By Christiana Roussel
The first thing you notice upon meeting Barbara Kenyon is her smile. Her easy smile looks effortless and that may be true but, she has also built a business upon the science of delivering happiness.
As the owner of Happy Event Company, Barbara has more than two decades of conceiving, designing, creating and executing events—for brides, corporate get-together and gatherings of all sizes. By tapping into the body’s four key happiness drivers—dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins—she crafted joy-inducing events from Birmingham to London that tap at least one or more of those drivers. Just as we have always heard that we eat with our eyes before we taste our food, Barbara has found that we are capable of feeling happiness before even recognizing its source. Her smile is just one indicator of that ability to be in tune with those emotions.
Her signature events draw on music, food, flowers, smells—signaling each of our five senses that we’re in a special place, experiencing something truly unique, thoughtful and intentional. But even before the pandemic hit earlier this year, Barbara’s spidey-senses were telling her to be thinking about another, more individualized way to deliver happiness to customers. She wanted to be able to deliver happiness in smaller packages, to more recipients. When businesses ground to a halt or at least a crawl in early spring, Barbara reached out to local business owners and friends, asking them how they were experiencing this seismic shift. Many had surplus inventory of items that were no longer being bought because of the shutdown and social-distancing measures. Her brain went into over-drive, trying to find a way to connect these products that she already knew brought so many people happiness, in a new delivery system. She struck upon the notion of the Happy City Box, and her idea grew legs.
So she started filling brightly colored boxes—in her signature yellow—with items from local retailers, ones that specifically tapped into connecting with one of those four emotional drivers, and with that she has been delivering happiness to a whole new crowd, while enabling many local businesses to continue operations. Boxes include items that immediately connect with your sense of smell (candles and scented lip balms), touch (the softness of a new T-shirt), action (the act of preparing coffee), and connection (pre-stamped cards to be mailed and continue the ripple effect of this joy.) When so many people were in lockdown and feeling so isolated this spring, Happy City Boxes delivered connection and a window into a brighter place.
Local real estate agents are sending Happy City Boxes to new homeowners, instantly tapping into the joy of their new purchase. A local recruiting firm that partners with Birmingham employers seeking to attract and retain high-level candidates has mailed or hand-delivered Happy City Boxes to new Birmingham hires.
No matter who sends it, the contents of these boxes not only spark joy and release endorphins (“A package? Just for me!?”) but are also teeming with useful products that will instantly connect recipients to small business owners all across the Magic City. The signature salted-chocolate granola from Crestline Bagel delivers both dopamine and serotonin in the form of chocolate and complex carbohydrates. Coffee from OHenry’s also delivers dopamine as well as oxytocin in the mere act of brewing something special. Cooking Bare Naked Noodle pasta can release serotonin. These acts become cyclical in nature as well. The sender feels joy in the act of gifting something special, retailers get excited moving product, and recipients most certainly feel excitement in an unexpected thoughtful delivery and by each product within.
Since this spring, Barbara’s original Happy City Box has expanded to include an array of offerings, including one specifically for women or men, for a new baby girl or boy, as well as a golfer’s box. While no one can hand-deliver a hole-in-one on your next golf outing, that new YETI Titleist tumbler can make you look pretty cool. Corporate customers who might have—in non-pandemic times—hosted large golfing events for clients or associates have found these boxes are a meaningful way to stay connected to participants, even if it is not in person. Other corporate clients are finding that they can work with Barbara to custom-create happiness-inducing boxes for customers and clients alike. She loves being able to inspire that joy in purchasing local products to share the bliss these products induce.
Her limited run Mother’s and Father’s Day boxes were huge hits with welcomed feedback from givers and receivers alike. One customer who received an original Happy City Box from his employer noted feeling a genuine sense of connection with his workplace and teammates, even though they were all working from home. He felt valued and safe in an otherwise scary few months. This employee was able to share the contents of his box with his family and tell them, “This is what it means to be a part of a team that values you. This is why Daddy does what he does and why he chooses to work for this company.” When you think about the present work climate today, could those emotions be any more valuable? We think not.
Along the way, Barbara has been able to have this same experience in her own home too. When the pandemic first hit, this Cahaba Heights mom sat down with her two sons, Rivers (10) and Shields (7), to explain the changes they might be experiencing in the world around them. They had always known her to be someone who produced large-scale events, and now she was going to be pivoting. She explained to them that this new business would continue to be an income stream while providing an authentic outlet for local businesses to sell the products that make them special here in the Magic City. The boys not only embraced the idea but wanted to pitch in. “They had their own ideas for what would go into a Happy City Box – gaming keyboards and whatnot,” Barbara says. “While we’re not producing a gaming box, I loved that they immediately got the idea of what we were doing and were engaged.” The boys have been great about pitching in as needed and are very adept at putting boxes together, Barbara adds.
As for what the future holds for Happy Event Company and Happy City Boxes? Barbara will be the first to tell you she doesn’t see large gatherings happening again very soon, so she is grateful to have developed a way to still elicit smiles, both near and far. She is toying with the idea of creating Happy City Boxes in other cities but, for now, is content to just focus on making these the very best they can be—and relishing life with her boys in this corner of Birmingham she is so proud to call home.
Who’s in a Happy City Box?
While Barbara remains committed to supporting the local vendors she has been using to fill her Happy City Boxes, she is always on the lookout for new and unique ideas. At press time, these were some of the local makers she featured:
- Ashley Mac’s*
- Better Kombucha
- Crestline Bagel*
- Dakster Design
- Domicile Homewood
- Freedom Soap Company*
- Hunter’s Cleaners
- Inverness Country Club
- Leaf & Petal*
- Magic City Organics
- Magic City Woodworks
- Manhattan South*
- New York Butcher Shoppe*
- OHenry’s Coffees
- R&R Wine & Liquor
- Shalla Wista Studio
- Sonthe’s Kitchen
- The Happy Olive
- The Trak Shak
- Vulcan Apparel Company
- Wax & Tin Candles
*Retailers with Vestavia Hills locations
Did you know that fresh flowers are the only thing on the whole planet that can engage with every font of happiness? Barbara loves the power of flowers and is a proud supporter of Repurposed Blooms, an organization that extends the joy of fresh flowers by working with event producers to share last night’s flowers with nursing home residents and others who might be experiencing isolation. Visit.repurposedblooms.org to learn more about how they are spreading happiness with every repurposed bouquet.