Genuine well being for ourselves and the planet

Posts tagged ‘Bill McKibben’

Is It Time to Get Arrested for Happiness?

Is it time for this middle aged grandmother to try on a pair of handcuffs?

Why, yes, perhaps it is.  I don’t have a date penciled in my calendar, but I can feel it coming closer.  For my own personal happiness, for your personal happiness, and for a happier planet, I suspect I will soon respectfully engage in non-violent civil disobedience.

Such a possibility is not a new idea.  It’s been resting somewhere in the back of my consciousness since I first became involved in the Gross National Happiness movement.  As I became increasingly aware of the enormous and urgent challenge of changing our economic structure to avoid environmental apocalypse, I’ve wondered if there might come a day when I would need to really put myself on the line.  The entrenched systems we must change for a liveable planet are massive and powerful.  Weening ourselves off fossil fuels and shifting from a growth economy to a new economy of well being is possible but it will be a very, very hard struggle.

And, as the prayer of the Hopi elder says, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” — not, they are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Maeve McBride, organizer for 350 Vermont and mother of two being led away from Governor Peter Shumlins office on Monday night.  63 other protestors were arrested with her.

Maeve McBride, organizer for 350 Vermont and mother of two,  being led away from Governor Peter Shumlin’s office on Monday night. 63 other protestors were arrested with her.

Thoughts of arrest rose to the surface this past week thanks to the actions of 64 brave Vermonters — from teens through grandparents, men, women, students, farmers, professors, all walks of life — who stood up for the love of Vermont, the planet, and future generations by sitting down.  Sitting down, that is, in Governor Peter Shumlin’s office until he agreed to shut down a pipeline for fracked gas or until they got arrested, whichever came first.  No surprise what happened. They were arrested for trespassing — an event that was beautifully captured on video.

I was so grateful to and proud of the Vermonters who put themselves on the line that night.  For several hours, I was one of the 500 or so supporters who rallied outside the office building to raise our voices against fossil fuel infrastructure and for those risking arrest on the inside of the building.  Rising Tide Vermont was one of the rally and sit-in’s sponsoring organizations; check out their website for information about the ongoing pipeline struggle.

As I chanted, clapped, sang, and sometimes yelled as hard as I could, I felt waves of emotion: anger and frustration at a governor who talks the climate change talk, but is not walking the walk; despair at the seemingly immeasurable depths of corporate greed; joy at being in community with strangers united in common purpose; admiration of citizen courage, commitment, and creativity; and heartbreak looking at the babies around me and wondering what climate change will mean for them.

I also felt heartbroken as farmers and parents from affected parts of Vermont testified about what this pipeline means to them, and the beautiful fragile natural landscape which we all love.  Even Lake Champlain is not sacred — Governor Shumlin wants the fracked gas pipeline to be built under this precious, already-threatened shining jewel in the crown that is Vermont’s landscape.  I was appalled to realize that our governor plans to throw Vermont and Vermonters under the bus in this way.

So I yelled and clapped wholeheartedly — until it was time to leave for my Monday night yoga class.  Big mistake.  Oh, I know self-care is important, especially as we age.  Yoga is vital to my physical and spiritual well being.  Yet the whole drive home, my body was practically screaming at me to turn around.  How could I be going to yoga when other Vermonters were awaiting arrest?  I was so distracted driving home, it’s a wonder I didn’t have an accident.  I was in the wrong place at the right time.

I don’t want to make that mistake again.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

There are a lot of brave people out there.  I’ve watched Bill McKibben, Gus Speth and others getting arrested in Washington, DC to focus America’s attention on the need to block the Keystone pipeline.  We’ve all seen video of non-violent Occupy Wall Street resisters getting pepper-sprayed.  Courageous eco-warriors worldwide are fighting for not only a livable future but a livable present, like the Marshall Islanders taking to their kayaks to block coal shipments and fight for the very survival of their nation.

Realistically,  it is safe and civilized here in Vermont. In the video, you can see how courteous the whole episode was.  There is not a high likelihood of pepper spray here!  Also, I’m self employed, so don’t have to worry about any ramifications from a corporate employer.  And I wouldn’t be stepping outside of societal norms; my community would be very supportive — as I am supportive of those who have already donned the handcuffs.

Still, the prospect is sobering.  When Bob and I talked about this last night, it was a subdued and sad conversation.  How unfortunate, indeed, that even here in Vermont — the Green Mountain State — caring, committed citizens have to be willing to go to jail for our voices to be heard.  Right there, that’s worth a good cry.

Our beautiful Vermont.

Our beautiful Vermont.

 So, how then does this relate to happiness?

First of all, if Mother Nature ain’t happy, ain’t nobody gonna be happy.  Both a healthy environment and good governance are fundamental planks of any Gross National Happiness system. That’s pretty basic.

Second, on the personal level, this might be a good moment to observe that happiness is not about having a smiley face all the time!  Certainly, I’m all for feeling the joy — and there is much joy in working together for a better world, especially when one of the bands is playing — but happiness is also about being authentic, living in concordance with our values, working toward goals, following a meaningful path, being in community, and being so engaged in life that time just seems to stand still.

For me, raising my voice also means working from my strengths.  I am not a scientist or a political strategist.  But I am an extrovert, and I can show up when organizers put out the call. Or even when they don’t call!  I think my first “protest march” happened in the summer before I entered second grade.  While my parents were downstairs watching the Democratic National Convention — they supported Adlai Stevenson — my siblings and I were upstairs chanting, “We want Kennedy!  We want Kennedy!”  Talk about being authentic — I guess I’m just a born rabble rouser.

By the way, though I haven’t seen any happiness studies on this topic, all you older folk should know: I feel so much younger in these climate action crowds.  I love, love, love how thoroughly mixed these crowds are in terms of generation.  We are all in it together, and it feels great to be on the same team with teenagers, great grandparents, and everyone in between.

Standing on the side of love.

That word, love, crops up for me a lot.  “Standing on the side of love” is a rallying cry for the Unitarian Universalist Association, of which I am a member.  And for me, that’s what it really boils down to — love.  Love for the entire astounding planet, as well as the little piece of it called Vermont and the people who live here.  On the day after the arrests, with a heart full of love,  I listened repeatedly to one of Vermont’s musical treasures, Jon Gailmor’s “For the Love of Vermont.”  I so want to do my best for this land I love!

At one point during Monday’s demonstration, three awesome teenagers from my own neighborhood were marching right in front of me — I felt such love for those beautiful young ladies!  But the strongest motivator of all is love for my own grandchild — and for all your children and grandchildren too.  For family and friends.  For summers and rainbows and loons.  For the grandeur of autumn foliage. For blueberries, garlic cloves, and snow shoeing in the woods with a dear friend. For the whole crazy package that is life. Love, love, love.

Right now, when I think about engaging in civil disobedience, I am not feeling anger or hate or fear or blame — it is love.  Just love.

And that means happiness.





The People’s Climate March: We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For

Our new friend -- a young lady we met on subway, then saw in the March seven hours later.

Our new friend — a young lady we met on subway, then saw in the march seven hours later.  Thanks to Paula Francis for this photo.

Traveling to New York City for the People’s Climate March on September 21, 2014 was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  Yes, it made me happy.  Intensely, deeply, indescribably happy.  I was absolutely in the right place at the right time — not only for myself, but for all life on our precious planet.  I was flooded and overwhelmed with gratitude for everyone around me who made the effort to show up for this desperately needed wake-up call; pride that I was one of them; hope that maybe we can save the human race after all; and flat-out joy being in the presence of such a diverse, beautiful, celebratory crowd.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

From a science of happiness standpoint, there’s no question why I would feel such a high — a transformative high, I believe — from this march.  Pick your happiness researcher and theory, and I can pretty much check it off the list. Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi and flow, or having a peak experience?  Ha! This was a lifetime peak experience!  Tal Ben-Shahar and his teachings on living in concordance with our values?  Yes, big time. Barbara Frederickson and the positivity ratio?  My ratio of positive to negative experiences that day was off the charts.   Chris Peterson and the theory of greater happiness by acting from our personal strengths?  My signature strength is the ability to give and receive love, and this day was all about the love.

Then there’s Martin Seligman’s P.E.R.M.A. which I used to predict my happiness at this event in another essay last month.  In reality, at the People’s Climate March, I was seeped in P.E.R.M.A.:

  • Positivity — oh, yes, everywhere, all weekend, even in the long long bathroom lines.
  • Engagement — fierce engagement, with the issues, with the future, with the city of New York, with the people all around me.
  • Relationships — yes, with the friends new and old with whom I was marching, and with all the other marchers, too — we were all connected.
  • Meaning — are you kidding me?  Fighting for the future of the planet?  It doesn’t get any more meaningful than that.
  • And accomplishment?  The organizers of this historic march hoped for 100,000 participants and four times that many showed up — 400,000 of us!  We did it!

All of this and more shaped that momentous day.  Now, back in my Vermont home, my heart and spirit are clinging to purpose, shared community, optimism, and mutual love for the planet and each other — a blend encapsulated by the most moving chant of the march, this piece of a prayer by a Hopi elder:

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Oh my god, yes.  We are!  And, just to be clear, by “we,” I mean you, too — any and all of you who were at the march in body or spirit, or

Even seniors who needed walkers showed up to march!

Even seniors who needed walkers showed up to march!

will be at the next one, or are doing your best to fight climate change on your home turf.  There is no one who can swoop in and magically fix this disastrous situation — literally disastrous, and likely to grow worse.  As one sign put it, “To Change Everything, We Need Everyone.”

Sunday, it felt like everyone did indeed show up.  For so long, I’ve been wondering when Americans were going to rise up, take to the streets, and demand environmental and economic justice.  Finally, finally, we the people were out in glorious, loud, forceful numbers.  Yes, there were some justifiably famous climate warriors near the front of the march  — like Bill McKibben, Vandana Shiva, and our own beloved Senator Bernie Sanders.  They weren’t at the very front, though, because that spot was reserved for the indigenous peoples and others in the United States and around the world who are already suffering from climate change.  I felt humbled to be marching behind these front line warriors.  We need them, and they need us.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

The chant sent me back to re-read the Hopi prayer:

You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour. Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered. Where are you living? What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water.
And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves.
For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time for the lone wolf is over.
Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from you attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Sacred!  That’s a piece I was missing — the march was sacred, and celebratory.  We were all good to each other.  We were all the leader.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Perhaps coincidentally — perhaps not — just a few days after the march, it was announced that Bill  McKibben will be one of the recipients of this year’s international “Right Livelihood” award in Stockholm this December.  On a much smaller coincidental scale — or maybe we’re just all swimming in the same river — I used the Hopi prayer to open and close my first guest service at the Montpelier Unitarian Church.  The thrust of that sermon was the need to cultivate personal happiness in order to better prevent and cope with climate change.  Is this prayer speaking to many of us now?  Is it part of your life?

Me, Marta Ceroni, Linda Wheatley, and Paula Francis offering a new sustainable paradigm for people and the planet.

Me, Marta Ceroni, Linda Wheatley, and Paula Francis offering a new sustainable paradigm for people and the planet.  Thanks to Marta Ceroni for this photo.

Something else that became clear to me on the march — or maybe during my conversations with Linda Wheatley on the train ride home — is that a gross national happiness paradigm is the road map we’ve been waiting for.  Both before and during the march, many people expressed their very strong beliefs that capitalism must be destroyed in order for the planet to be saved.  I share their view that the current corrupt capitalist system is driving many destructive practices, environmental and otherwise.  Further, we can obviously no longer afford a growth economy — a GDP driven economy is driving us over the climate change cliff, and causing massive unhappiness.  Without a doubt,  we need huge systemic changes.

However, “down with capitalism” is not sufficient.  If capitalism is destroyed, what will replace it?  As Marta’s sign says, we need to move beyond GDP, to an economic system based on the well being of people and the planet — a system that could include elements of capitalism and all the other ism’s if and when those elements demonstrably support well being.  To get there, we need a strong gross national happiness movement.  Very personally, in this subset of the larger movement for climate justice, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  And we have a lot of work to do!

In his book “The Great Disruption: Why Climate Change Will Bring On An End to Shopping and the Birth of a New World”, Paul Gilding writes that the end of a growth economy will not come without dreadful suffering and loss — loss of millions of lives, of entire species, of countries which will end up underwater — as we pay the price for “a world economy based on consumption and waste, where we lived beyond the means of our planet’s ecosystems and resources.”

Though his prediction is grim, Gilding is simultaneously quite optimistic.  He believes that we humans will rise to the challenge with “compassion, innovation, resilience, and adaptability.” On the other side of the Great Disruption, he says, “we will measure ‘growth’ in a new way. It will mean not quantity of stuff but quality and happiness of life.”

In other words, a GNH paradigm.

I initially read Gilding’s book sitting in the warm Alabama sun while visiting my very pregnant daughter.  About to give birth to a brand new person, she didn’t enjoy hearing about the “millions of people dying” prediction.  I, however, was much more struck by Gilding’s emphasis on economies of happiness.  Really, I was stunned when I read that millions and millions of people around the planet are already working on developing economies of happiness.

It was an amazing moment for me, realizing that I was one of those millions, that I am not at all alone, that I am part of an immeasurably large, organic, worldwide movement.  For all of us — including each of you — the Hopi elder’s words ring prophetic:

“It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!”

We ARE the ones we’ve been waiting for!


The Urgency Of Sharing Happiness

In early July, I spent hours and hours painting 170 glittery hearts on small rocks I pick up while walking on Vermont’s dirt roads.

170 heart stones ready to hand out at the parade

I normally give heart stones to people who come to the Happiness Paradigm Store and Experience as a tangible reminder of how important generosity is to happiness.  This batch of stones was specifically painted to hand out to spectators at Montpelier‘s Fourth of July parade.  A group of friends and family joined me in a Happiness Paradigm contingent, including my husband Bob playing happy songs on the ukulele with a miscellaneous group of back-up singers.

Two children — 3 year-old Edwin and 5 year-old Avery — were the primary stone givers.  Edwin was low key in his baseball cap, but Avery was sporting an amazing face painting, a cape, a wizard hat, and bells strapped to her shoes so she made music when she ran — which she did, quite earnestly, to put the stones in welcoming hands.  Anyone fortunate enough to get a stone from either child had to have experienced a surge of happiness.

Edwin and Avery, getting ready for the parade to start.

It was a delightful and lighthearted experience — and, very, very serious.

Working in the happiness field has a multitude of rewards, but what truly motivates me is my concern for the environment — more precisely, climate change.  I am a strong believer in the urgent to need to shift our personal and societal definitions of success toward genuine well being and away from money and material goods.  The latter not only fails to take happiness into consideration but also feeds our runaway consumerism.  This, among other evils, trashes the environment to such an extent that our very survival as a species is in peril. Whereas, following the happiness path is a map toward a compassionate and sustainable future.

You may think this is hyperbole, but I don’t mean it as such.  Many brilliant, sober, knowledgeable individuals have connected the dots between our obsession with a growth economy and the destruction of the earth, our home.  For just one quick example, check out Annie Leonard and “The Story of Stuff.”  It is no accident that everything for sale at The Happiness Paradigm is re-cycled or re-purposed.

But back to the parade … our weather that evening was heavenly, an absolutely perfect summer blessing.  The same could not be said for Washington, D.C. where we lived for several decades before moving to Vermont.

The weather there was dreadful.  The unprecedented derecho that clobbered D.C. residents — along with millions of others from Chicago through West Virginia and out to the Atlantic Ocean — was enormously destructive.  At least 22 people died, and nearly 4 million customers were without electricity for nearly a week — a period of “unrelenting, stifling heat,” according to an report.

That means, many millions of folks were truly suffering.

I knew heat when I lived in D.C.  One summer weekend, when our kids were away at summer camp in Vermont, the temperature crept into the low 100’s.  My husband and I got cold salads from the grocery store and camped out in our bedroom, where we had a window air conditioning unit.  It was just too hot to be anywhere else in the house.  We did go to a movie that night, and I remember standing in line outside the theater in the early evening when it was still hot and humid enough for sweat to roll down my back.

One weekend of that in the 1980’s was kinda fun.  It’s not fun anymore — especially when you factor in the fires, floods, tornadoes, and a drought being compared to the dust bowl, all in our country in the last year.  Scary.

And scarier: read Bill McKibben’s new article in Rolling Stone magazine: “Global Warming’s Terrifying Math.”  McKibben, who strikes me as more of a straight-shooter than a fear monger, says he is almost without hope that future humans will be able to survive on this planet.

It just doesn’t get any bleaker.

Fortunately for me, I’ve also been reading Barbara Frederickson’s seminal book, Positivity.   Frederickson’s words are helping me keep my own spirits buoyed, which is absolutely a good thing.  Her years of research have proven that negativity shrinks our ability to see options.  Positivity demonstrably leads to greater resilience and increased creativity in problem solving.

Frederickson calls this broadening, and I saw this principle at work yesterday after a session of laughter yoga at the Happiness Paradigm.  We were discussing why happiness matters in light of climate change, and one participant observed that when we’re happier, we have much broader vision and greater appreciation for the beauty of the natural world around us.  Thus, we will be much more motivated to take better care of the environment.

Another giant in the positive psychology field, Martin Seligman, stresses that working from strengths makes us individually happier — and his website has a free test anyone can take to learn more about what our personal strengths are.  It also seems extraordinarily practical to know how to make our best contributions to tackle the challenges ahead.

Happier people are also more optimistic, a precious trait in tough times.  As Seligman, puts it:

“Optimism is invaluable for the meaningful life.  With a firm belief in a positive future, you can throw yourself into the service of that which is larger than you are.”

There is an awful lot right now that is larger than we are, tribulations that will severely test our resilience, and tremendous problems that will demand widespread creativity to solve.  Frederickson and Seligman both remind me of the urgency in spreading happiness.  So does this Albert Einstein quote recently making its way through social media:  “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

The “same thinking” has been the growth economy.  We need a new paradigm to solve the problems.  A happiness paradigm.  ASAP.