Thursday, August 30, 2012

man as nature

What does the world look like when humans see themselves as nature. This morning I woke up to otters chasing raccoons off the dock. Successful, they splashed into the shores of Lake Union and twirled around each other, giving little nibbles and pushes.    Ann, my housemate, says they used to live under another houseboat, but the owners had them removed to the other side of the state because they squeeked in the morning. Maybe they are back, I say, and maybe they will live here, under ours.  Wouldn’t it be cool to wake up to otter squeaks? In Cali, a rooster crowed each morning. I found it comforting knowing some aspect of wild was preserved in that concrete jungle.  

Merle Lakoff, the Executive Director of Emerging Diplomacy, a social cause 501(c)3 that works in the middle east, invited me to spend the day and evening talking with people from Orcas Island about happiness.  Yeah and uuugh.I am lucky to do this, but hate driving.  A long ride in the car (after 6 years carless, I finally have one – a prius) to a park and ride, and bus trip found me on the ferry. I look out the window.

Cormorants are nested on the peer. There are nests up and down each crony.  The babies are near the size of adults but downy and sill. A parent and child bird do a dance between necks, the father pushing his head into the baby’s mouth as a continuation of the dance. The baby makes swallowing motions for a long time after the parent leaves.  Like it was a big meal. Behind me pass a mother and three kids –a child’s voice floats above the hum of the ferry “ I want a cheeseburger and fries.”  They trot upstairs to the cafeteria.  Behind me a group of middle aged couples point out to each other the airstrips, boats, crabpots and islands to each other.

What does the world look like when humans see themselves as nature? How does our conversation about our landscape change- when we are part of it, not masters of it? How does our relationship with food change when the fruits of our planet are a part of our personal systems?  

posted by Laura Musikanski, ED of HI

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Blissing out - or not. The Keynote at the Happiness Conference 2012

I have not read the Geography of Bliss. I know I should, and I want to, but the truth is I have not. I have heard a lot about Eric Weiner. He loves to travel. He is a grump. This is what he says about himself. He ran away from home when he was a kid.  He never stopped running. He says he is running to "a new way of seeing things."

Eric started his talk with a question:

Where are you?

He answered the question himself: Place matters.

He urged us to eavesdrop on cell phone calls. He told us we would hear one question:

Where are you?

So what is place?  Topography:  Earlier in the day Judith Lipton gave a talk at the Happiness Conference in Seattle explaining why Costa Rica consistently rated so happy. Geography was one: no natural disasters, no man-made disasters. Too gold poor for Columbus, Too far from the Incas and Mayans.

He labeled himself "unhappy" and  talked about his own personal journey of dealing with depression.  He was funny. I have found depressed people often can be so funny.  He found relief in travel. He found a way to travel his whole life.  How? Researching the countries that rated themselves as happy.  He went to happy places.  His travels followed scientific findings (namely, Gallup Healthways Poll among others): Sub-Sahara Africa and Former Russian colonies are the lease happy countries. Its hard to meet basic needs.  East Asia is next up on the latter - not too happy. They think of happiness in a communal sense- we, not me. Latino countries are second happiest in the world. The happiest countries in the world are Northern European.

Some facts from Eric:

Extraverts, Optimist, Married, Republicans, Religious Followers, College Degrees (but no advanced degrees), or  People with active sex life - these people are happier than Introverts, Pessimists, Unmarried, Democrats, Agnostics, People not college educated, People without an active sex life....
But, Eric cautions, be careful about causation.  The grumpy person will not necessarily be happier when married.

 Its easy to get people to talk about what makes them unhappy, but not so much for what makes them happy.  Why? We do not have the vocabulary to talk about happiness.

That is one of the purposes of the Happiness Initiative. This is why we use the 10 domains of happiness.  There is room for improvement in our communications (there always is), but we are defining happiness giving people more tools to understand and talk about it.

Posted by Laura Musikanski, ED of HI

Friday, August 24, 2012

Teaching Happiness

Today a dream came true.  At noon today,  the first Train-the-Trainer session teaching how to conduct a Happiness Initiative ended.  Twenty five  people learned how to bring happiness into their lives and communities.  I love teaching professionals because I get to lean so much. The group of people was amazing - open hearted, extremely intelligent professionals.

We had only 1.5 days to go over what should have been three days of materials. The training began by teaching everyone how to give an introductory talk. This was followed by a crash course in the happiness field: Where it is happening (Bhutan, Brazil, Canada, China, France and here..), What it is (subjective and objective wellbeing indicators to replace singular use of the economy,  other wellbeing indicators), Who's who (experts).  The last part of the first day we focused on the nuts and bolts with a focus on policy makers as the audience.  We capped the day with the last of three exercises where people talked in groups about their plans: to conduct a happiness initiative in their neighborhood, to create a city-wide reading program, to introduce the concept to native peoples...  It was cool.

I hope - plan - to teach many more of these, and to keep teaching so others can teach and so the work in their community.  I tell myself I am doing this because it serves the needs of the project. In truth, I do it because I love meeting and learning from the people. It is so amazing wonderful sweet and blessed to get to meet and learn from such intelligent, full and whole, lovely people. That's the rub!
Posted by Laura Musikanski, ED of HI

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Discovering Colombia - Part 7

It’s my last day in Cali. Andres, the Ombudsman of the city, picks me up at noon. We drive out to the country for lunch and to discuss happiness indicators for Cali. Looking out the window sugar cane expands across the high valley surrounded by barely visible higher mountains.  The restaurant serves typical food of Cali: flattened plantains with a lovely green sauce, deep fried cheese wrapped plantains, a deep chicken soup laced with more plantains and chicken.  We talk nuts and bolts about measuring happiness in Cali.  We chase our discussion with a local mixture of beer and juice.  The rest of the day we visit a sugar cane farm, have coffee – Colombian coffee - while we share music, and then go to a the Petronio Alvarez music festival where there are over 100,000 people in attendance.    
Posted by Laura Musikanski, ED of HI

Friday, August 17, 2012

Discovering Colombia - Part 5

Yesterday I gave my presentation to Cali City officials from the planning and participation department. They stopped my half way through.
Enough they said! We have a meeting to go to. You start again tomorrow, but with the whole office.  I went from a feeling of utter failure to hope and sweet gratitude in less than a minute. 
Today I gave my presentation to Cali City officials from the planning and participation department. We got about half way through. This time it was because they had such amazing questions.
  • How do we communicate this when some people will resist happiness?
  • What if we do this for the staff in the department, then the city staff, then work with some community organizations before launching it city wide?
  • Do we have to follow the model of Bhutan? (NO! Do what suits you best! There is no prescription)
Later I meet with Jorge and his colleage from the planning department. He speaks in the sort of hushed tone that draws you in. We discuss the difference between objective and subjective indicators and how the City of Cali might blend their current data collection questions with The Happiness Initiatives.
Some days things happen that make life worth while. On those days, its so nice to just enjoy each moment, revel in the present and just relax.
Posted by Laura Musikanski ED of HI

Discovering Colombia - Part 6

We go to a town meeting in the community school. We pass indoor outdoor classrooms in small squat brick buildings filled and surrounded by children of every age. Murals painted on walls convey messages of companionship.
The week before I came to Cali, a survey found Colombia to be the 2nd most happy country in the world. Now I am sitting in a room full of people chatting as the Ombudsman and a community leader dialogue in tones denoting passion to these listeners, tones that would denote anger to people in my city.
They are talking about public transportation -  tram project that would serve the poor people living a atop the hills. This is a new administration. The Ombudsman, Andres Santa Maria, responds that he will visit the site.
A young man in gold chains asks the city for a multifunctional sports part, He cites the constitution and right to happiness. He explains how youth have no where to go, and so turn to violence. The Ombusdman makes plans on the spot to meet with community leaders and make plans for this. Then we will visit the community health center, and is planning to investigate the healthcare system in the city.
A third man lists the problems that come from unemployment. He wants to see an educational sports program. The Ombudsman respond he will do what he can.
Next comes complains about big box stores displacing small local businesses. The start of a plan to investigate the community an create a plan to protect community assets is formed.
A woman talks about family, culture and the communal society. So short, she is buried behind the pulpit, she recites the needs of her community and the stresses that pull apart families. She calls for jobs, housing and support for mothers.
People living on the hills do not have title to their land, and so cannot sell or give it. A man in a sky blue tee asks the mayors office to issue title. A woman in a tangerine shirt asks for stop signs so people can cross the street safely. It costs too much money to pay for electricity, and there are blackouts, another woman asks the city to reduce energy costs. A woman asks for health care reform- old people are not able to get medical help. The Ombudsman announces he has just been made president of all Ombudsmen in Colombia, and he is looking at the issue of health care. Applause explodes.
It is hot. I am getting sleepy from the heat and the sheer weight of the issues- on overload. I step outside where children are throwing a stick into a huge dinosaur sized mango tree. I watch as they pass underneath munching on green mangos.  Their stick is stuck in the tree. 
Later Andreas, the Ombudsman, Nate who coordinates TED Talks in Qatar, his gorgeous girl friend who works in youth media, Camilo, the consultant to the city and I go to dinner.  I ask the Ombudsman about the day. Yes, he says, these are the same problems in most of the neighborhoods of this huge city.  He is conducting two meetings per month.
I am filled with admiration. So many problems - so many opportunities. It feels at once impossible, and at the same time as if there is a possibility for a real turning point. Andreas has a coolness and intelligence that gives me confidence in him and his city.
Posted by Laura Musikanski, ED of HI

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Discovering Colombia - Part 4

Suddenly there were police all around.  Mario admonished me – “we were looking for you!” I had been outside, giving an interview with Sebastian, a funny, extremely bright and super personable film maker, who was also giving a talk.   “The Mayor is here! You are supposed to go on stage with us.”

making happy posts for the evening!
Cali is the third largest city in Colombia. An industrial town, it holds about 2.5 million people. Mayor Rodrigo Guerrero Velasco was meeting with the President the next day.  We all four went on stage. Now, I do not speak Spanish (French and a little Portugese, but neither served well).  They all three spoke, and I was told I was to say something about the mayor signing a Happiness Agreement.  So- what to do? Well, gratitude and honoring came heartfelt and felt completely appropriate. I thanked the Mayor and his Ombudsman for talking leadership in the Global Happiness and Wellbeing Movement. I explained how Mario and I were two of over 650 tasked with launching the movement, and that meant we all were a part of it.   Then the Mayor and Andreas, his Ombudsman, signed the Happiness Agreement. Woo hooo!!!!

Mario, the Executive Director of The Happy Post Project, had just finished a week long expedition going to diverse peoples in Cali asking them “what makes you happy?” His team collected the answers in post its, and made a film.  He presented the finding to the Mayor.  We watched the film. It was super cool.  I gave my presentation with a translator.  He and I played with the audience – we had 10 minutes to explain the Happiness Initiative, and with translations, that makes it 5.  We had fun, and, similar to what Mark Twain said, if you have more time (to prep), you can say it in a shorter speech.   Afterwards a beautiful band played Salsa music with a Congo influence in the lobby. Mario pulled me to dance to the music, and managed to get everyone dancing. That’s Mario!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Discovering Colombia- Part 3

This evening I present with many others to the Mayor of Cali, and a few other…how many? I do not know. I met with my translator and then had some free time, so wandered around the theatre. It spans the block looks like something out of the movies – but real.  The balconies boxes host little masks and angels looking across the expanse, and the stage goes back forever. Behind the theater is an entire other theater, with a dancing stage and meeting room.  The top floor host a splendid room with grand piano and chandelier that feels so graceful.   Behind stages is lined with little rooms like in the movies, with mirrors and bathrooms. Metal doors open over the streets, and the tempo of the city float in.  It feels like another time, but its now. I sit in a box on the second level balcony, and soak it in, feeling like I am transported into movie land. But I’m not. I am here.

I am ready for my presentation, and meet later with Mario in a cafĂ©.  We talk about what we dream of, and our dilemmas of working on projects we love that are not funded and not being able to make ends meet financially. “Well, the science says that if you are not able to make ends meet, gaining a living makes you a lot happier- up to about 75K a year in the US.” I say. “Imagine how happy you and I would be if we were fully funded – we would be bounding off the ceiling.”  We laugh.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Discovering Colombia Part 2

It is hot here. A different kind of hot than summer heat. The kind that has seeped into every moment, nook and cranny, memory and thought. On the outside of town, people live in houses stacked on top of each other. For some of them, its hard to tell if they are being constructed or deconstructed. Trees grow dinosaur size and some are painted red and white at the base, as if signifying blood. Youth fill the streets and dusty courts.

Further in town, vendors line the sidewalks offering fruit, chips and candy.  The average monthly salary here is  about $690. I am charged $30 for a cab ride from the airport for a ride that is supposed to be $8, but it is one of those days. Earlier, I missed my connection from Bogota to Cali, and was charged even more for what should have been a transfer. Oh well.  I can't afford it, but it will work out somehow.

Everything here is brick and the sun is setting behind the mountains that embrace the city and vast agricultural plateau surrounding it.

Posted by Laura Musikanski, ED of HI. 

Discovering Colombia - Part 1

Discovering Colombia – Part 1

I have a friend who says “its not an adventure if you know what happens.” It’s been 30 years since I traveled alone to a country where I do not speak the language. I have have only the sketchiest idea of what this trip holds- a hotel address, an invitation to give a talk (where? for whom? with whom? I don’t know) and meet with someone – that’s it.  

This journey began with an invitation from Mario Chamorro, Executive Director of the Happy Post Project.

I met Mario at the United Nation’s High Level Meeting on Happiness and Wellbeing: defining a new economic paradigm this April. He was in the same working group as I (civil society) and the first time I heard him speak, he was inciting, in the kindest and most sweet way, over 800 of the most esteemed world academics, politicians and NGO leaders – among them the President of Costa Rica, the Secretariat General of the United Nations, Jeffrey Sacks and Vandana Shiva – to take  personally the high level recommendations the Government of Bhutan  and academics recommended.  “It says here ‘
Governments, universities, hospitals and other organisations can buy from sustainable local sources, like organic farmers and fair trade groups.”  So why not do this in your own life for at least one day?  Try buying only from local producers or at your farmers market.”  There was a sort of silence after Mario spoke – a combined effect as if he had said “the emperor has no clothes” and “I love you” all in the same breath.  Then the meeting went on, with the usual complicated academic and esoteric comments, albeit laced with deep and beautiful gratitude.

I saw the shining beauty in Mario, and went up to him in our working group delighted to find someone so cool. We kind of giggled together, agreeing at once to conspire.

And so here I am, on a plane with impossible connections on my way to Cali, Colombia. 

Posted by Laura Musikanski, ED of HI