Monday, April 30, 2012

A confusion of happiness

Since the UN meeting, Wellbeing and Happiness: Towards a New Economic Paradigm, things have been topsy turvy. Normally, I hate conferences. I do my talk, go to one or two sessions, and spend the rest of the time hiding in my hotel room, watching reruns of Dexter or Weeds.  But this conference was different. It was life-changing, revolutionary, and completely genuine and true.  I like to tell people that the main take-away was that compassion and altruism bring happiness, and compassion and altruism can be learned (no one has yet asked how to learn this… it's a cultural thing, I think), but really, I think the real main takeaway was living happiness.  This means integrity and honesty, as well as compassion and altruism. And it means that most important to altruism is not taking what is not freely given, or give what is not freely given.  

I doubt there is anyone on this planet who can say they are living completely and utterly according to their values, or at lease no one who lives “in the market place.”  But this is no excuse for not learning, trying and growing, not becoming more aware of one’s actions, and not holding oneself accountable.  And so, while the UN meeting allowed me to meet some extraordinary people, network with some amazing organizations and gain tremendous inspiration, the main take-away was to live to, by and for happiness and wellbeing.  And that is tough.  

On April 4, the conference ended, and I rushed off the airport onto a late subway. The sign said express, but it was not, and that ended up okay as I met a lovely woman and we talked for almost an hour about happiness, wellbeing, staff  management and change agentry. Then I took a very slow bus, where I helped two single mothers load a ton of groceries onto the bus as they lived in a food desert. I was saved by a delayed fight, which seemed insignificant but just lucky at the time, but now picks up more importance. 

I have been meeting, talking and working with people and organizations from the meeting. We have been gathering forces to spread the happiness and wellbeing movement. Most of the people I have spoken with have been changed by the conference.  

Today, as the month changes over, I look back on the changes in my life since the conference, and what comes to mind are the two women riding the bus with so many grocery bags and two children in tow. They lived on the other side of the airport where there were no grocery stores. The food they bought was devoid of fresh vegetables or organic fruits. The children snuck potato chips and drank coke. They joked with me about their need for utter cleanliness ( I joked back my daughter has that problem, but not me).  I thought about the project – the happiness initiative – and the conference and feel this deep longing for social justice. I remembered my mom bringing home government cheese, and while we did not live in a food desert, we lived in a home that did not have food the last half of the month, although my mom did her best.   This happiness thing is worthwhile – its important – as long as we keep it real, we keep it honest, we live with integrity to the work and to each other. This happiness thing is meaningful if and when it means that mothers like those I met on the bus do not have to travel uncomfortable miles to feed their children unhealthy food, but can go down the corner for a fresh, organic and affordable pear and carrot if they want.  It’s just real simple and honest stuff. 
Posted by Laura Musikanski, ED of HI

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