautman, CEO for GRG, Chouteau Greenway will feature an east-west corridor with connections north and south to knit together the city's vibrant neighborhoods, parks, businesses, cultural and educational districts.

To me, that sounds like a project for happiness and well-being in St. Louis. Thomas Jefferson would approve.

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