Genuine well being for ourselves and the planet

Posts tagged ‘Gross National Happiness’

Simply Happy

I am a big fan of Annie Leonard and her colleagues at Free Range Studios.  Their 2007 video, “The Story of Stuff,” dramatically shifted my attitude away from consumerism and a growth economy.  Thanks to this zippy, powerful 20 minute video, I create most of my art now with recycled materials; I find replacement wine glasses from used stuff stores (since my household seems to be in contention for the wine-glass-breaking record); and even most of what I buy for the precious grand baby comes from consignment stores.  Watching “The Story of Stuff” was transformational.

That video is also one of the reasons I am on the happiness path, which offers an appealing alternative to the hedonic treadmill and the environmental and cultural devastation wrought by our stuff addiction.  Research shows that happier people buy less stuff — which makes sense, because happy people are busy experiencing life, being kind, exercising, meditating, taking care of others, etc.

Leonard’s 2007 video helped convince me of the urgency for massive cultural change away from the Gross National Product (GNP) paradigm and toward a Gross National Happiness (GNH) paradigm — a shift that needs to happen at every level, within us as individuals on up through international systems.   Now she and her crew have a new video that is almost as powerful: “The Story of Solutions,” which describes both the current paradigm and the much needed paradigm shift in far more understandable language.  “More” drives our lives as cogs in a growth economy.  “Better” is the goal for sustainable solutions and happier humans.  So simple, so elegant, so spot on.  Though the phrase “Gross National Happiness” resonates with me, it has not been universally embraced.  In contrast, who can argue with the clean, clear, bottom line: “better”?

My work is mostly focused on helping individuals make a happiness paradigm shift at a personal level, beginning with myself, of course.  I often ponder the choices my husband and I make in the context of climate change and happiness writ large and small.  This helps me understand ways I need to grow toward sustainable happiness, and ways to share these options with others.

Our well used dinner candles in the morning light.

Our well used dinner candles in the morning light.

Last night was no exception.  I was thinking of “The Story of Solutions” because we had a “better” not “more” kind of evening.  My husband and I were enjoying the pea soup he had cooked while I was in town co-leading a “How of Happiness” study group.  Is there a food more humble than pea soup?  We also had locally-baked bread to dip in garlic oil (the garlic came from our backyard) and a salad.  It’s gotten cold here, so the wood stove in the kitchen was blazing.  For many, many years we’ve eaten dinner by candlelight — always sharing a toast with a glass of wine (white for him, red for me).  That’s what we did last night, too, but there was nothing fancy about the entire scenario — just a humble meal for a long-time married couple.

I was, simply, happy.

Who needs more?

I happen to love pea soup, but the point is, choosing better over more is not  a sacrifice.  It is a happy way forward, for ourselves and our planet.  It’s a solution we can live with.

The Purpose of Happiness

Happy with a purpose: pushing the stroller!

Happy with a purpose: pushing the stroller!

I’ll admit to being just a wee bit clever with the headline.

That is, I’m mushing together two different happiness threads.  First, I want to share some current thoughts on why cultivating individual and systemic well-being is so vital.  Second, I’ve had some personal experiences and observations on Sonja Lyubomirsky‘s “Happiness Activity No. 10” — committing to your goals, or, having a purpose.

Why Happiness Matters      

There are, of course, a multitude of reasons why happiness matters, including sounder health, greater creativity, increased compassion, more personal success,and better parenting.  Perhaps because I’ve had a grand baby living in my house, I often think of Christine Carter’s book Raising Happiness and her emphasis on parents “putting on your own (happiness) oxygen masks first” to raise compassionate, joyful children.  Obviously, I want to do my part to help my grand daughter become a compassionate and joyful person.

Then there’s Aristotle’s quote:  “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”  That is, all our other purposes in life are really in the service of happiness for ourselves and others.  Happiness is purpose in capital letters.

But what really made me want to write on this topic were three lines from a book I bought at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York last month.  The book is Happiness by Thich Nhat Hanh. It contains a variety of mindfulness practices to “fully enjoy life’s gifts.”  In the intro, the Buddhist monk writes, “Every step and every breath can be an opportunity for joy and happiness.  Life is full of suffering.  If we don’t have enough happiness on reserve, we have no means to take care of our despair.”

A few days later, the urgency of cultivating both personal happiness and a societal Gross National Happiness paradigm struck me as I listened to a National Public Radio story on how warmer temperatures that come with climate change could lead to spikes in violence and fighting.

We have to figure out a better way to cope, and soon.  Here’s a goal: for the impossibly big stuff (climate change) and the smaller griefs (like the one I share below), let’s substantially build our happiness reserves.

If history predicts the future, happiness may well be key to positively and collectively adapting to change.  According to evolutionary psychologist David Lykken — one of the early modern happiness researchers — happiness is an “adaptive difference”  that during early human history at least “increased the chances of survival … improved one’s chances of maintaining and profiting from group membership (and) gradually separated our ancestors from the also-ran. ”  (Happiness, p. 14)

Perhaps, happiness will once again be a key determinant of human survival.  

Purpose as a Happiness Strategy

Unlike our ancient ancestors, we can benefit from researchers like Lyubomirsky and their guide books for our individual happiness journeys.  In The How of Happiness, Lyubomirsky details 12 happiness activities; number 10 focuses on goals.

She starts that chapter with a quote from Australian psychiatrist W. Beran Wolfe, written in 1932: “If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert.”  Or, as Lyubomirsky more succinctly put it, “Find a happy person, and you will find a project.” (p. 205)

My inspiration on this topic was closer to home, and very 21st century — a walk several weeks ago with my 15 month-old granddaughter Madeleine.  She and I were returning from the neighborhood labyrinth about a mile and a half away.  Though she contently rode to the labyrinth in her stroller, on the way back, she started fussing.  For some reason, I asked her if she wanted to help push.

Boy, did she.  It was hot and we had a long way to go, but that little girl was determined to “push” the stroller all the way home (with grandma’s help, of course).  Because I knew she was exhausted, I tried repeatedly to convince her to quit pushing and relax in the passenger seat.  No way.  She had a purpose, one that clearly fed her happiness in that moment.  Though she is too young to articulate goals, if she could, I’m sure she would have said her goal was to push the stroller to our front door.  In fact, she diligently and doggedly pushed for more than a mile.  Looking down at her little body working so hard was a poignant sight — and a lesson in the value of purpose.

Lyubomirsky cautions that no happiness strategy will resonate with everyone, and that is true even within my immediate nuclear family.  Unlike Madeleine, her grandfather (my husband Bob) is not goal oriented.  He always has many projects going — he’s just not in a hurry to finish anything.  Earlier in our marriage, Bob’s lack of purpose upset me.  I’d press him to articulate his goals, and he would panic because … he basically doesn’t have any.   Yet, he’s content and happy.  Part of my lifelong learning was to recognize that he is who he is, and one of my goals should definitely not be to change him.  Similarly, Madeleine has always been a determined and focused little being; I wouldn’t even dream of trying to change her!

As for me, purpose not only helps define my most satisfying days, it is also a reliable coping strategy* when life isn’t working the way I’d like — for example, dealing with the smaller grief I mentioned above.  Just a few days ago, my beautiful daughter and granddaughter — who came to live with us when the baby was only five weeks old — moved to a distant state.  The move is a good thing, and definitely meets my daughter’s need to have a purpose (teaching university students).  I’m happy for them.  Nonetheless, I was very, very sad when the moving van drove away.   Everywhere I looked, I saw memories of Madeleine and our precious year and a half together.

Fortunately, I also saw projects everywhere.  I cried awhile, and then tackled my oppressively messy clothes situation.  Two days later, I had one bag of clothes to donate to an artist friend who will re-purpose the material beautifully; two large trash bags filled with clothes to donate to the Goodwill; one trash bag filled with items that just needed to be thrown away; and a much, much neater closet and dresser.  Best of all, I felt better.  This project helped me say goodbye to the past and turn toward the fun times my granddaughter and I will share in the future.  It was soothing, and settling.

Since June, I have co-facilitated a happiness study group designed to help each participant determine which which strategies from The How of Happiness will best make each of us happy.  It’s been clear to me for some time that spreading happiness is one of the most fundamentally important purposes of my life.  Now, I also appreciate just how much having a purpose and pursuing my goals deepens my own happiness.   It is comforting knowledge.

____

* Developing coping strategies for challenging times is another of Lyubomirsky’s recommended happiness activities.

Is Happiness Escapist?

Is happiness escapist?

This question, which came up at a happiness workshop on a lovely Sunday afternoon in Vermont a little over 24 hours before Super Storm Sandy hit the U.S.,  carried extra weight in the following days as we witnessed the storm’s massive destruction and personal tragedies.  Most painful was the news about a Staten Island woman whose two young sons were swept from her arms by powerful waves as she tried to carry them to safety.  Both little boys drowned.  I cried at her despair.

Even worse, though, is the foreboding I feel.  I know I am not alone in believing Sandy is the new “normal.”  I suspect there will be many more neighborhoods aflame, beautiful beaches and treasured covered bridges washed away, and toddlers dying.

And, we all have our normal garden variety of suffering to deal with: aging, failing bodies; money worries; heartbreak from our own and others’ failings; and, ultimately, death.  For all of us.

In fact, I’m feeling a little sad while I write this blog.  Yet, on both a micro and macro level, my answer to the title question is a resounding no.   Quite the opposite, really.  For me, cultivating happiness, positivity, and well being is a moral imperative on both the big systemic and deeply personal levels.

Some of the water jugs we had filled in case Sandy knocked out our power for an extended time.

Why?  Most urgently, because, on both a personal and societal level we are chasing the wrong goals: money and material success.  I know that is not all that many of us seek.  We are also spiritual beings, who treasure and nourish relationships and the opportunity to do good and to create.  And we are physical creatures, who dance and have sex and go to yoga class. Nonetheless, because our economy is fixated on growth, the pressure on us to buy and spend is enormous.  The resulting consumerism is trashing the environment.

To begin to ameliorate the insidious, unpredictable effects of climate change, we must reject the sacred cow of a growth economy.  Equally, we must understand that a rising Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is not a valid  indicator of a flourishing society.  This is not a new idea; Bobby Kennedy eloquently articulated the flaws of GDP way back in 1968.  I’ve watched a video of his GDP speech many, many times and it still moves me to tears.  Today, viewing it again, I want to add “the ravages of a hurricane” to RFK’s list of what contributes to a “healthy” GDP.

One other quick primer on how destructive consumerism is:  “The Story of Stuff.”  If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend investing the 20+ minutes this smart, sassy video lasts.  And, BTW, happier people shop less.

But what will take the place of a growth economy, consumerism, and GDP? Something needs to fill the vacuum.  That something should be a Gross National Happiness (GNH) paradigm — or, in more politically palatable terms, the genuine well being of people and the planet.  Systemically, embracing happiness is embracing a sustainable future.

On the personal level, first of all, I have to question what good it does anybody for me, or you, to be unhappy?  How is that going to help fix anything?

But it’s not just me.  Sages from across the millenia — the Dalai Lama and Aristotle, for example — say that happiness is what all humans desire.  The Dalai Lama has also written that whenever we interact with another person, we can add either to that individual’s happiness or to their unhappiness.  Thanks to mirror neurons, we are much more likely to boost another’s spirits if we ourselves are in a happier place.

When I was at the national happiness conference in Seattle in August, I learned a simple but profound exercise from Scott Crabtree, proprietor of “Happy Brain Science.”  Scott divided the group into paired-up “A’s” and “B’s” and then instructed the “A’s” to maintain sober facial expressions while looking at the “B’s” who were instructed to smile, smile, smile at their partners.  You can guess, it is just impossible to not smile back!

Of course, I am not recommending fake cheeriness or inauthentic saccharine behavior.  What I am suggesting is, as Christine Carter puts it in Raising Happiness, that we need to “put on our own oxygen masks first” when it comes to helping others be happier.

Thanks to positive psychology research and multiple other studies on human behavior, we now know that nurturing happiness builds our own ability to respond to crises and to serving others in their moments of need.  Positivity breeds greater resilience, and the ability to see and appreciate silver linings.  Happier people are kinder — and kinder people are happier.  Happiness is also good for our health, and, damn, sometimes we need to be strong and healthy to fight the good fight!

Another powerful argument for strengthening our happiness muscles is the value of mindfulness.  Taking time to meditate and build personal awareness is one of the most important happiness strategies any of us can adopt.  With mindfulness comes greater compassion (for ourselves and others), more inner peace, less stress — and, the ability to make better decisions.  “To lead a happy life, we need to make good choices,” write father and son happiness mavens Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, “and this involves the recognition that problems arise, even in good circumstances”  (Understanding True Wealth, p. 18).

The circumstances in North Central Vermont were very good indeed — a sunny, warm, late autumn day — as Sandy was headed our way.  Even way up here, we were warned of very high winds and the likelihood of losing power.  It was time for mindfulness and good decisions: after watching Tropical Storm Irene devastate much of Vermont last year, we knew that if the power went out, it could stay out for a long, long time.  Our wood stove and gas range meant we could stay warm and cook hot meals.  But our well needs electricity to work, so we stockpiled pitchers, jars, trash cans, and bottles of water to drink, clean, take care of the baby, and flush the toilets.

The storm wobbled a bit to the west and we never needed all that extra water.  But the threat was — and is — quite real.  My sister Peggy in New Jersey is now in Day 8 of no power, no heat, no water.  It is, she says, “the pits.” I can’t regret for a moment my choices to stockpile water; I am grateful for mindfulness and the awareness to “be prepared.”  (After all, I was once a Girl Scout!)

Diener and Biswas-Diener also observe, “challenges look easier when you are happy.”   I’ll tell you something else that makes my challenges look easier: coffee!   I don’t drink a lot, but, oh, that first cup in the morning is a savoring experience every single day.  During our preparations for Sandy, I became very mindful that I had wholly inadequate coffee preparations.  Next time, I will make even better choices, stocking up on coffee (ground!) as well as water.

That’s not a moral imperative, of course — but, it will help me keep smiling!

There’s Room For Everyone In The*Happiness*Movement

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.”

Flowers with a friend at Pike Place market in Seattle.

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.

Attacked for Happiness? Seriously?

Every other Sunday, services at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier include an opportunity for individuals to come forward and light candles of joy and/or concern.  I am usually shy about speaking in front of the congregation, but on the first Sunday of 2012, I was moved to  light a candle of concern for what I suspected would be a tumultuous year ahead.  I spoke of a desire to face such turmoil with a loving heart.

Spreading the happiness message at the 2010 Jon Stewart rally in D.C.

Be careful what you ask for!  I have in fact been given the opportunity to face turmoil with love: last week, much to my great surprise, my Happiness Paradigm was included as an object of derision  in an online tirade against “the happiness crusade.”

The article — “Happiness is a Global Tax” — is on the Accuracy in Media website.  When I first read it, I felt a cold sense of dread reading my own words (taken from the Online Store page of this blog) being somehow used as a weapon against me and my colleagues coast-to-coast working to advance the gross national happiness concept.

A few days later, I could laugh at the author’s connection between my happiness artwork and discussions held at the United Nations summit on “Happiness and Wellbeing: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” in early April.  Though I unfortunately had nothing to do with the U.N. meeting (I’m still on grandmother leave!), the Accuracy in Media author wrote: “And so, from tiny recycled gratitude journals do mighty international tax plans grow. …”

Seriously? Seriously!  Now that is funny.

But back to that love thing … When I had more time to reflect on the article, I knew I wanted to react with love and compassion.  I know nothing about the author, but it isn’t hard to feel compassion for her.  After all, what are the wounds and struggles that would cause someone to approach happiness with such fear?  I’ll likely never know, and even asking the question seems a tad presumptuous — but it does allow me to think of her with love, and that makes me happier than hanging on to anger, hate, or fear.

For some reason, this incident made me recall my lack of compassion during another era when I acted against a dominant paradigm.  I was in the ninth grade, a normal 14 year-old girl (read, “boy crazy”), except for my home life.   My family were liberal Democrats, and fairly open-minded on issues like race.  So when I got a romantic phone call from a black football player, I was simply thrilled (A boy!!  Calling me!!).  Race didn’t matter at all.

Little did I know that our relationship would lead to public anger and approbation in my very conservative, overwhelmingly white school because the reigning paradigm did not condone inter-racial dating.  The worst disapproval came from two of my closest friends, Debbie and Cindy, each of whom told me that her parents forbid her to have anything more to do with me.

And for that, Debbie and Cindy suffered.  We were in the same section together — that is, we shared all our classes.  For a variety of reasons, the section coalesced around me.  Debbie and Cindy became the outcasts.  I don’t remember wanting to hurt either of them, but I did want and need the support of the rest of my classmates and friends.  I’m sure I gave little thought to their pain.

Today, I think of the 14 year-old Debbie and Cindy with compassion.  And I hope to hold my more mature self to a much higher standard of love and compassion than my adolescent self was capable of.

The Accuracy in Media article also brought to mind a video I watch frequently after meditating: a beautiful and moving rendering of the St Francis of Assisi prayer by  Sarah MacLachlan.    In particular, the request in this song to “seek not so much to be understood as to understand” resonates today.

However, compassion and understanding for happiness naysayers does not mean less advocacy for the cause of shifting our individual and collective aspirations toward well being rather than materialism.  Indeed,  I was tickled when my husband emailed me this message,  “Congratulations!  You made it to stage two!”  Attached was the following quote:

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”Arthur Schopenhauer

Indeed, I hope the happiness paradigm will someday be accepted as self-evident.  Until then … well, here’s to understanding, love, and compassion!

Happiness and Expectations

Last week, my Happiness Paradigm sign was the victim of a hit-and-run accident.  Hardly a tragedy.  Still, my internal demons flared up in sadness that my handiwork was destroyed; anger at the person who did this; and resentment that I had to make a new sign.  As you can see, the carnage was not inviting.

My not-so-happy sign, after a hit-and-run

Where is happiness in this situation?

First, in mindfulness.   Thanks in part to my mediation training, I could analyze my role in what happened (putting the sign too close to the road, for example).  I find it easier to  acknowledge one’s own responsibility, rather than simply blaming the other.  This was also a good opportunity for self-reflection — why did those particular emotions flare up?? — and therefore, personal growth.

Second, in gratitude.  My son Ben is a gifted carpenter.  He quickly and efficiently measured, cut, and primed a (recycled) piece of wood for me to use — making the new sign task much less onerous.  I am thankful for his help.

Third, compassion.  After focusing a loving kindness mediation on the person who did this,  I realized that he/she might not even know it happened.  In any case, I was able to let the anger slip away — and happy to see it go!  BTW, if you’d like to try for yourself, there are many examples of Loving Kindness Meditation on YouTube.

Fourth, the episode illustrated how expectations can breed unhappiness.  It brought to mind the first presentation I attended on Gross National Happiness and Ecological Economics.   Writer/professor Eric Zencey impressed me with his discussion of “entropy” — the inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.  Of course, my sign “deteriorated” rapidly!  Still, happiness lies in letting go of any expectation that things will stay as they are.

However, expectations do have a positive role to play in happiness.  The same day my sign got trashed, I reserved a lake front cabin in Maine for vacation.  Planning the trip and looking at online photos gave me an appreciable happiness boost.  According to a February 18 2010 article by Tara Parker-Pope in The New York Times, this is no surprise.  She shared research which found that we get the most vacation happiness in advance, planning and anticipating the trip.

Lead author, Jeroen Nawijn, tourism research lecturer at Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, said, “People who are anticipating holiday trips show signs of increased happiness, and afterward there is hardly an effect.”

Still, like the sign, vacations don’t necessarily go as anticipated.  The trick seems to be, anticipating the pleasure and dropping the burden of expectations when things go awry.

So … signs … vacations … why does it matter?

In 2007, when I was researching my graduate school Capstone on mediation and suffering, Polly Young-Eisendrath, author of The Gifts of Suffering, told me that we need to practice our suffering “skills” on the little things to be better equipped to handle the large grief and suffering life holds in store for all of us.

The same is true for happiness.  Indeed, it is largely the same skill set.  I aspire to create the compassion, awareness, a mindfulness, and ability to hold onto inner tranquility during the toughest of times.  Similarly, building my happiness skills around small events may allow me to be even happier when a big one rolls around — in, oh, about a month from today!

My daughter Jennifer and granddaughter Madeleine

That’s when my beautiful daughter is due to give birth to her baby girl.  I am overflowing with expectations of joy.  I imagine the birth, cuddling and kissing the baby, reading and singing to her, rocking her to sleep, etc.  I mean, think of the toes, and the new baby smell!  Aaaahhhh …. I am in full anticipatory mode!

Other grandparents tell me that another pleasure — one they didn’t expect — is watching their children parent.  Now I think of that, too.  I fully expect to love watching my daughter be an absolutely tremendous mom.  I expect the baby’s daddy to be sweet and loving, a joy to behold.

I realize that the reality will not be — cannot be — as I envision.  Ironically, I expect the reality to exceed my expectations!  Additionally, there will be rough patches and disappointments.  That’s okay.

If something dreadful happens, the grief will be immeasurable.  I can hardly bear to type these words, but I don’t think genuine happiness can be built on denial.  Part of me is mindful of life’s tragedies — and, I see no reason to spend any real time there.

For now, the expectations are sweet.  I intend to savor them.

The Happiness Poetry Project

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.

Poet Anne Loecher, discussing ways to kick-off The Happiness Poetry Project

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.