Wednesday, February 29, 2012

spreading happiness

Today was full of telephone conversations spiked with follow up emails. With my ear hurting and my tongue talked off, I had one last call to make. It was minutes before 5 pm - the polite time to end business calls - when I pushed in the numbers.

Dave had contacted us almost a month ago to tell us he had coordinated a kick-off meeting in his town to spread the word about the happiness initiative. We had been exchanging erratic emails, and each time I made that to-do list, having a conversation with Dave came on the list, and did not get crossed off. Today I finally had the time to give him a call.

He said he had run into the Happiness Initiative when doing a web search for issues related to Israel and Palestine, and had decided to bring the idea to his area. I told him about the tool-kits, oriented him to the presentation John and I give that is now one of the “tools” in the toolkit, and a link to the videotape of a few talks we have given.

My day began with a long talk to a woman from Earth Institute coordinating a conference in NYC about the happiness movement. They plan to bring together leaders from the United Nations with leaders from Bhutan in preparation for a summit in Rio de Janeiro. I told her about our work, and how it is inspired by Bhutan, and how we are the only organization in the US offering anybody tools, resources and education to measure and manage the happiness (or rather, conditions of happiness/wellbeing/quality of life/sustainability). I asked her if we could attend the conference, because it would be really good for those who attend to know about what we are doing. It was a hard sell – not one of those conversations that leaves one feeling that hopeful. But the day ended with talking to Dave. And this felt really good. This project is designed to empower people so they can take the measuring of the wellbeing of their community into their own hands, and gather the data they need to work with policy makers to make meaningful changes. I believe that if we can make a difference, it’s going to be from the ground up. It would be nice for the officials from the UN and Bhutan to know about us, but its even better to be able to work with people like Dave.

Laura Musikanski- ED of HI

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Happiness, Work and Rest

I still feel guilty for taking a weekend off from work – and my work is not even paid. This puritanical American history combined with the fury of capitalism had cast us into a culture where work reigns supreme. It is the be-all and end-all, the answer for everything. While I was in the law/MBA program, a single mom, as well as the sole supporter of my child, a weekend off was not even a remote possibility. I remember the first time I did not work for a weekend after “getting out” and the deep feeling of guilt that followed. It has lessened over the years, but not by much.

Intellectually, I know the best thing for work is to take time off. Yet, I expect myself to be a work-horse until the last minute of life. When I was young, I believed my main virtue was that I always worked hard. Now I know I am more than just a worker, but still; some part of that sentiment remains.

I took the day off today. I spent the morning dozing and thinking about dreams, and then lazily went about my morning exercise routine. All the while keeping thoughts of work at bay. The to-do list generated in my head and I kept pushing it aside, though I never really forgot.

It did not make me happy to try to forget, and it does not make me happy to be working on a weekend. I am caught in this paradigm of work and work – where rest is something you do when you die. Just like so many others in the “developed” and “developing” nations, and if our current system has its way, like everybody on this planet.

Do we want this? Do we want a world where work reigns supreme? Where being a hard worker is what defines us? I do not, but really, I do not know how to escape this way of thinking. It will take a rethinking in our society to understand that work is not the be-all and end-all, and I hope that the work I am doing will help make this happen – for future generations, and maybe even for ours. In the meantime, its Sunday night – time for rest.

Laura Musikanski, ED of HI

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"I just want her to be happy"

With relief I hit the send button on an article written with Richard Conlin, a Seattle City Council member. It’s been over two months of writing and rewriting, review and rewriting. Just as my thumb released the mouse, I started girding my loins for a post to It's a privilege to be able to write these articles, and I do not take it lightly. For this next one, I want to write about how we say about our kids, “I just want her to be happy,” and what that means to me now, as a mother and grandmother.

At least once a week, I take a day and entirely focus on my grandson. He is two and a half and in full swing of “Why”, “No – I don’t like that”, and “What?” Both of us have coughs and runny noses this week, so we spent the day napping and snacking. When his mother was a babe in my arms, I wanted her to grow up feeling confident, strong and caring. I wanted her to live a life that is fulfilling to her on every level – to have all her needs in Maslow’s hierarchy met; I wanted her to be happy. I was one of those mothers. I had a homebirth, homeschooled her, and read everything I could on mothering and babies. My friends thought I was crazy. They also used to tell me she was smart – and I would respond, “The proof is in the pudding.” She graduated two years ago from the University of Washington as one of four of the dean’s medalists from the entire undergraduate class, and today, in an economy where she can’t find a satisfying job, is volunteering at four different nonprofits while starting her own resale business. Today, I would not say my daughter is living in a world where she can really be happy.

And I fear much worse for my grandson. While I hope that my grandson has the chance to be happy when he grows up, what I really dream of is a world where he can meet his own needs, and he also do so in a way that does not impede others from meeting theirs. This is not the case today. Our snack today, before our nap, was raspberries and a banana. The bananas came from 4,000 miles away, the raspberries 1,000. I want my grandson to eat food from which the farming leaves the soil fecund, that reinforces his local economy, and that he knows will not leave nasty chemicals accumulating in his body.

Like any mother, I want my child, and my grandchild, to be happy. I want them to live in a world where everybody – from human bodies to river bodies - thrive. And yet, I doubt that is possible in their lifetimes. We are seeing so much suffering now, and so much of what we do – even with a simple life – is depleting our future. I fear that fewer and fewer people on this planet will get even their rudimentary needs met, and even with inventiveness and resourcefulness, like my daughter is using – the opportunities for happiness are running out. And so, while I don’t think my daughter is living in a world that really allows for happiness, she is working to try to bring about a planet that will.

Laura Musikanski, ED of HI

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Happiness, Love and Letting Go in the Nonprofit World

In the nonprofit world, there is a lot of "wooing" to do. If you are good at it, then “you're in the money,” so to speak (ha ha). If “wooing” or salesmanship is not one of your core strengths, well then… you have to go with your heart and gut.

I am not a salesperson. I never was and never will be. That said, in my high school days when I sold Birkenstocks (dating myself!), I would tell people to go home and thing about it. My sales would jump through the roof some days, I think because people could tell I wanted them to do what was right for them.

And now a big part of my job is to “sell” my project to funders, potential board members, volunteers and other supporters. Every time I think of it as selling, I fail and I ask myself, why is this?

I think it has to do with the poverty mentality. I grew up poor - spent enough of my childhood hungry that I identified that hollow cold feeling in my stomach as normal- so I understand and have worked on the poverty mentality in my own personal life. However, I was not prepared to face it in the nonprofit sector (especially coming from a business education and background) when I started three years ago as ED of Sustainable Seattle. But the poverty mentality is so pervasive in this field, it's phenomenal. The idea that there is not enough, we can never have enough, the resources out there are so limited, there is so much competition, and on and on. It’s debilitating, and coupled with the idea you have to sell something to get funding, well, for someone like me – forget it.

And so, for someone without the magic of woo, what is there to do? We have been meeting with potential funders, supporters, volunteers and board members for a while now. Long enough that it's time to figure out what works and what does not. Today, regardless of whether the outcome is a success or not, worked.

When I feel like my heart is shining out with this true and real deep love I have for this project, things are working. When the person across the table is starting to vibrate in a way that gives energy to the work, things are working. When the questions and comments that come out are worth the entire day, things are working.

So, for a girl without woo, in a world where you live and die by the woo, I guess I learned an important lesson: to be true to my love for this work, and not to try to sell or even try to promote, just – essentially – be in love with what I love. Will it work? Will we build a great board, bring in great staff, get the project funded? I do not know, but I do know that feeling full of love along the way works a whole lot better right now.

Take care, Laura Musikanski, ED of HI

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Messaging Happiness

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Today, my work on the Happiness Initiative included refining messages about who we are, what we do, the problems we solve, and why anyone should care. We are getting it down to an “elevator speech,” meaning that we know what we are talking about if we can say it simply and briefly. An acquaintance I made - a judge for the Supreme Court in Buenos Aires - once told me that if someone can not state something simply, but must use convoluted sentences and long technical words, they themselves probably do not know what they are talking about. I think there is some truth to this; even complex ideas can be broken down into simple steps.

People keep saying that if we get our messaging right, then everything else will follow. A quote I lost (by Borges?) goes something like, "There is no possibility of communication between what one person thinks, says, what is said, and what the other hears and thinks they hear," and so on. Yet we keep trying – reforming our words, our expressions, our tone and our timber.

Compounding the difficulty in communicating about this project is that we are on the “bleeding edge” – far enough in front of the cutting edge that most people don't or can’t “get it” because the idea is so new and different. The only thing to do is stay the course until this work becomes the cutting edge, then mainstream (and hopefully someday, for a good reason, outdated).

And still, in my experience, it is not so much what you say, but the timing of it. With a new idea, or an idea new to someone, it takes I would say between five and seven times for someone to “get it.” You know they got it when they correct you – telling you what you mean. This is a good sign, because now conversation can really begin. And so, we hack away at our messaging, trying to craft the words just right so they reflect our heart and soul, are simple and clear, and are meaningful to those we are trying to reach. (here I must mention thanks to Laura Vander Pool, a consultant who helped us last week).

Well, we're here in the rough draft of our elevator speech. I am sure these will change as we massage and mold the words but hey, maybe we just need to hear them 5-7 times before we understand ourselves….

The Happiness Initiative is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Seattle, Washington. We are a resource to measure and improve personal, community and global well-being. We are part of a global happiness movement that is shifting society’s perception of money, wealth and economic growth as the driver for well=being to a comprehensive measure of well-being.

Cheers, Laura Musikanski. ED of HI

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

You would think that as executive director of the Happiness Initiative, I would be deliriously happy. In fact, I am often asked that question in interviews or when speaking. I usually laugh, and answer yes and no – then explain the difference between effect (how you feel) and wellbeing (a comprehensive fairness, health and resilience for all), but the truth of the matter is, I am not happy. Perhaps, if I were, I would not be doing this work.

It’s been almost two years of unpaid 40+ hours a week on this project and my belief in it has not faltered. I truly do believe the Happiness Initiative is a fundamental tool that can open the door to a world where we all live in conditions that allow us to be happier - but at times it feels a lot further away and less probable than likely. And still, I am no trust fund baby- quite the opposite – and this work, particularly when we need financial support so badly, takes its toll. If I were well connected or someone on my team were, we would be funded the way values. org, or other similar projects were. But instead we are doing the work, “funded” by our own belief in the work.

This raises the question of whether the kind of work we are doing is sustainable if not funded by super wealthy individuals or foundations. I used to hang Margaret Meads quote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." on the office wall. Now we don’t have a wall, because we don’t have an office. Sounds kind of pitiful.

But, at the same time, we are having some great success with the project. People in cities and towns across our country are using our toolkits to start their own happiness initiatives. Thousands have taken the survey and we’ve caught the attention of some major media.

I kind of knew, when I started down the path of this project, that we would get to a place where things would get really tough. Well, we are here now. It's not so great, but at the same time, one can’t expect that changing the world is going to be easy. This is part of the path- living in irresolvable dilemma. Working for happiness, and not being happy is just one of the many I am living with now.

This is the first leaf in a series of my thoughts about the progress of this project. I will keep writing, and would love to hear your ideas and thoughts about irresolvable dilemmas, doing the good work and feeling bad, and any shards of wisdom from you. Laura Musikanski, ED of HI