‘Happyopoly’: What if…Monopoly was based on the Happiness Index? Creating an alternative to the fast-learning capitalism starter pack

‘Happyopoly’: What if…Monopoly was based on the Happiness Index? Creating an alternative to the fast-learning capitalism starter pack


In our house, we play Monopoly. Everybody does, don’t they?

My kids love it, especially my son. We’ve moved onto Monopoly Deal, so that we can take it anywhere. It is also a quicker, more turbo-charged version. They learn fast.

In Sapiens, Yuval Harari describes capitalism as an all-pervasive entity that has all the hall marks of a ‘religion’. Something that only occurred to me during lockdown, when playing the board game, is that one reason for this is that for decades in almost every home, Waddingtons put a red and white box of Monopoly, almost like the Gideons do with Bibles in hotel rooms.

Kids grow up playing it. They learn the rules of the game, then they realise that life is the game. Or the way you play the game informs the way you approach daily life: The fast-learning capitalism starter pack.

Starbucks and Coca Cola gets kids hooked on sugar and caffeine, Monopoly teaches each generation to accrue wealth and property, and bankrupt their family members in the process, often at Christmas. To triumph is to become rich, and watch others fall.

At a national level, it has long been said that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a too narrow assessment of the health of a nation. Why not National Happiness? Imagine if the property trading game was based, not on money and ownership, but instead based on the ‘Happiness Index’; i.e. a sustainable and equitable social-economic model that better preserves our environment? “Imagine all the people…”

I know, I’m a dreamer, and I’m not the only one. At Art that Makes You Think, I will not be the first to satirise the Monopoly board to encourage us to think about this iconic part of our culture and how it affects socially accepted norms.

In recent times, just as we have seen neo-conservative politics turbo-charge economic development, ever since Hasbro acquired Parker Bros, and therefore Monopoly, it took, what was just two London-based versions: standard and ‘deluxe’ to franchise the model not only to every town and city all around the world, but also every movie, book and sweet wrapper that might catch a kids eye. What began with the grand London addresses of Victorian London, has become the blank spaces on a generic map colonised the commodify everything for the purposes of teaching a certain kind of capitalism, from the safe space of Sunday afternoon family fun.

Genius, I will agree, but also ripe for satire.

Subverting iconic imagery is my M.O., so together with my daughter, around a kitchen table in North Yorkshire, in a rare sortie during a break in lockdown, we began developing, ‘Happyopoly’, where the happiness of all players trumps screwing them into bankruptcy. We took our standard vintage Waddington’s edition and created new cards to overlay on each space on the board.

I have always liked the Gandhi quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” In our imaginary board, we called the manufacturer, ‘Youtopia’. The idea being creating a better world starts with you.

So, the lottery ‘Chance’ cards, become ‘Change’ – think Obama’s, “Yes we can!”; the trunk of cash ‘Community Chest’ becomes ‘Community Service’, where happiness ‘points’ are your reward for helping out in your local community. As Bear Grylls once apparently said, “Through connection lies strength.”

Finally, the other reason why my daughter created Happyopoly in 2021, at a time when we were so isolated from, and missing each other, was to create a game that embraced the very concept of local community. So, every space on the board is one from our local community, Leamington Spa.

This is highly appropriate because in 2022, Right Move declared (?) that Royal Leamington Spa was the ‘happiest place to live in the UK’. As reported proudly by our local paper, The Courier. That’s good enough for me.

So Hasbro, with all it’s capitalist might and copyright might not like me selling a rival Youtopia game, but it is available as a 50 x 50cms limited edition print (60). It is titled, ‘The Happiest Place’. Where the London train stations are replaced with Leamington parks, utilities are replaced with local festivals, ‘Free Parking’, becomes ‘Free Hugs’ (‘deluxe’ hugs £2), and so on... I was born on Lillington road in ‘CV32 Super[Council] Tax’, and have now been demoted south of the river to ‘CV31’ sharing my street with students and addicts.

Imagine if Monopoly was based on the Happiness Index. 'Happyopoly' by Ben Cowan Art that makes you think

Instead of  being sent to jail, you are ‘Sent to Coventry’ 😊. I must say that may late-father worked in Coventry all of his life, and we are still all Coventry City football supporters, so it comes from a place of love. Apparently, this expression goes back before the second world war to late-medieval times.

What is fabulous is that this new art work will be premiering at Art in the Park, the best free art festival in the Midlands, and…#AITP2023 has a place on the board!

Art in the Park, Leamington Spa. Art that makes you think by Ben Cowan August 5th & 6th August

So, ladies and gentlemen, if you can come and join us at Art in the Park, Leamington Spa this weekend, 5-6th August 2023. I will be exhibiting on Mill Gardens. I commend this new game to The House. Enjoy. Be happy.

Make your community the happiest place on earth.

[Insert joke here]

Ben Cowan, Leamington Spa.

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