Thursday, December 18, 2014

Back in the USA! A post by Happiness Alliance Researcher Abby Morical

For the last three months I’ve been traveling around Nepal, trekking, living in homestays, learning Thangka painting and Nepali, and exploring different realms of happiness in such a foreign context. As a junior attending Bennington College, happiness is literally what I study, and while overseas I was considering its relation to religion, village life, and—perhaps most challengingly—within myself. Though I came out of it with more questions then when I
began, there were a number of observations I found myself making along the way.
One of the things that I was most interested in was the affect of Buddhism and Hinduism not only on the people practicing them, but on the society as a whole as well. For a long time I have been keenly interested in Buddhism, with its emphasis on loving-kindness, compassion, wisdom, care of the earth, and mindfulness seeming like a philosophy for life that would surely lead to greater joy. Along with this, enlightenment truly appeared the ultimate release. During my time in Nepal, I had a chance to stay at a Buddhist monastery, living and meditating with monks and conducting participant observation.
What I perceived was that, though participation in religion or spirituality does, as multiple studies show, have an impact on an individual’s well-being in positive ways, the monks at Namo Buddha monastery had a wide variety of things going for them beyond their religious practices. While most of them, from what I could tell, were not enlightened, and still felt anger or frustration, they didn’t have to worry about where their food came from or that they would have a roof above their heads, and their “job” was literally the most meaningful
thing to them. Along with this, the goal of enlightenment is not the same as the goal of happiness, but rather happiness is a result of the former. In this way, it seemed to me that the life of a monk may be a happy one, not only do to increased mindfulness and greater compassion, but also because of their lifestyle, its reduced stress, increased meaning, and strong community. I no longer felt like I needed to join a nunnery in order to receive such benefits, but rather considered that I or anyone else could shape my own surroundings and practices to create a lifestyle beneficial to me.
A little while later I found myself living in Balamchur, a small Nepali village. Another burning question on my mind throughout the trip was “How much is necessary to be happy? What are the very basics required for life satisfaction?”  And while the village was well off enough for me not to be able to fully explore that question, their way of life was definitely something that many westerners may view as “not having enough”. In a more consumeristic culture, where we’re advertised that you can buy happiness with a new car, houses that are floored with buffalo dung and filled with smoke during meal times may seem unsatisfactory. But while many in the village discussed the benefits of development and tourism, no one ever seemed to be in a bad mood either. I saw the men come in from the fields at four or five, while my father at home didn’t finish working until seven or eight at night, and sometimes even then continued to work at home. The small community often ate together, laughing, joking and dancing. Everything they needed they were able to make, and knowledge was passed down from parent to child. I found that many of the materials in our lives are not as necessary as we make them out to be, and that space created by a lack of stuff allows more room for human connection, meaningful activities, and less stress.
Though I learned many things during my time in Nepal, insights regarding happiness and otherwise, the trip as a whole was very challenging. I thought traveling would solve all my problems: I’d be humbled and glowing at the beautiful sights, find a new home in the culture, and become the less lazy, more well-thought-out, kind, and confident person I’d created in my head. But while it was undoubtedly amazing, it wasn’t like all my self-doubts, negative thoughts, and struggles were just going to magically disappear. What I discovered, however, is that that was okay. As someone who studies happiness, for the longest time whenever I was sad I considered it to be a failure, not only of emotions, but of my lifestyle, practices, and work. Crying was like getting an “F” on a test, and I had a million techniques to cheer myself up, whether or not I actually understood what was wrong. But beating yourself up about being sad, or getting frustrated with yourself for being angry only fuels the negative fire. What I learned in Nepal is that it can be okay to feel sad—to feel whatever emotion you’re feeling. Instead of yelling at yourself about it, accept it, examine it, and let yourself move on.  It’s much easier and kinder to love yourself during the times when you’re hurting the most, and more beneficial for you.

Abby Morical

Friday, December 12, 2014

How to Choose Happiness-Building Goals

How to Choose Happiness-Building Goals
by coach Andrea Taylor

Goals give you purpose and a chance to accomplish something that matters to you. But did you know you can choose types of goals that are proven to increase happiness?

Different types of goals exist. Some are much more likely than others to boost happiness. Let’s look at some research so you can use sound strategies to build your happiness.

Competitive versus Non-Competitive Goals

A goal is competitive when its outcome produces winners and loser. For example, if you set the goal to get a promotion, it’s a competitive goal. If you succeed, there are others who did not get the promotion. A 2007 report published in Social Indicators Research by B. Headey explained that competitive goals reduce happiness.

As for non-competitive goals, the research showed that they increase happiness. If you make a goal related to improving family life, making friends, or contributing to your community, you will raise your happiness. Because these goals create no losers, they also spread happiness to others.

Non-competitive goals can also be described as sustaining because they get you to build relationships, show appreciation, and renew yourself.

Goals that drain you are similar to competitive goals. When you’re going after more possessions and approval, you’re left wanting more even when you succeed.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Goals

Another way to look at goals is to figure out if they are intrinsic or extrinsic. C.P. Niemiec and colleagues reporting in the Journal of Research in Personality explained that intrinsic
goals include personal growth, community involvement, and health improvement. Happiness was increased among people pursuing intrinsic goals.

However, self esteem goes down for people going after extrinsic goals, like seeking wealth and fame. The same researchers found that those goals are linked to anxiety and depression. 

Happiness is Contagious

Goals that increase your happiness also improve the feelings of those around you. Happiness is contagious!

D. Goleman explained this phenomenon in 2006 in the publication Educational Leadership. Mirror neurons in our brains help us share each other’s emotions. We are hardwired to mimic what we see in others. Our happiness produces a positive feedback loop in others.

Become a Happiness Champion

For more inspiration on how to choose happiness-building goals, become a Happiness Champion in the Happiness Goals Countdown. You'll learn about ten specific goals that have been proven to boost happiness leading up to the new year (sort of a happy spin on New Years resolutions). Add these to your "happiness list" and have a happier 2015!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The ten percent...and the 40 thousand

In 2007, Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book The How of Happiness, popularized her research findings that only 10% of one's happiness is influenced by the "domains of happiness," what she calls "circumstances" and most of us would call "the world" (or our environment, society, economy, community, government; the external influences out side of our control but very much present in our lives - you get the picture).  She relied heavily on her own research to come up with her now famous graph:
(Spoiler: take this graph with a HUGE grain of salt - in fact, a salt-mine's worth)

If you look closely, (e.g. in the notes for the chapter - tucked away at the end of the book), you will find that although she builds her conclusion on well-grounded work by the likes of Ed Diener, Tim Kasser and other researchers, her conclusion is based on her study of - and this is important - a pretty small "representation" of Americans; something looking like the 1%.   

In 2013, in her book "The Myths of Happiness" she reveals the world she is living in, and perhaps her blindness to the reality for the majority of this planet's population with some of her advice for happiness:
- Spend your money on experiences like a vacation (this in the chapter for the broke)
- Buy fresh flowers frequently instead of a big sound system (again, in the chapter for the broke)
and here I ask: Who are these broke?  Does she know what broke is? What it means to have to choose between food or health care and to not even notice the flowers in the grocery store because there is absolutely no way you will be able to afford them?  

More advice from "The Myths of Happiness":
"Do you have a tendency to be short with the people you employ or supervise - your office assistant, perhaps or your gardener or nanny....For the next four weeks...when the urge comes on to be curt or harsh, resolve to imagine that the person is your therapist, minister or boss, and treat them accordingly." (p. 180). OUCH! 

Now, this is not to say that Lyubomirsky's books don't have some good advice - they do. In fact they have some really good advice. It's just that they are grounded on findings that are simply not true for 95-99% of the world's population.

When I give talks on happiness, sometimes people in the audience will come to the conclusion (and often state it very loudly) that they just realized their happiness is all up to them - all one has to do is change one's mind and behavior.  Without embarrassing or humiliating that person, I give one of two stories to help that person understand how important equity and our circumstances are.  Here I will give one of the stories.

My good friend's son-in-law passed away three years ago. He was a father of 3, less than forty. He died of liver and kidney failure (was terribly sick a long time before dying) and heart disease. He was black, grew up in South Seattle, next to a dry cleaner.  Dry cleaner operations and gas stations are known to be among the most toxic sites in the urban landscape. One can't prove that he died early after a long illness from growing up next to the dry cleaner, but ask yourself: would you be happy if you or your children grew up in the same circumstances as my friend's son-in-law? Would you say your happiness, and the happiness of your widow or widower and fatherless children is all in your head? 

Truth is, we - from the researchers and scientists to the every day folk - don't yet understand enough about what makes us happy in terms of the "domains of happiness" (our circumstances), our "genetic set-point", and our thoughts and behaviors, to make the kind of assertion 
Lyubomirsky has. What is more, it is quite likely that all three are interconnected. Think about it from a common-sense perspective and it makes sense that it would be.

This week we passed the 40,000 mark with now over 40,000 individual people having taken the Gross National Happiness Index, a subjective well'being indicator based on Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Index and integrating the United Kingdom's Wellbeing index, and other important indices.   Each person received their own personal assessment of how well things are going in their lives in terms of their feelings, satisfaction with life and the domains of happiness (environment, social support, government, economy, work, time-balance, community, health and lifelong learning & culture).  When one reads through the comments and looks at the data, it indicates that common sense....makes sense.  Circumstances do matter, and matter quite a bit, for our happiness.  In the coming year, I will be writing on what the data says, and what the comments indicate. Stay tuned. 

- Laura Musikanski,  Executive Director, the Happiness Alliance home of the Happiness Initiative and Gross National Happiness Index. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014


3 Hobbies for a Happier You

from Social Monsters!

If you are feeling stressed out, burned out and generally worn out by all of the responsibilities of life, it might be time to get outside of your usual routine and activities and take up a new hobby.

Why Hobbies Make You Happy

As the Mayo Clinic notes, setting aside time on a regular basis for things you like to do—as opposed to tasks you have to do—can help to reduce your stress levels. In addition, taking up a new hobby can add to your well-being by learning new things or perhaps learning to do something in a different way.
Hobbies can also help you to connect with yourself. In many cases, hobbies will give you some quiet and private time to just unwind and do something you love. In addition, unlike other activities that require an outside source for happiness—like going to a show or spending time with friends—a hobby is a more intrinsic source of contentment.
Another really cool thing about hobbies is that there are so many of them that are available to try. From traditional ideas like stamp and coin collecting to outside-of-the-hobby-box activities like learning to skydive, there are a plethora of ideas. The only stipulation is that it is something that you genuinely enjoy doing. Here are a few suggestions to get you going:

Home Brewing Beer

If you enjoyed chemistry and physics in school and also love drinking a nice cold beer after a long day at work, give home brewing a try. The American Homebrewers Association is a terrific resource that will give you tips on which equipment to buy—surprisingly, it doesn’t take a lot of things to get started—as well as how to start your first batch. Home brewing beer also takes some trial and error and you can tweak things in each batch until you find one that is just the way you like it. As a bonus, it can be fun to invite your friends over to share your experimental home brews with them, and gather their opinions about which one is best.


Knitting is definitely not just for grannies anymore. Men and women of all ages can enjoy learning to knit. In addition to being a highly relaxing activity, it’s one that can give you a real sense of accomplishment. If you live in a cold area of the country, knitting can also provide you with needed and useful items for you and your friends like scarves and hats, and some churches have knitting clubs that allow members to create beautiful prayer shawls which are then given to people who are going through a hard time in their lives. Knowing that your hobby is benefiting others can be extremely rewarding.


Perhaps you owned a moped back in your college days, or your first car was actually a motorcycle. Whether you still have your motorbike gathering dust in your garage or you have just always wanted to try riding a motorcycle, this can be a terrific hobby to try. You can shop for a budget-friendly bike from a local motorcycle shop or peruse the online ads for a gently used model. In addition to joining a local motorcycle club, which will allow you to meet like-minded fans of the open road, it can be fun to learn to tinker on the bike and shop for new accessories. For example, online retailers like BikeBandit can give you a good idea of what safety equipment you should buy to get started, including motorcycle helmets and other gear.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Gross National Happiness of Students in Taiwan

Professor David Pendry is working with students in Taiwan to understand Gross National Happiness.
See the full report here.

I have recently conducted research measuring happiness levels among Taiwanese university students, and from these findings I would like to recommend changes to government and education policies. Measuring happiness in life has become steadily more important in recent years as an indicator of just how people are subsisting and developing, with an eye toward future success and serenity.
Many governments and other institutions are measuring happiness in populations and correlating
this with self-actualization, success and tranquility in life. Even Taiwan has explored these parameters, with the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics releasing the nation’s first Gross National Happiness index last year. This research found that Taiwanese had a “moderate” level of happiness.
However, what exactly is happiness? In addition to ostensible things like good feelings about life, satisfaction with friends, family and other relationships, excitement and fun, personal contentment and hope for the future, there are a few other important indicators to consider. External factors include material comforts and income; work satisfaction; vital community relations; decent governance; and access to education, arts and culture. More personal or internal factors include mental and physical health; rich values and religion; positive family experience; education; gender; and age.
Martin Seligman created the concept of PERMA to measure happiness, which refers to: Positive emotions; Engagement in life; Relationships; Meaning in life; and Accomplishments.
As this year’s UN World Happiness Report noted, the great thinkers and sages of world history have taught people that “material gain alone will not fulfill our deepest needs. Material life must be harnessed to meet these human needs, most importantly to promote the end of suffering, social justice, and the attainment of happiness.”

I conducted my survey measuring happiness factors using an index survey created by the Happiness Alliance, a large happiness organization in the US. Students from four colleges completed the survey. The data was collected in spring and fall this year, with one multiple sample that initially included 35 students in my culture and communication class at National Taipei College of Business — now National Taipei University of Business (NTUB) — which was increased by 89 more students in a combined group from NTUB and Tamkang University near Taipei in the fall.
Additionally, there were samples from Chien Hsin University of Science and Technology, south of Taipei (26 students), and Shih Hsin University in Taipei (58 to 64 students). The “domains” measured in the research included: satisfaction with life; material wellbeing; governance; environment; community vitality; social support; access to education, arts and culture; mental wellbeing; health; time balance; and work.
In a somewhat disturbing turn, the results showed that the students were not very happy and they scored decidedly lower than worldwide averages on several measures. Interestingly and compellingly, the lowest scores were in the “community” category and the related “social support” category. The figures in the community domain are fully 21 to 30 points less than the total worldwide average, a difference of 40 to 57 percent lower. The social support figures are 7 to 15 percent lower.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What's so happy about limits to growth- repost from CSR Wire

Scientists, modelers and environmentalists have long been telling stories of doom and gloom. One of the first doomsayers was Donella Meadows. She convened a group to analyze what would happen to our population and our planet if we continued on the trajectories for industrial production, agriculture, waste, population and population.  This was in the ‘70s. Donella and her crew found that if we change one of those trends, such as a world without waste where everything is reused, recycled, or re-engineered for no-waste, we could save ourselves and the planet.  They called their theory “Limits to Growth.”

What happened? The data did inspire some changes. The first Earth Summit was held and conventions like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, commonly known as the Kyoto Protocol, were created. Environmental laws were passed across the globe, and actions like the Montreal Protocol did reverse acid raid and the depletion of the ozone. But it is not enough.

And the data tells a scary story.  Scientists at MIT recently gave an update on Limits to Growth forecasts. The numbers tells us that we are headed for a very bad place.

So why didn’t the data change our actions? Why do we keep doing the same thing when we know that doom and gloom is coming?

In the simplest of terms: you get what you measure.

Today Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the primary and prevailing measure governments use, profit the measure for businesses, and personal wealth and income for personal life.  What happens when we use economic growth to guide out society, consumption to guide our society, the wealth or income to guide our personal life?  

It turns out that the measurements we use have a big impact on our value system. Research by Tim Kasser, the scientists whose work is used in our Gross National Happiness Index in the time-balance section, tells us that the cultural values that emerge from a money-driven society are:
·      financial success,
·      image – including a bigger house, fancier car, nicer clothing and more youthful appearance, or more stuff and ,
·      popularity – higher status, being at the top of the pile in a hierarchical system.
And most importantly, the values of caring for others and nature, giving to others, and compassion (taking action where you see others or yourself hurting) are diametrically opposed to the values that emerge from a economic growth and consumption based system.  As we focus more on GDP, wealth and profit, we value community, caring and compassion less.

It really is true that what you measure, you get. 

This means there is a simple solution: if you want to change outcomes, change your measurement. And that is where happiness comes in. 

Happiness measurements are being used around the world, in England, Bhutan, Canada, China and the US. Governments and grassroots activists alike are experimenting to transform our society by using a happiness and “Beyond GDP” measurements.  In the US, the mayors and councilmember in Somerville, MA, Seattle, WA, Eau Claire, WI and now Santa Monica, CA are experimenting with happiness and wellbeing metrics.  The US Census Bureau has even begun exploring how to measure wellbeing.   Over 37,000 people have taken the Happiness Alliance’s Gross National Happiness Index, and over 100 grassroots activists across the US are using happiness metrics to transform our value system from one based on greed to giving, grasping to contentment, and craving to caring.

And yet these efforts are small scale, and unless happiness or “beyond GDP” metrics are adopted on a much vaster scale, our continued growth in industrial production, agriculture, waste, population and population will lead us into a crisis. What then?

Then we live in a resource constrained world. We will reach a place where there is not enough of the resources we depend upon to take care of our needs.  We will be in dire need of a new way of meeting our needs. And this is where happiness, wellbeing, beyond GDP and sustainability metrics will guide us in finding ways to meet needs of people and the planet.  

Imagine a scenario in which you and your loved ones do not have enough food to eat or clean water to drink, cook, clean or do your chores. What do you do? In a society that highly values financial success, image and popularity, you are likely to compete, perhaps to fight. In a society that highly values community, relationships and nature, you work with your neighbors, family and friends to find ways to meet those needs together.  That is why happiness measurements have everything to do with limits to growth.

Written by Laura Musikanski

Friday, September 26, 2014

Happiness goes to the movies

This evening I presented at a local screening of the film "Happy" for Wallingford Meaningful Movies in Seattle.  People who come to Meaningful Movies are committed to sustainability, social justice and a better future for all.  They are environmentalists, advocates and grassroots activists. A few of the participants had taken the Gross National Happiness Index and we talked about their scores.

This month marks the forth year of my work with the Happiness Alliance, and I have seen only a few groups score as high as the 23 who took the GNH index.
What is remarkable about this group?  They scored higher on every section except the UK Happiness Index, which measures affect (how you feel) and satisfaction with life (is your life worthwhile). Remember that this group is deeply committed to a better future.

We talked about what these results mean.  In simple terms, everything in these people's lives are about as good as they get, but they did not feel that way. Perhaps this is an effect of deeply caring and deeply being aware of the state of our society, economy, personal lives and environment.

We talked about leverage points for happiness and how to focus on the positive.  This was an easy audience. They intrinsically "got it." Practicing compassion, gratitude and giving expands the capacity for changing the world.

Thank you to the Meaningful Movies super wonderful peeps!