Imagine my surprise, while attending a national Happiness Conference in Seattle, to find the soundtrack in my head was from “Pete’s Dragon,” a 1977 Walt Disney movie. The particular song looping repeatedly through my brain was “There’s Room For Everyone,” which asserts:
“There’s room for everyone in this world
Back up and make some room
Let’s all move over and share this world
Everyone make some room
Just think how far out the ocean goes, the whirling wind blows
Shore to shore, door to door.
Think of the valleys, the mountaintops, the Earth never stops.
So deep so high, with miles of sky, we all have part of the pie.”
In the film, the pie was about sharing small town life with — you guessed it — a loveable but lonely dragon. In Seattle, at the conference sponsored by the Happiness Initiative last weekend, the “pie” was a great deal bigger: the happiness movement itself. Indeed, “big” scarcely scratches the surface of describing our efforts to shift the dominant cultural paradigm away from the environment-destroying GDP definition of success and toward a life-enhancing Gross National Happiness metric instead. There’s definitely room for everyone in this movement!
And just what will everyone do? Heeding the wisdom of Martin Seligman, I suggest we each tap into our personal strengths and do whatever it is we each do best. The diversity of speakers at the conference’s plenary session — from renowned ecological economist Robert Costanza to representatives from the Compassionate Action Network and the hardworking staff of the Happiness Initiative — collectively demonstrated that there are probably an infinite number of doorways into this work. Why not pick the path that plays to our strengths?
Of course, the speakers and presenters were only a fraction of the amazing people and energy gathered together at Seattle University. Here are a few others I met:
- Pete, a very smiley Bangkok student now planning to lead a Happiness Initiative at the University of Michigan;
- Mike, a media expert on hand to discuss socially responsible ways to market the happiness movement;
- Maureen from Missouri, a new grandmother and determined activist for the “Take Back Your Time” cause;
- Barb, a colorful individual who leads “Spirals of Joy” workshops in Eugene, Oregon; and
- Justin, a young Japanese-American musician specializing in Brazilian music in New York City. Justin is new to the movement, and looking for his particular doorway to participation.
So which doorway should Justin, or any of the rest of us, take? Though it isn’t necessarily easy to know what we’re best at and where we fit in, I think it’s worth the soul searching it may take to find the answer(s). Those of us in the happiness movement should walk the talk as best we can. In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky stresses the need to find the best individual fit for happiness increasing activities. Similarly, we should find the best fit for our individual roles within the happiness movement.
The next question is, how? Once again, happiness research offers the answer: mindfulness. “To lead a happy life, we need to make good decisions,” write father and son happiness researchers Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener. “Making good choices in life depends on recognizing not just rewards but the likely problems in choices as well.” Mindfulness helps us cultivate the wisdom and awareness to make appropriate choices.
The Dieners remind us that happiness is a process, not a destination. Certainly, it has been a process to find my own niche within the happiness movement. I was fortunate to be in the right place and time to serve as one of the founders and co-coordinators of GNHUSA, yet eventually felt the tug to step away from that group to follow my own creative passions. My process ultimately led to birthing the Happiness Paradigm, which continues to evolve through choices that feel are in closer alignment with my talents and passions.
Now, with greater mindfulness, I’ve returned to work with GNHUSA again on various projects — including, in October, joining fellow co-founders Linda Wheatley and Paula Francis for a few days on their “Pursuit of Happiness Walk”from Stowe, Vermont to Washington, D.C. Sometimes the journey is both literal and metaphorical!
The benefit of finding and sharing our strengths was very clear on day two of the Seattle conference, when Scott Crabtree, Steve Poland, and I had the honor of co-presenting a workshop on personal happiness. Scott — a young, polished, and engaging businessman — went first, with a high energy, professional presentation. Next up was Steve, a deeply thoughtful psychologist and academic who brought a teacher’s care and concern to the group. Finally, I shared my artistic (perhaps quirky?) individualized approach to spreading personal happiness. This combination seemed to be well received by the 30 or so people in attendance.
Throughout the conference, there were many references to, and practices of, gratitude. Indeed, those of us who are already activists in the movement are very blessed to cultivate a deep internal happiness while giving our best in service of greater well being worldwide. We have much to be grateful for. Those of you not yet actively on board, please know that you — the real you, the authentic you — are welcome to join us in this work. We’ll be grateful to receive your gifts.