How consensus decision-making as we practise it in our cohousing community can enhance happiness

November 17, 2016 4:12 pm

Let’s start by defining happiness. Let’s say that it is a state of emotional contentment, and let’s assume that for the majority of people this emotional state is reached when no existential pains cloud their life. Reaching happiness is not given to all, and its intensity is very personal but there seems to be a consensus that some circumstances make you happier than others; for example being free to take decisions about your own life, feeling togetherness with the people around you, giving and receiving kindness or respect or emotional support, having realistic personal goals and working towards them.

How can a process, in this case consensual decision making, enhance those personal feelings?

By triggering all the emotions described above during the process.

Each member of our cohousing is working collaboratively and intently towards a collective goal, taking informed collegial decisions freely and respectfully of others. As a group we are aware of the double trap of confrontational discourse and groupthink, both behaviours being detrimental to the search for best decisions. We are free spirits working collaboratively toward a shared aim.

At the start of our cohousing endeavour we were all a bit out of tune with each other but with practice we have learnt to listen to each other’s voices. We have a common goal and we are all too aware that the only way to find a solution which is acceptable to all is to listen openly to each point of view.

Each committee, and all of us belong to at least one committee, researches and prepares proposals which will later be shared between us in order to exchange ideas before being presented to the board for approval. As a group we are insistent that no decisions should be taken without all of us fully understanding all aspects of the decisions, their consequences, alternatives and costs. Nobody must be left behind. Consequently all must at least have read the papers and the agenda and, if something bothers us, shared our doubts by commenting on the papers. It is our personal responsibility, if there is some aspect of our collective life we would like to improve, to research alternatives and draw proposals.


The counter point is that no member should refuse a proposal without suggesting a coherent alternative. It is true democracy. Not only do we vote but we must participate in the legislative and executive activities. Nobody can hide behind a leader. The success of our cohousing group is our collective responsibility. Board decisions have no losers and only one winner, the community.

As each member sets out his or her point of view, we all adjust our understanding and open ourselves to ideas we had never considered before. By paying attention to others and trusting others we see things differently.

As I write this piece I am becoming aware that I may be describing some form of contemplative practice. This state of putting aside one’s ego and participating in a reflective collective activity seems close to a meditative exercise. Is this peaceful state happiness?



On Twitter as @evetibber

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