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

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ten minutes past Earth Day and the crescent of the new moon is long gone. Its crisp cold and the sky holds promises of meteor showers left over from last night. Today we launched our first ever fundraising campaign, with a goal of 1000 people giving 10 dollars. We launched by connecting earth day and happiness.

We used a logical pathway, quoting the prime minister of Bhutan, and identifying what is wrong with our current system, and drawing out how the happiness initiative can help us toward a better system. Here is the quote from Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley:

“The time has come for global action to build a new world economic system that is no longer based on the illusion that limitless growth is possible on our precious and finite planet or that endless material gain promotes well-being.  Instead, it will be a system that promotes harmony and respect for nature and for each other; that respects our ancient wisdom traditions and protects our most vulnerable people as our own family, and that gives us time to live and enjoy our lives and to appreciate rather than destroy our world.  It will be an economic system, in short, that is fully sustainable and that is rooted in true, abiding well-being and happiness."

This is all well and good, and quite true.  And equally true is something really essential: if all of us humans on this planet were whole and healthy in our hearts and heads, if compassion filled our hearts, we would never harm our planet, or each other.  I think this is the real link between happiness and earth day.  It’s actually really simple.

The sun is shining hot and heavy on this planet half way across the globe.  Here the streetlights do not let the night forget day.  I prepare for sleep, and dreams of a healthy planet and loving and compassionate times. 
Posted by Laura Musikanski, ED of HI 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Earth Day's Eve: Lessons from Earth and Spirit

It's the day before earth day, and my mother has asked me to meet her at the Earth Day 2012 conference held on the Portland Community College campus. I wake up at 5:45 in the morning and start down the highway.   Three and a half hours later, the time I usually wake up on a Saturday, I arrive.  Like any conference, there are too many choices.  I decide to go to sessions I think will give good ideas for the happiness initiative. 

The Power of Hope: and how to keep it in your heart
Kim Smith is a sociology professor at Portland Community College. Her session is called “Creating a Cycle of Hope.”  I am late, and she is gracious.  How do you escape cynicism, disillusion, apathy, and depression when fighting the good fight to save this planet? She has a formula:
  1. Take responsibility.  Happiness, sustainability and a better future is not a right, it's a responsibility. Accept this and see how important every decision and action is.  Understand how interconnected you are and each action is to the system. (Later in the day, I learn how these can become rights!) 
  2. Create a vision of the world you want, based on your values. This is like creating your own mission statement, one of those “seven habits of highly effectively people.” 
  3. Seek quality information. In this one, you hone your information gathering. Sometimes this means tuning out of certain media so you can tune more closely into high quality sources.
  4. Discover practical actions. Don’t reinvent the wheel!  Join other efforts or build on other efforts before going out and doing your own thing. 
  5. Act in line with your values.  

We talk for the rest of the hour about the kinds of action one can take: socially responsible daily behavior (like voting, recycling), community education (like conducting workshops, speaking) community building (like organize a community clean up, organize neighborhood voter drive), grassroots political activity (like door to door canvassing, writing letters), direct involvement (like tutoring a child or volunteering at a soup kitchen), community capacity development (like leadership training, setting up clinics), formal political activities (like lobbying), direct action (like marching, rallying and picketing).  Each of us recount what we are doing, and at the end, Kim brings us together in appreciation of how we all are part of a change movement. 

Wisdom from the Amazonian Jungle: Never Give Up
Naten Anank and his wife give a talk “The Key to the Future is the Past.”  Natem grew up in the jungle in Equator. He talked to us of the natural system of renewal within the Amazonian jungle, and showed us the parallel in our world.   People learn through hardship, the experience personal growth, which they then take into the world, and then work with others in groups or organization.  To Natem, this is happiness.  He then points out the difference between our world and the one he came from: the economic growth paradigm.  He calls us to unite and fight the system, to work together to care for our planet and to be happy in our lifetimes.  

A Warriors Story of His Weapons: People are the Power
Paul Cienfuegos (his last name is Spanish for 100 fires) is one of those unassuming people who emits just the right combination of humility and power that your first impression is you can trust him.  He leads workshops all over the US about his book “Awakening to our Power as We the People.”   He starts by explaining how the 13 colonies were essentially corporations chartered to serve the reign of England, and the American Revolution was really a revolt against corporations.  After the revolution, our government chartered corporations for a singular purpose and to ensure they did no evil.   Today we have swung back into the pattern of corporate rule, with corporations convincing us our rights lie elsewhere: “Vote with you dollars!” the emergence of consumers over citizens and, more recently the corporate consumption of “Green Economy.”   

Paul calls on the decolonization of our minds.  

We have the power to do this, he says.  He reads from Oregon’s constitution, formed in1857 were Article 1 Bill of Rights Section 1 states that “all power (is) inherent in the people...the right to alter, form or abolish the government.” Washington, Pennsylvania and many other states have similar language.  

For more than a century in our country we have been funneled into activism that does not really work; activism that ultimately frustrates a participatory society.  We have the political and legal power to rule.  One hundred years ago, corporations did not rule the world. We ruled them through our government, through rules and regulations, our state constitutions and other legal documents.  

Vermont legislature just called for an end to corporate personhood and an end to the doctrine of money as speech.  This means 2/3 of house and senate and 38 states must pass the amendment. Not likely, says Paul. Instead, he points to the community rights movement. 

The community rights movement started in rural Pennsylvania.  A group of people tired of fighting through the regulatory agencies and seized back their authority. They started by passing laws that banned certain kinds of companies (a factory pig farm, bottling sweet spring water, mining in another area).  Today, the Santa Monica city council is writing an ordinance that gives people the right to sustainable water sources, energy, waste disposal, and food systems and gives rights to ecosystems.  
Our group brainstormed for laws and ordinances we would like to see:
  • Incentives for consuming less not more. 
  • Ordinances to encourage urban agriculture and distribution
  • Ordinances that allow neighbors to share power when they have geothermal, solar or other power sources 
  • Laws requiring take back and recycling for companies using materials 
  • Increase tax rates to what they were in the 1950s
  • Ordinances to use wellbeing measures (the happiness initiative!!!) instead of purely economic metrics. 
  • Law that everybody has a right to healthy and adequate food
  • Ordinances that encouraging co-housing
  • Mend the rich poor gap by passing ordinances to define a maximum annual income
  • Pass an ordinance that ends the externalization of environmental & social costs in business
  • Laws to ensure true transparency of information 
  • Laws ensuring balance of power in courts for people and corporations

 You can find out more about Paul’s work at the community defense legal fund and his website.

It’s late afternoon on a Saturday and I did not get to sleep in and missed my naptime, but that’s okay.  In the distance I hear the melodic chanting of tribal elders brining in a new age. They call on the skies, the earth, the four directions. They send their blessings to us and across time that we may heal this planet, and heal ourselves.  They send their blessings to you that you may be as powerful as you wish to be in your work for the earth and for those you love. 

Posted by Laura Musikanski, Executive Director of the Happiness Initiative. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

YES: The UN Embraces the Economics of Happiness

Repost from Online YES
The UN Embraces the Economics of Happiness
Leaders from around the world want well-being—not gross national product—to guide our economic decisions.
Denmark and other Scandinavian countries—which boast, among other things, strong social safety nets, shorter-than-average work weeks, and high rates of non-motorized transit—frequently top lists of the world's happiest countries.
Imagine you open the paper tomorrow, and the headlines are not about the “sluggish economy,” but our nation’s quality of life. You turn to the business section, and find not just information about a certain company’s profitability, but also about its impact on community health and employee well-being.
Imagine, in short, a world where the metric that guides our decisions is not money, but happiness.
That is the future that 650 political, academic, and civic leaders from around the world came together to promote on April 2, 2012. Encouraged by the government of Bhutan, the United Nations held a High Level Meeting for Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm. The meeting marks the launch of a global movement to shift our focus away from measuring and promoting economic growth as a goal in its own right, and toward the goal of measuring—and increasing—human happiness and quality of life.
Not just for dreamers
Some may say these 650 world leaders are dreamers, but they are the sort that can make dreams come true. The meeting began with an address by Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley of Bhutan, where the government tracks the nation’s “Gross National Happiness”:
The time has come for global action to build a new world economic system that is no longer based on the illusion that limitless growth is possible on our precious and finite planet or that endless material gain promotes well-being. Instead, it will be a system that promotes harmony and respect for nature and for each other; that respects our ancient wisdom traditions and protects our most vulnerable people as our own family, and that gives us time to live and enjoy our lives and to appreciate rather than destroy our world. It will be an economic system, in short, that is fully sustainable and that is rooted in true, abiding well-being and happiness.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited Aristotle and Buddha in calling for the replacement of our current economic system with one based on happiness, well-being, and compassion. “Social, economic, and environmental well-being are indivisible” he said.
A History of Happiness
We've forgotten a lot of what we used to know about happiness.
President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica followed with a keynote speech that provided an explanation of why her country is one of the worlds most eco-friendly and happy nations, despite its relative poverty. Decades ago, Costa Rica eliminated its army, prioritizing spending on a strong education program, support for social security, and the protection of national parks that spur tourism.
From Finland to France, Israel to India, speakers of parliament, ministers of the environment, and other high-level officials followed with brief speeches about the need for a new economic paradigm to replace the current economy. The afternoon featured Vandana Shiva, Martin Seligman, John Helliwell, Lord Richard Layard, Jeffrey Sachs and other luminaries.
Helliwell, Layard and Sachs introduced the World Happiness Report, a study they prepared for the conference. The report found that money and economic growth have a relatively weak correlation to happiness; happiness is much more strongly associated with things like community engagement, having lots of friends, doing work you love, and feeling a sense of trust in others. Altruism, too, is essential; a world that makes equity, care, and compassion more possible will be a happier world. As the authors write:
The realities of poverty, anxiety, environmental degradation, and unhappiness in the midst of great plenty should not be regarded as mere curiosities. They require our urgent attention, and especially so at this juncture in human history. …if we act wisely, we can protect the Earth while raising quality of life broadly around the world. We can do this by adopting lifestyles and technologies that improve happiness (or life satisfaction) while reducing human damage to the environment.
Over the next two days, more than 200 people stayed to participate in working groups to discuss turning global happiness metrics into a reality. They presented their recommendations on the third day. These included plans for an inclusive movement, forging communication material for all audiences, collaborative development of the metrics for happiness, the formation of a UN happiness commission, and the inclusion of happiness and well-being as a UN Millennium Development Goal.
The meeting ended with a presentation by Susan Andrews, who is developing a metric for measuring well-being in Brazil. Brazilian youth, she explained, had been trained to conduct happiness surveys and taught to practice altruism and compassion. Neighbors had at first rejected the youth, but later embraced their efforts to measure the happiness of their community. The project culminated in the creation of community-based activities that are changing neighborhoods for the better.
Progress in the United States
Noticeably absent from the meeting were high-level officials from the United States. But that does not mean that nothing is happening here.
The Department of Housing and Human Services has convened a panel of experts in psychology and economics to figure out ways to reliably measure subjective well-being—a move toward government tracking and analysys of happiness statistics.
But some cities are beating HHS to the punch, using a survey developed by The Happiness Initiative, a U.S.-based nonprofit, which offers a subjective metric for happiness that can be used at a personal or community level.
In Nevada City, California, the city council is using the happiness index to gather data about people’s needs and preferences for a land development decision. In Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the city government is working with a local chamber of commerce, state university, boys and girls club, library, and other organizations to gather data and convene town meetings where residents can discuss ways to promote quality of life.
The time has come for global action to build a new world economic system that is no longer based on the illusion that limitless growth is possible on our precious and finite planet.
In Seattle, Wash., more than 2,500 people have taken the survey, providing data for a city report card—including many members of the city’s Oromo, Somali, Filipino, and Vietnamese communities, thanks to local immigrant organizations working to measure the well-being of their people. The results, they hope, will help the city think more strategically about promoting social justice; the community organizations are also using them to identify and ameliorate problems within immigrant populations. Vietnamese youth, for example, scored low on sense of community and trust in government, so the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) helped them host a “Spring Off,” bringing people together to make spring rolls—but also to reduce isolation and create a feeling of empowerment.
“The project was wonderful in the context of working with our youth council,” says James Hong , Director of Youth and Community Engagement for VFA. It gave them the opportunity to get them involved at every level, which is rare. They were able to conduct the survey, reflect upon the results, decide on a project and then coordinate it all themselves. We want to continue using this model for youth council. There was so much learning and it was all very valuable.”
Nationally, more than 40,000 people have taken the happiness survey and received their own personal assessments of well-being. One woman, a New Yorker, said, “I thought my life was going pretty well. After all, I make a lot of money. But after taking the survey, I saw my low scores in community and culture, and this led me to think about what really matters to me.”
The global happiness movement may seem like a dream today, but it is a dream that is becoming reality.
Laura Musikanski wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Laura is co-founder and director of the Happiness Initiative and the former director of Sustainable Seattle. She is a lawyer with an MBA and certificates in Environmental Management and Environmental Law and Regulations from the University of Washington.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Happiness In The High Sierras: Measuring Quality of Life in Nevada City

Happiness In The High Sierras: Measuring Quality of Life in Nevada City
A repost from CSRwire
Nevada City institutes the Happiness Initiative, using subjective measures instead of GDP.
By Laura Musikanski and Reinette Senum
Nevada City is a picturesque town nestled in the High Sierras of California. At the beginning of every year, it hosts an environmental film festival attended by roughly 5000 people, and pretty much all 3,000 of the locals attend.
The two of us - Reinette Senum, Nevada City Councilmember and Laura Musikanski, Executive Director of the Happiness Initiative, kicked off Nevada City’s happiness initiative at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival 2012.
Take One: Laura’s perspective
I met Reinette Senum at Bioneers last October in San Rafael. Taller than tall with a laugh that doesn't just fill the room, it permeates everyone in it with joy, Reinette is the kind of person you can’t miss. When she told me she was bringing the Happiness Initiative to Nevada City, California, I believed her. Four short months later, I found myself giving a talk in her town.
What does it mean that Nevada City would conduct a Happiness Initiative?
It means the city council would use the happiness index to get a clearer picture of people’s needs, preferences and time use. It means they would use the happiness index as a metric for their Sustainability Vision and Plan. The main difference between Nevada City’s metric and those of most other areas is that it based on a survey - it is “subjective."
Most city councils use objective indicators to guide their decisions (see Community Indicators Consortium for examples). Income levels, the unemployment rate, greenhouse gas emissions, voter turnout, crime rates -- all of these are objective indicators.
Using Subjective Indicators for Happiness
But there is a problem with using just objective indicators: people can't really feel connected to them. With subjective indicators, people make the data. Their feelings, needs and preferences are the indicator. And if we manage what we measure, then by using a “subjective” indicator, the city council can really respond to what people want, where they are thriving, and where they are hurting.
Reinette told me she was taking the happiness index to Nevada City policy makers so they could use it as a guide towards a future that people really want.
Take Two: Reinette’s perspective

I’m the chair of the city-sanctioned Nevada City Sustainability Team: an ad-hoc group of about 15 volunteers dedicated to creating a vision, strategies and implementation for a sustainable Nevada City.
Our team continues to make great strides, but our conversations in the past always led to, how do we measure our success, or failures, on a human-level? In a way that really means something?
Measuring the creation of an interconnected and healthy community is much more complicated than simply measuring the Gross Domestic Product. And unfortunately for Americans, death, disaster, disease, and tragedies are all good for the GDP but it has nothing to do with the overall wellbeing of our nation and its people.
I had heard about Bhutan’s Happiness Index a couple years ago, but there was still no such standard of measurement available to Americans. I was elated to hear about how the cities of Victoria and Seattle were so inspired by the country of Bhutan’s Happiness Index that they created their own. It was encouraging to know others understood the power of creating a truly reflective standard other than the GDP.

This is the first year Nevada City has conducted the Happiness Survey. Just the name, itself, is spurring colorful dialogue and points of view. It would be my wish to see cities and staffs around the country take advantage of such a healthy metric.
There is no better way for government to know it is doing its job than by measuring the happiness of its constituents. Not to oversimplify our world, but my suggestion is that we stop waiting for someone else to set a new standard. Let’s just set an example by measuring the abundance of our lives and lets focus on that! The rest will follow.
Take Three: A Perspective For Our Future
The Declaration of Independence described “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as fundamental goals of government. For many years, the main indicator governments have been using is money, or more precisely, gross domestic product (the sum of all goods and services produced in a year).
But this indicator is not leading to happiness for too many of us in the U.S. You get what you measure, and the time for governments started using measures that really matter to people.
On April 2nd, the Happiness Initiative participated in a conference held by the government of Bhutan and the United Nations. The goal of the conference is to change the current economic systems on our planet so governments go beyond money -- or gross domestic product – as their main measure, and start using objective and subjective indicators to guide them for a better – more desirable- futures.
Nevada City is leading the way.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Susan Andrews

Susan Andrews is, as the Prime Minister of Bhutan says, the ambassador of Gross National Happiness in Brazil. Her life changed 20 years ago when the Prime Minister asked "Why is Bhutan the only country pursuing Gross National Happiness when happiness is the ultimate goal of all people."

She showed us her work in Brazil to bring to there communities of trust that focus on the goal of sustainable development. The mayor of a city near San Paulo is using GNH to engage and enhance his city. Compassion and wellbeing are part of the curricula schools. Children learn the art of clowning as "doctors of joy." Children learn to bring joy and love to thier parents. The youth surveyed neighbors on the domains of happiness, then coordinated neighborhood town meetings to discuss the results and make changes in their community. They were trained in conducting survey, and able to conduce a random sample with 5% accuracy. With professionals, they coordinate a town meeting based on the world cafe model. The community became aware of where there was need for basic healthcare, and took action. They saw where single mothers could use support, and gave it. Local government and businesses saw where they could work together to better serve people's needs. Communities became stronger and kids disengaged from school got interested and involved. The kids got healthier, more idealistic and happier. Hopefully, as adults, learning becomes a life-long activity.  

Susan finished by defining power: the ability to influence other - by a carrot or stick. But now, its changed. Its the ability to attract. Not whose army wins but whose story ends. With happiness, we have the best story - its not only a story of a new economy, of sustainability, but a story of the heart.

What’s happening at the UN this afternoon?

It is late in the afternoon for a conference, but still many people are here. The Prime Minister opens with a moment of silence then a gentle joke about sleepiness. Each group met to make commitments. The Prime Minister asks for thoughts and ideas – but only processed thoughts meaning they come via the group leader or other person appointed – within 10 days, so by April 14. These thoughts are to be finalized by the second week of May and this report will be submitted to the Secretary General with copies to all. The Prime Minister will forward the 12 policy recommendations to each head of state in the world, even calling some on the phone.

The reports:

Expert Group
The scientists and academics decided to focused on formation of a commission and what its goals would be. Perhaps it would be called the Global Wellbeing and Happiness commission. It would facilitates this great transition to a new economic paradigm where happiness and well-being are the focus. The commission would produce documents, recommend proposals for action, employ the new communications technologies and take action to make this activity more broadly participatory. Some models mentioned were the New Iceland Constitution in which participatory democracy is embedded; Wiki-style peer reviewed encyclopedia such as Encyclopedia of Earth in which there is also attribution, funding through

Communications Group
This group decided to gather information and create a space on the website with calendar, blogging, subscription only, create materials and other resources. They are writing a press release to get it out in at least 12 languages and release that this evening. They are putting together a global press release. For internal communication, they are creating a network so there is a way to keep in touch. They are putting together a package for Rio +20 based on the findings of the expert group. They are putting together a global press release.

Civic Group
My group again! Coyote is the UN person who gifted us with his presence. He reported our recommendations and pledges. There is an absolute need for an open source communication or portal, so we can all communicate and read responses. We recommended more reflection on the process, and that Bhutan continues championing the movement. We felt a clear need to broaden the constituencies and composed a broad letter of outreach for everyone. Civil society groups are very diverse, and we felt we are not one of the 9 groups of agenda 21, but instead “yeast” to reach out and “grow the loaf” so all can enjoy a communion of subjects and not a group of objects. We desire to create a inclusive diverse membership. We gave great thanks for the opportunity for this event.

Spiritual Community Group
We reflected on the small representation of the traditional and non-traditional faiths. The desire is to embrace and include every faith-based group including humanistic faiths, atheists and agnostics. We all pledged to help outreach by reaching out to all our networks – regardless of basis of faith. In our group, each gave their contacts.

Planning Group
The planning group highlighted the process and how much in these three days the process has been broad, inclusive and learning demonstrates a process that works. This process needs to be reflected in the other groups and in the reports. We must fine a way to ensure the reports are as broad and inclusive as possible. The planning group intends to continue to plan with a committee of 5 that plans to continue to work for the next 18 months. The planning group committed to a workshop for Rio +20 to discuss resiliency- a people's summit; to work with the G20; Clinton Global Initiative; the Corporate Sustainability Forum; the Council on Wellbeing; The UN General Assembly and UN Quadrennial Comprehensive Review; Local Government, Education and Families. They will develop a methodology for civil society and businesses based on experts recommendations.

They made recommendation for youth engagement based on collaborative participatory decision making and engagement with youth at the university and campus level.

Major points from the planning group:
Continue support local economies
Continue to be inclusive on a local platform
Utilization of a rights based approach that empowers women

The Prime Minister concluded with words of love and thoughtfulness about this sustainable, holistic movement and the effort that it will take. Here are bits for what he said "People resist change, even when it is unsustainable and self-destructive, even when they know they are in pain and suffering. THis is the difficulty we face. People today acknowledge and accept change is necessary, but the willingness is not here. It will be difficult. We started with a bang, from the fringes to the established. We had leaders from key countries, but this is not the end, this is only the beginning. We must prepare for many disappointments, many frustrations. What is important is that we should not be deterred. We have to continue with the kind of commitment and dedication and devotion. The sacrifice we make is worthwhile, will be worthwhile, and if we continue with this spirit, it will be a big success. Do not think the success will be at the Rio 20+. We are proposing a total paradigm shift. Yet ridged systems are being proposed. I am not sure how much our ideas can be inserted into Rio 20+, but I will represent these ideas as accurately as I can. " The Prime Minister asked for a slot at Rio 20+ when people are listening - not asleep - when the timing is prominent. He promised to do his best to ensure the UN general assembly will continue discussing GNH.

"You gave me a mandate to appoint a commission. The commission we will establish will comprise the most eminent of scholars and who are committed to the advancement of our goal. However, there might be a bit of a delay in the establishment of this commission. I shall work with the UN to see how this commission can be co-owned by the UN and perhaps function under the auspices of the UN system."

"You came here to be a part of this process and now have a responsibility to be a part of the process." The Prime Minister established a Secretariat of several people who helped make the conference happen. He designated all of us as members of the secretariat.

"We worked hard, you worked hard, over 3 days, perhaps more. It has been a very satisfying endeavor so far. The media has been supportive. I believe a majority of the people around the world are aware of this effort and contemplating he soundness of the present way of life and the need for a different way of life. A way of life that is more meaningful, more just, that will lead us to what each of us desires in life as an ultimate goal: happiness."

Spirit in Happiness

Noon and we head back into our work groups. Mine includes the spiritual leaders. We sit around a large wood table in a circle, and start organizing the few hours we have left. With such huge momentum built, and so much to do, two more hours together is beyond frustrating. The spiritual leaders bring calm. We talk in specifics about how to bring forward this movement in the spiritual community.

It is good to focus on something tangible and complete something, even if just a small task, when you are trying to change the world.

In my post earlier today, I mentioned a statement by the spiritual leaders. It is here:

Spiritual Leaders’ Statement for Suggested Inclusion in Policy RecommendationsHigh Level Meeting on Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm, April 2-5, 2012, United Nations Headquarters

As leaders representing various spiritual traditions, we believe that in the new economic paradigm, the role of spiritual traditions is to preserve and transmit to future generations the wisdom and love inherent in their own religious heritages, and the knowledge that the world is one community, interconnected and interdependent. The new economic paradigm is based upon compassion, altruism, balance, and peace, and dedicated to the well-being, happiness, dignity, and sacredness of all forms of life. Because external economic realities mirror internal psychological and spiritual realities, participants in the new paradigm pledge themselves to ethical conduct, reflecting and holding them- selves to the highest level of integrity and virtue, increasing their sharing and dedication to others, and resilience in the face of challenges. Because economics is based upon relationships, in the new paradigm, relationships are characterized by active service, justice, and cherishing the dignity of other's lives. We commit ourselves to thus nurturing the new economic paradigm personally and collectively in our own faith communities. May the new paradigm swiftly blossom throughout the world for the benefit of all those alive today and future generations yet unborn.

What’s happening at the UN today?

Today is day three of the Wellbeing and Happiness: Towards a New Economic Paradigm conference at the United Nations. We spent the first day building momentum with speech after speech by world leaders (presidents, prime ministers…)

Day two we went into breakout sessions. Today all three groups presented their work to the Prime Minister. But before we began, we all spent two moments in silence. Two brief moments of eternity.

Experts Group
The experts group was composed of academics and scientists. They reviewed the 12 recommended global policies and then agreed that a new goal is need, as per Dana Meadows suggestion In Limits to Growth. Bob Costanza presented their findings in graphics with the pillars of Well-being and Happiness, Ecology, Fairness and Efficient Use of Resources overlaid by natural, social, economic and personal environment. They saw four needed strategies: (1) a complex systems-based approach, (2) trans-disciplinary (beyond interdisciplinary), (3) adaptive management, and (4) participatory, solutions focused. They called for working groups to focus on (a)definitions and measurements, (b) Complex systems, (c) Institutions and Governance, (d) Financial systems, (e) GNH Enterprise, and (f) Education for altruism and compassion. A man who works at the UN cited the UN Resolution on Happiness 65/309: and suggested the committees for development policy and quadrennial policy review are a good place for the work of the suggested groups to start. John Helliwell gave deep thanks, and talked of last year when the UN assembly broke into applause when the Prime Minister introduced the ides of happiness and well-being to the UN. Someone suggested that happiness become one of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

During the Q&A, one of the religious leaders challenged the science-based approach, stating we need a heart-spirit based movement. Bob agreed that we need a different approach within science, but that all the fields are needed.

Communications Group
The group identified three categories for their strategy: (1) Presenting a business case of the New Economic Paradigm, (2) Creating a communications roadmap and (3) use of Information Technology. For the business case, they talked about core components: Justice: Economic Social and Environmental, Survival of the Planet, Profitability of Business; and Personal well-being, health and happiness. For the road map they talked about the need to design, identify, create and disseminate effective communication. They identified the aspects of a Framework: Values, Target Audience, Message framing, Channels and Structures/Resources.

They identified some talking points:

  • UN Resolution on Happiness
  • Happiness and wellbeing dovetails with your mission
  • Give examples of what you plan to do
  • Examples from elsewhere
  • Each country defines happiness and well-being for itself
  • Sustainability is a part of happiness and well-being
  • Happiness and well-being is good for PR, who can object to this goal??
  • Happiness and well-being leverages citizen action
  • Promote local initiatives and improvements
  • Participation improves happiness
  • "If you are associated with this, you will look good"

The communications team called on a permanent secretarial that would oversee technical teams, communications and dissemination. They talked about a resting place for all the content out there: from social media to marketing and advertising campaigns. One comment was the need for un-branding the movement so it is not owned by any one or group of organization and thus more accesible. There was dissension with the idea of a business case - which is to make money, and the need for a moral case - because more than just money is at stake, but the future of the planet and people. One of the religious leaders asked what the impact of those who do not want a new economic paradigm will be.

Civic Group
This is the groups I was in. It was a rockin' day. We were supposed to plan a global movement to implement gross national happiness. Hunter Lovins presented to the group. We created a charter for the work : We as inhabitants of an interdependent global system... Three things to do: (1) Create a secretariat (just like the communications group said). (2) Create a Happiness Bank that is outside the debt based system which would fund projects outside the economic paradigm and raise 7B dollars, one dolar for each person on earth, then put place a board of elders from around the world. Lots of other plans for the bank were laid. (3) Conduct outreach to the world will, which includes building a new accounting system, using new indicators, transforming education, offering t
angible toolkits, providing a databases of known solutions and many many other strategies. To get this work done, a shift in values is needed. A shift from the consumption society, a shift away from the goal of economic growth, a shift towards compassion and altruism.

World Religious Leaders Group
Our group had a subgroup of world religious leaders. They began their synopsis with a chant by a monk from Bhutan. In English it is: happiness, compassion, joy, equanimity, They spoke of the need for deepening and strengthen altruism and compassion. They called on a 1% campaign in which all people give 1% of their time and 1% of their money to a charity. They asked that all happiness meetings to open with a moment of silence. They crafted a statement which they all signed but I caught just a little bit: "As leaders representing various spiritual traditions, we believe that in the new economic paradigm, the role of spiritual traditions is to preserve and transmit to future generations the wisdom and love in their own religion, heritage... The new economic paradigm is based on compassion, altruism, balance, peace.... A pledge to ethical conduct..."

Planning Group
They all agreed that process is as important at the product. They identified the major conferences of initiatives coming up in the next 18 most. They looked to Occupy as an important player. They identified who in what group would conduct face to face meetings with people at RIon +20. They recommended a local strategy with local action. They decided they needed to offer a tool-box of established best practices. The importance of including and harnessing the power of youth was highlighted. Money and capacity building must be a part of the planning and strategy. They created a press release for the movement.
During the planning group's Q&A, a woman asked: How will we know when we are successful. The outcomes need to be developed so they are adaptive.

Yesterday at our working group we closed with a blessing by each, all of us holding hands and each leader saying a prayer then a short song. Today the session was closed with a intergenerational blessing by Rabbi Soetendorp.

This is a synopsis of the work of over 200 people who stayed after the first day, when there were over 650 people. Each of these people are amazing, highly qualified leaders in their field. The work we did yesterday to lay the groundwork for a global movement was powerful, and the world needs us to take action now.

Monday, April 2, 2012

My day at the United Nations

My day at the UN was… spectacular, under-whelming, over-brimming, predictable- a paradox. The Prime Minister of Bhutan talked of a new dawn, the President of Costa Rica talked of the connection between society and the environment (imagine that education and a robust social policy is linked to preservation of the environment...), Vandana Shiva talked about local food systems, and the list goes on: Seligman, Jeffery Sacks, John Helliwell, Enrico Giovanni, Lord Layard, Secretary General Moon of the UN….. and these are only a few of those who spoke…. yet those listening could have filled an agenda in themselves.

Well, my day at the UN was overwhelming. Here is what happens: you enter the gate like anyone. You do through a screening like at the airport but you do not have to take off your shoes. You then walk through the main hall (with an exhibit about women and development – but through the day you notice how few women were speaking); you walk a windy path to a annex, and then find your way to a conference room – one among many. There is guard there with a tremendously watchful eye and deep deep circles under both eyes. Exceptions make him unhappy ( I am one, and so he is not happy) . You get in by the skin of your teeth because a place is reserved for you, and now you are sitting in a quite comfortable seat with headphones in front of you and a keypad so you can listen to the speaker in any language in an excessively pleasant voice.

And you listen. And listen. And listen: to world luminaries, to Noble Peace prize winners, to presidents, ministers. But even then, what do you do? I am just a person – no expert, no politician, no world leaders, no Ph. D., Nobel Peace prize winner; but I am there, in the U.N, and so, this must mean something. What to do?

I do now know, but for now it feels like the answer is to stay the course, but to do so in a way that walks the talk – this means no more sacrifice for the benefit of others; this means take only what is freely given, give only freely, this means practice compassion and mindfulness. Doesn't it?