Genuine well being for ourselves and the planet

Posts tagged ‘United States’

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.

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.