Genuine well being for ourselves and the planet

Posts tagged ‘Gross National Happiness’

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:

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.

Who’s the messenger? What’s the message?

Yesterday, listening to a discussion of the astonishing Russian protests against reportedly rigged elections, I couldn’t help but think of Mohammed Bouaziz.  He was the 26 year-old Tunisian fruit seller whose self-immolation nearly a year ago sparked the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring continues to inspire uprisings worldwide — Israel, Spain, Occupy Wall Street, and now Russia.  The on-the-scene reporter in Russia yesterday marveled at the protesters’ lack of fear when the police showed up.  In the past, she said, the appearance of police sent protesters scurrying for safety.  Not anymore.

Obviously, there is no way, no way that 26 year-old could possibly have imagined how his actions would resonate throughout the world.   He was an unknowing messenger of hope and courage.  I believe his actions said, “Enough is enough.  The time for change is now.  Be brave.  Be strong.  You are not alone.”

Sometimes I take comfort from the idea that we’re all just pawns in the giant chess game of history.  That relieves the burden of trying to carry the the whole world on my shoulders.  However, unlike pawns, we move ourselves.  We should choose those moves wisely, because we — like the Tunisian fruit seller — cannot know what lessons those around us will take from our actions.

Books, like Eric Weiner‘s Geography of Bliss, can contain powerful messages; Weiner’s book was the first place I read about Gross National Happiness.  His chapter on Bhutan changed my life.

Amy Noyes Demonstration

Often, though, the messenger is close to home.  For me, most recently, the messenger was Amy Noyes, a friend and former work colleague while I was at Home Share Now.  I knew she’d written a book on non-toxic house cleaning — I’d even seen a copy of the book’s Chinese printing.  Very impressive!

It wasn’t until Amy came to The Happiness Paradigm Store and Experience to do a demonstration that I finally understood: using items like vinegar and baking soda to clean can lead to greater health and happiness for me, and greater help and happiness for the planet (I know I’m behind the curve here, that many of you figured this out long ago).

Messages don’t land in vacuums.  Amy’s message finally resonated with me because I am using happiness as a frame for her book Nontoxic Housecleaning .

Also, thanks to the dramatic shift in U.S. zeitgeist brought on by Occupy Wall Street, I can now appreciate how changing my cleaning ways is a statement against corporate power and greed.  Really, who makes all those fancy-schmanzy cleaning products that are so colorfully displayed in the grocery store, and who makes all the ads trying to convince us to buy things we don’t need?  Lotions and potions that may well undermine our well being, and that of the planet?  Occupy the kitchen!

It may surprise Amy to know what her visit taught me.  Similarly, I suspect, all of us might be surprised to know where, when, and how our words and actions were especially meaningful to others.  If you chance to watch It’s a Wonderful Life this holiday season, remember — it’s not just George Bailey.  We’re all having wonderful lives.