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.
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.
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 AccuWeather.com 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.