Friday, November 25, 2011

Does the Napa Valley Need a Happiness Initiative?

Here is a re-post of an article written by Jeff Vande Clute, one of our project advisors and member of Compassionate Action Network board member.

Does the Napa Valley Need a Happiness Initiative?

Jeff Vander Clute

The Napa Valley is the image of prosperity, renowned globally for its wine and fine dining. Visitors to the Napa Valley experience beauty and leave nourished in multiple ways, while people on distant shores literally drink the fruits of our labor. Thus, those who live here contribute, directly or indirectly, to the happiness of people all over the world.

Contributing to the happiness of others is a beautiful service to humanity, and important work. Yet our own “human sustainability” requires that we also pay close attention to the happiness, or well-being, of those who live in the Napa Valley. It would be easy, given the external orientation of our industries and institutions, to overlook our own quality of life and not ask questions like: How well are we doing, beyond the usual financial indicators? How happy are we in Napa or American Canyon, in Saint Helena or Calistoga? How about those who work in the restaurants, at the wineries, or in the vineyards? How happy are our educators and our children? What about the well-being of Latinos? And how can we increase the quality of life for everyone in the Napa Valley, recognizing that we are all interconnected?

These are basic questions that hearken back to the founding of the United States, when it was declared that we all have the unalienable right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” However, until recently there have been few ways to systematically measure how well that “pursuit” is going. Now, a growing number of countries, communities, and organizations around the world are prioritizing and measuring people’s happiness, and then using that information to improve their quality of life.

The trend started in the early 1970s, when the king of the Himalayan nation of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined the term “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) to refer to a way of measuring quality of a life that would be more comprehensive than Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which considers only the economic output of a country. The Centre for Bhutan Studies subsequently created a detailed survey for measuring the well-being of the Bhutanese, incorporating assessments of psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality, and good governance. Since then, GNH has been used as the primary indicator of progress in Bhutan.

Thousands of academic papers have been published worldwide on the study of happiness, and there is a growing global awareness that traditional economic indicators such as GDP are incomplete, and even misleading. The concepts of Gross National Happiness have been applied on regional and local levels in the Canadian province of British Columbia; and in June of this year the city of Seattle, Washington endorsed a GNH-based “Happiness Initiative” developed by Sustainable Seattle. With momentum clearly building around GNH, in July the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution entitled “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development,” which calls on member states to “undertake steps that give more importance to happiness and well-being in determining how to achieve and measure social and economic development.”

Given the emergence of the Happiness Initiative and other similar efforts, we might ask, “Does the Napa Valley need a Happiness Initiative?” A number of people and organizations in the Napa Valley believe the answer is yes.

In October 2009, Janna Waldinger, who sits on the board of directors for both the Napa County Office of Education and the American Happiness Association (AHA), brought AHA co-founders Dr. Aymee Coget and Sandi Smith Leyva to Napa to present a parent workshop on happiness. The workshop, attended by about 45 parents, offered various methods to increase happiness, recognizing that for children to be happy they need happy households. Since then, there has been ongoing follow-up in the schools to teach related tools and principles, such as resiliency, to teachers. At the same time, a new nonprofit called Thrive Napa Valley has been exploring, with community leaders and local officials, the possibility of implementing a valley-wide Happiness Initiative in partnership with Sustainable Seattle’s Happiness Initiative project.

The proposed Napa Valley Happiness Initiative would start with a broadly-based community collaboration to survey a diverse and statistically significant sample of people in the Napa Valley. The resulting data—measuring ten domains of well-being—would provide a holistic assessment of the effectiveness of government policies and the health of our communities. The survey findings would be published on a simple-to-use website and in the local newspapers, with the result that everyone in the Napa Valley could see what’s working well and where more tender loving care is needed. Community organizations, businesses, and local governments would then be able to work together with greater focus to create a more thriving Napa Valley.

The case for a Happiness Initiative would not be complete without mentioning how increasing the overall well-being of the people who live here can be great for business. Research shows that happy people are not only friendlier—important in the service sector—but also more productive. Consider San Francisco-based Joie de Vivre Hospitality, which was founded in 1987 with employee and customer happiness as the top priority. Joie de Vivre grew to become the largest hospitality company in the Bay Area, with annual revenues of a quarter of a billion dollars. And finally, a hometown story: Thrive Napa Valley’s own Bonny Meyer co-founded Silver Oak Cellars in 1972 with the belief that people who are happy and having fun make great wine… which they did, year after year.

Email to let us know what you think about the proposed Napa Valley Happiness Initiative. Jeff Vander Clute is a co-founder of Thrive Napa Valley.

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