Action for Happiness’ Happy Cafes spread positivity around the UK

Stan Rosenthal

A growing network of Happy Cafes around the UK is helping to counteract the materialistic way of thinking that is damaging to both our mental wellbeing and the planet, says Stan Rosenthal, national coodinator for the Happy Cafe Network

In the late 17th and 18th centuries, coffee shops helped to spread the revolutionary ideas of the Enlightenment. Today, a network of cafes, known as Happy Cafes, has been set up to disseminate the central idea of the New Enlightenment: the notion that promoting our all-round wellbeing rather than simply focusing on material satisfaction is the only way of achieving true contentment and sustainability in a threatened world.

This concept is now filtering through at governmental and inter-governmental level. In the UK an all-party parliamentary group on wellbeing has been formed along with a What Works Centre of Wellbeing to assess policies for improving our general welfare. This country is also leading the way in adopting life satisfaction indicators which go beyond a rising GDP. Most developed countries and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are working on similar sets of figures.

To support this emerging shift of priorities the United Nations unanimously passed a resolution in 2011 calling for a more balanced approach to economic growth and one which promotes “the happiness and wellbeing of all peoples”. This has been followed by a UN sponsored International Day of Happiness which is held every year on 20 March.

“The grand vision is to have a Happy Cafe in every high street and town centre.”

Happy Cafes are an attempt to introduce the new thinking into mainstream activity. They are part of the Action for Happiness movement established in 2011 by Richard Layard, Anthony Seldon and Geoff Mulgan, which is about helping people to take practical steps to improve their mental wellbeing and to create a happier and more caring society. The movement, whose patron is the Dalai Lama, now has over 50,000 members in 160 countries, with over 300,000 social media followers.

The UK’s first Happy Cafe event was launched in Brighton last year at Emporium, a very popular cafe/bar/theatre complex in London Road. It is a place where you can relax, make friends and learn more about Action for Happiness. The movement’s message is conveyed in inspirational postcards, pamphlets and posters at the cafe, setting out its scientifically researched Ten Keys to Happier Living. The Ten Keys include positive relationships, strong social connections, resilience, giving to others, being comfortable with who you are and being part of something bigger than yourself. Visitors to the cafe can also browse through an array of happiness literature on display.

The Canvas Cafe in East London joined the network in March this year, followed by the Hope Place Cafe in the Wirral, with both providing a wide range of wellbeing activities and relaxation therapies. A fourth, the Hope Cafe in Lanarkshire, specialises in helping those with mental health issues. Milk No Sugar has just become the second Brighton cafe to join the network. Many more are in prospect elsewhere in the UK and enquiries have been received from all over the world, including Washington DC, Serbia, Jamaica, Australia, Indonesia and Cambodia.

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The grand vision is to have a Happy Cafe in every high street and town centre, a process that has been facilitated in the UK by the closing down of so many shops as a result of new retailing patterns. Happy Cafes would also be a perfect way of making use of old churches that have fallen into disrepair. Indeed, Emporium in Brighton is a converted Methodist church. So as well as countering our spendthrift culture they could also help to revive our public spaces.

On such a scale, backed up by a growing Action for Happiness movement, Happy Cafes could play a significant part in changing our self-centred, ultracompetitive, materialistic way of life which is so damaging to the all-round wellbeing of ourselves and the planet.

Photo title: The launch of the first Happy Cafe, at the Emporium in Brighton

Photo credit: © Action for Happiness

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  • Mike Dixon

    Excellent story – our quest of continuous economic growth is destroying people and the planet on which we depend for survival. Crazy really when you think about it!

  • isabella

    This is a wonderful idea as there are a lot of isolated people out there with no friends or human company. Some has lost families through death or moving to other parts of the country.Some people do not even have any family. There are a lot of people who have mental health problems through loneliness and isolation so a happy café in the high street where they could meet up and join in with other people in the same boat.
    I live in acton and would love to see one open there. There is a lot of needy people in this borough and I think it could do lot of good.

  • isabella

    these happy café are a wonderful idea to bring the community together. There are a lot of isolated people out there isolated and lonely. This can lead to depression and mental health issues. A place like this would be marvellous just like minded people mixing together just for fellowship. In acton there is a great need for a place like this a community based centre where people can come for some fellowship. not to be judged but to be helped into society. Humans need companionship and this is a great way they can come and go as they please. Bring their talents to share with other people,teach one another new skills.Just come and chat that can make such a lot of difference to a persons life. I used to visit lonely people in their homes and all they wanted was someone to talk to and have a cup of tea with. It was the highlight of their week sometimes. So well done guys for this venture and pray to god it takes off.

  • Eljay

    I agree wholeheartedly with the above comments. I’ll be heading off to Australia with my soon to be hubby and having a coffee shop is our dream. This is perfect! Thanks for the article and good news! :-)

  • Glynis

    Since last June I have been producing and presenting a weekly radio show called The Happiness Café ( It’s purpose is to share positive news, great music and have an inspiring guest talk about why they do what they do. I have had therapists, artists, scientists, writers, musicians and Mallorcan local charity founders as well as representatives from international foundations (Earth Guardians, Playing for Change, Farm Up Jamaica, One Billion Rising). Each week I choose a quality and listeners comment on these – love, clarity, wisdom, humour, forgiveness etc) and the beautiful thing is that all over the world people are working together being the change we want to see. I shall now write to Action for Happiness and see if I can get an interview! Thanks for sharing the good news!

  • karen

    Glynis I teach a new energy technique that anyone can do and use by raising our vibration , would you like to have a chat about it for your programme ? x

  • Bridgette

    Thank you for your wonderful comments here, Isabella, I totally agree with you. And I believe and experience that all will fall into a new, better place, as the big plan of GOD forsees it.And the Happy Cafes are a wonderful part of it. Great idea, great action, great places the way it is described here. Would love to visit one soon.

  • nancy

    We need more of these across the world, too much stress and materialism is taking a toll in us. This is great idea to be supported and cherish.

  • Rachel


    I would love for there to be a Happy Cafe in my city! There is no such place to be found here yet! I wpuld be so grateful to make at least one friend who shares my passion for positivity,kindness and all things good.

    P.S if anyone knows how I can make this happen then I would highly appreciate your feedback…Also currently being jobless I would be so happy for any work opportunities with Positive News UK…thanks in advance.

  • Jordan

    Wonderful and inspirational project!

    I thoroughly support work done to build community, social connections and improve well-being by learning from and sharing with others and building confidence. Prayers and warm wishes.

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  • Sandi

    It’s sounds better than a pub which is not always ‘public’and doesn’t really do genuine hospitality for those who want a tea or coffee sometimes. Pub=real ale male etc. But the average coffee shop doesnt do abeer or wine which is just as annoying. Will happy cafes do good snacks, table service for decorum and comfort?, also stay open late, while so many places (even in London) close too early. It.s the evenings that can be bad for the isolated meaning pple stay home and drink which is very bad and sad.

  • Terry Thompson

    I want to open and run a happines cafe in my area but need support I am near pickering north yorkshire

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