In his brilliant book, The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring on the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World, environmental activist and academic Paul Gilding writes that we are headed toward a “happiness economy.”
Of course, we won’t get there easily. Systems and individuals alike are heavily, heavily invested in the growth economy and will not give up gently. Gilding posits that economic and environmental disasters will inevitably force the change. In his discussion of the transition “away from our current obsession with personal material wealth,” he states:
“We need to start thinking now about what this new economy is going to look and feel like. I don’t harbor any delusions that we’re going to move to this in the next few years, but we are going to at some point, so the more we consider, debate, and experiment with the ideas involved, the better off we’ll be when the time comes.” (p. 200)
In other words, as I see it, building the new happiness paradigm will take an enormous amount of creativity, from countless numbers of us, each in our own way.
Yesterday, two visionary members of the Vermont legislature — Representative Susi Wizowaty (D) and Senator Anthony Pollina (P) — introduced a series of forward-looking bills, including one to use a Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) to guide budgetary policy decisions. I think of GPI — which the state of Maryland already uses — as sort of a politically acceptable way to sell the Gross National Happiness concept to lawmakers.
So that’s one way. Encouraging wide-ranging and collaborative thinking through the arts is another way — one more suited to me, that’s for sure. The idea of zeroing in on poetry specifically came from discussions with my good friend and across-the-street neighbor Anne Loecher, who just received her M.F.A. in poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts last week. With her as a resource, launching a Happiness Poetry Project is a natural choice. Through this project, we can more deeply and yet playfully explore what each of us thinks happiness looks like for individuals, the community, and Planet Earth.
The project, which we will officially kick-off at The Happiness Paradigm Store and Experience in Maple Corner on January 21st from 11 AM to 3 PM, will give Anne a chance to share some of her knowledge. She will give provide potential poets of all ages and skill levels with ideas, information about structuring poems, inspiration, and generally good vibes. I’ll pass out my list of 18 happiness tips. And, Anne is adding extra happiness to the day by offering to bake chocolate chip cookies!
In 2011, David Budbill, an accomplished and popular poet from Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, published Happy Life. His poems are personal reflections, yet seem to fit well with a happiness economy paradigm that measures a life well lived according to one’s work, family, community, time in nature, and simple pleasures.
With the Happiness Poetry Project, we can all take a turn. Haikus, sonnets, limericks — whatever suits your fancy. You can be whimsical or exceedingly serious. And you don’t need to live anywhere near Vermont, much less Maple Corner, to join this project. Just email your contributions to: Happinessparadigm@gmail.com.
I’m also going to try my hand at writing happiness poetry. I wrote reams of poetry in high school, and again in my mid-20’s — until an acquaintance who taught poetry termed my work simplistic and one-dimensional. The heck with that kind of thinking! Now is the time to encourage creativity, not quash it. I’ll be brave. How about you?
Contemplating happiness poetry will benefit us individually, also, by helping us focus on what we really care about. In Living A Life That Matters, Rabbi Harold Kushner writes of “a Native American tribal leader describing his own inner struggles. He said, ‘There are two dogs inside me. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.’ Someone asked him which dog usually wins, and after a moment’s reflection, he answered, ‘The one I feed the most.'” (p.58-59)
To me, this story is all about where we put our energy, our thoughts, and our time. Thus, even though I’m a cat owner, I have to say, let’s feed our happiness dogs with some good poetry thoughts.