Wojo’s Wandering Wisdom: Four Components of a Happy City

Posted on February 18, 2016

As part of his Wojo’s Wandering Wisdom series, Matt Wojnowski, Assistant City Manager for the City of Altus, OK shows you how your neurotransmitters are critical to #localgov job satisfaction.

Since my interview with the city planner consultant with Parks & Rec TV show, I have been pondering what I could write about next. I had written down a few ideas and started to look into a few of them but nothing really jumped out. I considered the thought of crowdsourcing the idea for my next article based on my list of potential ideas for future articles. And…to go meta… one of those ideas was an article on crowdsourcing and local government. But, I’ll save that one for later.



I was reading Simon Sinek’s book Leaders Eat Last, specifically the section on the happy chemical in our brains. I also thought back on my article about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and transposing that towards local government. I thought what would be the four happy components of a city? The four happy chemicals in our brain can be remembered with “DOSE” = Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins. How would I transpose those four happy components to a local government? Glad you asked…



Dopamine is about motivation and reaching goals. So naturally for a local government this is about the strategic plan, vision, or mission statement for that organization. Here are few questions to ask about these documents and plan.

  • Is it adequate?
  • Does it have buy-in from those who will do they work?
  • Are there action steps and task tied to each goal?
  • Are there performance measures and benchmarks?

These items give staff, council, and residents something to work towards and feel accomplishment once it is reached. Without them, what are we working towards?

Takeaway: BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND and it will help your local government achieve the happiness while working towards the goal.



Oxytocin is about trust and healthy relationships. Local governments have many partnerships. In general, they partner with school districts, the county, chamber of commerce, major employers based in the city. They also partner with state and federal agencies, neighboring communities, non-profits. There are also relationships within the local government organization itself.

  • How are the partnerships between departments?
  • How is the relationship between council and staff?
  • What about staff and the public?

This is all about a team culture throughout the organization and with partners.

Takeaway: COOPERATION AND COLLABORATION helps your local government to be a happy organization.



Serotonin increases while we are enjoying nature in the sun and lower levels are linked to loneliness.

  • How many parks and outdoor recreational areas does your city have?
  • Any hike and bike trails winding through your community?
  • 5K’s?
  • Are there recreational classes and sports for youth and adults to enjoy the outdoors?
  • What about community events to mix and mingle and enjoy an event together as a whole?
  • Does your organization have a wellness program for employees or the public?

Serotonin is about pride and respect from others. What awards and achievements bring pride and recognition to your community? State or national awards? What about rankings? If you are lacking in this area, how can you turn it around? This happiness component is about getting outside, enjoying events with others and having pride in your awards and achievements.




This was the toughest of the happy chemicals to assign to local government. Endorphins help with pain and stress. Laughter and crying helps to release endorphins. I think this translates to the human side of government. We make mistakes and we can be funny. Hopefully we display this as we interact with others in person, at meetings, and through social media.  At times to the general public, social media seems to be an open way to display the human side of local government.  I also thought that a fund balance or rainy day fund helps with organizational financial stress. (A stretch, maybe… but I think it helps keep the organization happy.)



It’s human nature to strive for happiness and I believe local governments also strive for happiness in their own way. To summarize, Wojo’s four happy components to a city are:

  • Strategic Plan/Vison
  • Partnerships/Teams
  • Parks & Rec/Awards & Achievements
  • Social Media/Fund Balance

The key to ultimate happiness is finding the right balance with all the happy components…but on your keyboard….

keys to happiness

Close window