You’re probably familiar with the saying, “Happiness isn’t having what you want, it’s wanting what you have.” I’m not sure who said it, but this quote is so ubiquitous that you can even buy a wall plaque from Amazon emblazoned with this wisdom. I suppose that’s both good news and bad news. Good, to reinforce the abundance we already have. Bad, of course, because it’s all about the shopping!!
Anyway, all week I have been feeling a low-grade yearning for something I don’t have — or, more precisely, what I am not choosing to do. There is plenty of joy and happiness staring me in the face with all that I have chosen to do. For the most part, I am not only appreciative of but sometimes also dumbfounded by my amazing life path. Still, I’m a little bit sad this week that I am not walking for happiness with my friends Paula Francis and Linda Wheatley.
Okay, so be it. As my positive psychology teacher Tal Ben-Shahar puts it, “permission to be human.” I’m human, I feel some regret at the road not taken. Literally. Since this past Monday, when Paula and Linda began the third leg of their Happiness Walk, I have watched their Facebook and Twitter posts with anticipation, joy for them, and, my own pangs of desire. You see, I know from personal experience just how magical their walk really is.
The Happiness Walk. Theirs is a very ambitious project! As co-founding members of GNHUSA, we all know how urgently we need, as their site puts it, “an expanded set of true progress indicators – one that views economic and material well-being as part of a broader definition of progress.” To get a better sense of what those indicators should be — ie, how to measure what really matters to regular folks in this country, in 2012 Paula and Linda decided to walk from Stowe, Vermont to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. As they walked, they also listened — collecting stories day after day after day about what happiness truly means in people’s daily lives. You can see photos and listen to the stories at the Happiness Walk website — they are delightful and sometimes quite moving.
After a successful 2012 walk, in 2013 Paula and Linda set their sights on a week’s trek from Stowe to Montreal, Canada. Now, they have a much, much bigger goal: by 2017, they will have walked all the way to San Francisco and back! On Monday, they began this part of the project by prancing down the steps of the Jefferson Memorial and following the road toward Norfolk, VA.
True confessions. I admit, at first I didn’t get it. Really, I thought it was a waste of time, energy, and money. I mean, we have a planet to save and a baby movement to grow! What good can be accomplished by just walking? Yes, Paula and Linda schedule some events along the way, but really, they are mostly just walking. How does that help? I didn’t even appreciate the value of collecting stories, because I didn’t see that as valid research. Just anecdotes — as in, so what?
But then, they started reporting back, and I could just feel that something very special was going on. Turns out, the experience of listening to people about their deepest, most precious values — listening from a heartfelt place, with no request for money — is a profoundly moving experience for both the speakers and the listeners. What made me think this wasn’t valid qualitative data? Sure it is. Plus, wearing their special, brightly colored “Serious About Happiness” shirts, Linda and Paula shared love and gratitude wherever they went — and were everywhere showered with goodness and generosity in return.
Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
My turn to walk. Paula and Linda left Stowe in August, 2012. I finally joined them for two days southwest of Philadelphia, PA in October. When I arrived, they were at a fabulous little cafe in Kennett Square, and I learned another reason the Happiness Walk is so special: food!! When you walk @ 20 miles a day, you get to eat a lot of goodies! Not only that, but at that cafe — as at so many others along their walk — the restaurant owner insisted on comping our check.
As we walked, we took time to meditate, to talk with one another about the happiness movement and our own lives, and to answer questions from the various random strangers who stopped to ask what these “Serious About Happiness” shirts were all about. Even on the second of my two days, which turned out to be the rainiest one of the whole walk, the magic shone through. At a diner in rural Maryland, I got to be the listener, as the hard working waitress shared with me her stories of personal happiness. Magical!
Both nights, our hosts were a family of five — all, until the moment we arrived, complete strangers to us. Friends of friends of friends, learning of the Happiness Walk through a church listserv, and volunteering to give us a place to sleep and sumptuous meals to eat. These five embraced us into their family, showering us with love and joy — all because we were walking for happiness, theirs and ours.
Let me tell you, 20 miles a day is a lot of walking! Because I regularly walk the dirt roads around my house, I thought I was in pretty good shape, but, whoa baby. By the end of day two, I barely made it back to the house. Paula and Linda were practically carrying me, even though I had walked five miles fewer than they did (we met up at the diner). But, in pain, dripping wet, totally exhausted — it was as if the sun burst through when the children of our hosts came running out to meet us with hugs, happiness, and gifts of homemade duct tape jewelry.
So do I want to be with Linda and Paula right now, soaking in more of that magic? Why, yes, I do. I definitely do want that. But it is not to be. Not right now, at any rate.
Not without cost. There is a price to pay for choosing to walkabout on a happiness mission. I, for one, lost two toenails as a result of my two day walk! LOL, that’s not important. But Paula and Linda are giving up a lot, especially time at home with their families and friends, and the opportunity to work at jobs where they could actually earn money (yes, we all still need money!). Indeed, it costs a lot of money to do what they are doing. Even though so much is donated, much is not — like trips back and forth to Vermont to reconnect with loved ones. Want to help with a donation? They’d love it.
Want to walk with them? Or help with housing or transportation? I believe I can speak for them when I say, all help gratefully received.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should also add that I have a vested interest in Paula’s and Linda’s success on their highly aspirational walk. When my happiness gal pals meet with groups in all the many wonderful, varied cities they visit, they plan to offer me up as one of their resources — as in, I can come to these same cities and beautiful people for happiness skills trainings and sermons. It would bring me great joy to play that role, so for that and many other reasons — also coming from a place of love — I am cheering Linda and Paula on from afar.
One of these months — maybe even more than one — I will again join them for a few precious days. In the meantime, let’s end on a musical note, with Pete Seeger’s “Step by Step.” The longest march can be won, together — singly none, singly none.