Monday, June 25, 2012

Gay Pride, Saving the Planet and Albatross: Is there anything in common?

I am one of those people who cries easily when my heart chords are struck - remember those telephone adds in the '80s with the theme "reach out and touch someone?"  I could not watch those without bawling.  This afternoon I found myself in tears. I was sitting on the sidewalk, waiting for the gay pride parade to start,  ignoring everyone and buried in my laptop developing global happiness and wellbeing movement materials from that UN meeting in April when suddenly the street filled with the popping roar of motorcycles. I looked up to find grinning women arms held high roaring past.    The crowd was grinning back.  You could feel a love and support connection between the crowd and the spectators- it went both ways.  The pride was on both sides of the barricades. Tears fell down my cheeks. 

Later today I found myself inside the Whidbey Geodome- an inflatable Buckminster Fuller project filled with a light display of our planet, our galaxy, our universe and our selves. The project is designed to connect our hearts, the self, the planet, the universe and oneness. We zoomed in and out of our space, flashed through light years and inside outside of perspectives. The show spoke to me of the power of creation, the power of our mother earth and the power we each have within each of us to nurture this planet - and ourselves. Images of the cosmos and the neural pathways within your body- my body - the body of any being; images of our galaxy, a sunflower, our planet, an eye's iris, a nautilus, spoke to the power of love for ourselves and for our home, our mother, our planet.  It was a connection. Tears welled again.
Chris Jordan gave at a talk and showed his short film about plastics and the albatross babies.  These babies are dying when their mommies and daddies feed them fish eggs that have wrapped themselves around that coke bottle lid that spilled out of the trash can or tonka-toy truck wheel that fell off in the sand box and washed into the sea.   They are dying because so much plastic accumulates in their little bodies that they can't eat, can't breath, can't live.  Some studies are showing 95% of albatross babies have plastic in their bellies, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium research.  A while back I used some of his images to gave a presentation to a graduating class of 13 year old middle schoolers about the Eastern Sea Patch.  We spoke of hopelessness and power.  We sank into the angst of youth adulthood, and we questioned the purpose of it all. We felt the deep unfairness of this planet. My purpose in speaking to the youth was to affirm their incredible internal and inherent knowledge and power. During the talk, I felt at first a sense of failure, then gave over to giving them the space to explore. Failure dissipated with the release of control, followed by a tremendous feeling of love and admiration for these young people.  Later their teacher told me they made some tremendously powerful decisions.   Those kids made the connection.

Tonight I slump toward sleep turning over in my mind the day - dykes on bikes grinning with love, the lovely planet winking in and out of the cosmos, the sense of hopelessness and pure beauty winking in and out of tides of trash and treasure.  Connection. Tears.  Hearts.  Power.  Love.
Posted by Laura, ED of HI 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mashable RE-Post: The Value of a Happiness Economy

John C. Havens is EVP, Strategy and Engagement, a media strategy organization that discovers andelevates social entrepreneurs by leveraging their expertise to build shared value partnerships. He can be reached at
What if generosity were a currency? This was a question posed by the Danish chocolate company Anthon Berg for its recent Generous Store campaign. The company opened a pop-up store for one day in Copenhagen last winter, and distributed chocolate as payment to individuals who promised to perform a generous deed for a loved one.
Chocolate lovers posted to the company’s Facebook page, sharing promises like “serving breakfast in bed.” Then they picked up their chocolate payment at the store and essentially broadcast to their social graph to “pay it forward.”
Research suggests that paying it forward is something the average person enjoys. Søren Christensen, a partner in Anthon Berg’s ad agency, says his company’s findings showed that seven out of 10 people were happy when they did something good for other people. But only one out of 10 people ever experienced generosity on a daily basis.
Why the disparity, and why does it matter?
Two reasons. First, there’s a growing movement to standardize the metrics around well-being that can lead to happiness. Second, the combination of big data, your social graph, and artificial intelligence means everyone will soon be able to measure individual progress toward well-being, set against the backdrop of all humanity’s pursuit to do the same. In the near future, our virtual identity will be easily visible by emerging technology likeGoogle’s Project Glass and our actions will be just as trackable as our influence. We have two choices in this virtual arena: Work to increase the well-being of others and the world, or create a hierarchy of influence based largely on popularity.

Metrics Not Mood

If you’re thinking the study of happiness and well-being seems flaky, you’re missing a major trend that’s beginning to influence a number of global economies.
At the recent United Nations Summit, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that, “Gross National Product (GDP) fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress.” In other words, measuring well-being is not the pursuit of identifying the ephemeral emotion of happiness. It’s about looking at a deeper level of “economic, social and environmental objectives that are most effectively pursued in a holistic manner.”
And economics alone are not the primary driver of well-being. Statistics show, for instance, that after a person or family receives a salary of $75,000 per year, increasing the amount of money brought home doesn’t increase a feeling of well-being.
Jeffery Sachs, the renowned economist from Columbia University who edited the first World Happiness Reportfor the UN, certainly comes to the same conclusion. He said, “The U.S. has had a three-time increase of GNP per capita since 1960, but the happiness needle hasn’t budged.” The report, which provides scientific evidence that happiness can be reliably measured and is meaningful, notes that the U.S. has not as happy as other countries because of a too-prominent focus on boosting the economy — while largely ignoring long-term effects on environment or holistic education. (The Danes, however, were listed as the happiest people on the planet by Sachs’s report — apparently Anthon Berg is onto something with their Wonka-onian economics.)


The study of happiness is a burgeoning field of study around the world, with scientists and other experts providing hard data as to the benefits of a balanced approach to well-being versus too singular a focus on money or self.
“Our goal is to get people thinking more deeply about what happiness is and what is the connection between themselves and their community and world,” says Laura Musikanski, the executive director and co-founder ofThe Happiness Initiative, an organization inspired by Bhutan’s ideas on Gross National Happiness, also known as GNH. They even created a survey geared to measure 10 metrics of well-being, which include material well being, physical health and time balance.
Her site also contains an excellent history of Happiness Research that provides important data-related insight. For example, although ephemeral happiness may come about due to a combination of luck, timing or fate, the emerging science of happiness proposes that “our actions determine 40% of happiness, and that well-being can be both synthetically created and habitually formed.”
This may be the biggest reason for our desire to measure this space, and several takes on measuring it have popped up. The Quantified Self movement has exploded and Nicholas Fenton’s practice of chronicling information for his annual life’s report has inspired others to follow his lead via Daytum and other self-monitoring services. Ariana Huffington also recently announced her GPS for the Soul, an app that launches this June that provides a “course-correcting mechanism for your mind, body and spirit.”
The natural next step in this process, then, is to marry the collective metrics of individuals to form a collective virtual picture of a community or country. Mirroring the goals of GPS for the Soul, it would be simple to map GNH/well-being metrics to existing technology like that provides updates on how to maintain material well-being or Project Noah that encourages more access to nature. Via this methodology, our lives could become a virtual H(app)athon, with technology doling out advice on how to flourish, while proactively helping others.

The Efficacy of Fun

But as with any behavior or state of mind, it will take a village. “A really important part of changing behavior is social reinforcement,” says C. Lincoln (Link) Hoewing, Assistant Vice President for Internet and Technology Issues for Verizon and frequent contributor to Verizon’s Policy Blog. “You start seeing and comparing yourself to others more when you know that other people can find out what you’re doing.” This form of Accountability Based Influence (ABI) is most effective when eliciting a positive response. As an example, Hoewing noted Volkswagen’s Fun Theory campaign, whose Piano Stairs YouTube Video has received almost 18 million views to date. For the campaign, a set of stairs in a Stockholm subway were outfitted with full size piano keys that played notes as people walked on them, resulting in 66% more people than normal choosing the stairs over the nearby escalator. It’s a simple leap to picture this event being geared toward a community metric of well-being, where the GNH for Stockholm would have risen the day of the campaign.

The Currency of Community

Brands are certainly learning to leverage well-being in the form of corporate social responsibility known as shared value. While bringing happiness to consumers via a product or service is not unique, bringing happiness to a community is just coming intro widespread acceptance. “We want to set in motion an upward spiral of confidence,” stated Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz in his Letter to America last August. This included the company’s Create Jobs for USA program that has seeded $5 million to provide capital grants for under served community businesses. “The idea of the initiative is to create happiness coming from economic well being,” states Adam Brotman, Chief Digital Officer for Starbucks. The company also recently announced its Store Partnership Model where pilot community organizations in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood and Los Angeles’ Crenshaw neighborhood will share in the profits of a Starbucks store. A minimum of $100,000 for each organization will seed programs geared toward job and life skill development, positive learning environments and overall health and wellness in the community. “We’re in the happiness and people business,” says Brotman, referring to the shared value mentality that a social business can be generous and profitable at the same time. “A thriving or happy community is something that’s good for everybody.”

When Actions Create Identity

In about three to five years it won’t matter if you’d rather not project your actions to the world — your virtual footprint will simply be too hard to conceal. Your preferences combined with the data generated by external forces will in essence make everything, including objects, inherently interactive.
“What’s a social network for data?” asks Jim Karkanias, an executive at Microsoft who runs the company’s Health Solutions Group, and has been working on a range of projects that broach the physical and computing worlds. “We’re imagining biology versus silicon as the next platform in which we write software.” Karkanias uses a form of prototyping for his work based on Project Hieroglyph, a movement that encourages science fiction writers to infuse their work with optimism that can inspire a new generation to ‘get big stuff done.’ “Science fiction sets the stage for people to imagine things bigger than reality,” says Karkanias, noting that adhering to practicality in ideation tends to create a narrow experience that limits imagination and hinders happiness.
Data already has its own social networks: RFID tags, M2M (machine to machine) sensors in cars and the Internet of Things let machines trade information without the need for human intervention. The self-tracking craze with humans combined with this ubiquitous data means highly personalized and proactive information can be aggregated to inform our actions on a minute scale. The advent of things like Google Goggles means we’ll be able to virtually see other people’s data as well as eventually record our entire existence. Our lives will be tagged and ranked as semantic information fed into a massive global algorithm that could be geared toward inspiring positive behavior. Karkanias agrees: “Artificial Intelligence in the form of a perpetual life coach will live at the information level providing guidance on every aspect of your day.”
Technology of this kind will likely manifest itself in a reverse Siri interface, with a GPS-like voice guiding you on issues both personal and macro. The societal impact could shift negative personal patterns as well as a community or country’s Gross National Happiness. Karkanias provides an example of this model where you’re in your car and take a route that passes a McDonald’s. As your coach knows your health issues regarding cholesterol, it adjusts the route of your self-driving car to the nearest Whole Foods to map to your GNH/well-being metric regarding health. Likewise, cameras in a subway car utilizing facial recognition technology might scan the face of a woman who is four months pregnant and send you a text to give her your seat to map to her GNH/well-being metric of psychological well being. Emerging services like Sickweather will provide health-related predictive data that will affect whole communities regarding metrics of time, balance and well-being.

Inspiration Versus Ignorance

Some pundits say that privacy is disappearing, but that doesn’t mean we should let our identity be dictated by outside forces. Unfortunately, people are largely unaware of the repercussions of giving away personal information as we enter a virtual era where information can be accessed by so many parties so easily. “People are not fully aware of the data they generate and how that’s coupled with Artificial Intelligence learning algorithms. It’s creating a different social and economic order and we’re in the midst of that happening now,” states John Clippinger, Founder and Executive Director of and a Scientist at the MIT Media Lab Human Dynamics Group where he is conducting research on trust frameworks for protecting and sharing personal information. He feels the inevitable onset of ubiquitous data meshing with synthetic biology and people’s social graphs can be a positive evolution if the whole process takes place in the open.
This transparency is the key. Fostering a culture based on GNH and mapped by existing technology provides a positive path toward the future. We should emulate chocolatier Anthon Berg and let generosity be our currency. Our lives will be sweeter for the choice.
Image courtesy of iStockphotoaluxum

Move your TOES - messages from the first Thriving Organizational Ecology Symposium

Jeff Vander Clute, the Happiness Initiative Board President called together a suite of people and organization to share, learn, evolve and work together.  We are here now, at the Whidbey Island Institute.   Here the deer meander through the fields, the salmon berries are up, and find out how we can work together. 

Compassionate Action Network  (CAN) International: 
Rita Hubbard, the executive director, explains how CAN is partnering with cities across the world for compassion.   They have a charter for cities, and are working with the faith community, educators and companies.  CAN was inspired by Karen Armstrong's wish for a charter for compassion made during a Ted Talk.  Eight cities have already signed CAN's charter and they are in discussion with several dozen.  Why compassion? CAN is looking to help leaders, scholars and grassroots activists create a future where people do not fall through the holes; where we treat each other with trust, joy and love.  You can affirm the charter now!

Compassionate Seattle
Heart Map of Seattle by Jon Ramer
Jon Ramer, the executive director, explains the difference between Compassionate Seattle and CAN International (beyond the obvious of geographic scope).  Compassionate Seattle was born from CAN = which was born from an event called SEED inspired by Karen Armstrong -when it became clear the international focus was pulling away from a local focus.   Jon and his team are starting with a heart map and events such as a challenge from Louisville for Compassionate Games: They hosted an event called "Give a day" with a goal of 50,000 people volunteering on one day, and they want to see us beat that.  On  Sept 21 is day of peace and United Way's day of caring- when Compassionate Seattle is inviting all of us to participate and co-create this! You can join Compassionate Seattle here.

Cascadia Center Camp Brotherhood 
John Hale, executive director, is taled with "fostering harmony within the human family in an environment with all affirmation."  Began in 1960 with a program called Challenge: KOMO TV, a Rabbi and a Minister talked about religion and politics every Sunday to challenge each other and the audience. They then created a retreat for people of different faiths to get to know each other. Their program four tracts are 1) Interfaith, 2) Sustainability, 3) Education and 4) Arts.  You can hold a retreat here too.

New Stories
Lynnaea Lumbard is the president of New Stories, which promotes, incubates and amplifies the "new stories" of transition that take us through this time. They offer fiscal sponsorships.
Great Transition Stories is a project dealing with cultural issues telling stories that liberate, unify and inspire us.  Each story is rigorously researched, and "translated" with word and video. Check this tool out for exploring who and what we are as people and as a country. The Whidbey Geodome project creates a place to expand the mind and heart.  Last night they invited STEM educators to dialogue about how science, technology, engineering and mathematics interlink with the arts and humanities.  A geodome is a large igloo looking structure that inflates. The experience starts with a show about the universe.  Thriving Communities aims to be a massive co-creative effort. In Napa Valley, a thriving community is in full swing.

The Happiness Initiative went last. Lunch smells wafted into the room.  What is happiness?  At a meta-level, it is no different than compassion, sustainability, thriving or love. It is regard and respect for all of what we are: how we feel, whether our life is worthwhile and what is happening individually and culturally within the 10 domains.  It is also a way to work together, where we can use a measurement and data to tell us all how we are doing in our efforts towards compassion, sustainability, thriving communities and love.

Posted by Laura, ED of HI. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Long Live Growth

the vigil for the cafe racer shootings
Last week I posted an article "Growth is Dead." The next week two things happened.  Five people were gunned down in my childhood neighborhood.  I have lived here for 44 years of my 48, and this is the first time something like this happened my home town.  That taste of how it feels to live in Beirut, Karachi, Nairobi or even our own Detroit or St. Louis did not sit well with me, or many of my fellow Seattlelites.  I went to the vigil for the shootings, and there saw people who wore faces of grief for the victims and badges of compassion for a city where this kind of thing does not happen again.
map of physical and political water insecurity
The other thing that happened was gentler, but in a way, even more horrid. Ryan, a new volunteer to the project, and I were sitting in a cafe talking about the importance of this project and how to better communicate it. He pointed out the connections to natural resource use and the disparity in our world. "I can take a shower for 20 minutes everyday in pure clean water that I can drink for only about twenty dollars extra a week, while in so many other places in the world you can't even get a shower, or like in some areas in Central America, you have to close your eyes and mouth to protect against parasites.  It's just so unfair."
If happiness or well-being in our world is partly predicated on our capacity for compassion, and the science shows we are all happier when there is less suffering around us, then we must recognize and take action towards alleviating this suffering for our own betterment.  This is a piece of this project, the Happiness Initiative, that I think some of us assume, but is not explicitly expressed. It must be understood that a better future means a better future for all, not just some. And this is the growth part.
The term Sustainable Development use to be used to mean growth in different areas than just the economic environment.  It meant that we would "grow"  our natural systems to a state where they were healthy. Our communities and governments too.  It meant we would focus on developing out own internal lives along the many dimensions of the self, such as those identified by Ken Wilber: intellectual, emotional, ethical, social, aesthetic, affective/relationship and many other aspects of who we are and how we grow.
I think now it is so very important to link this work we are doing in happiness to those earlier notions of sustainable development. This is where social justice and equity are interlinked with environmentalism.  This is where my heart lies in this work, so that when it is breaking because of the shootings that happened here, and are happening in other areas, and when I am enjoying cool clear water without worrying for it while others struggle just to have clean water to drink and will never experience a shower, I know that I am doing something to change this for the better of all of us.
We just finished a project that exemplified how the Happiness Initiative can be used for this purpose. It is also heart breaking, and it gives hope.
Post by Laura Musikanski, ED of HI