Sunday, November 13, 2016

My Journey With Food Waste & Happiness: One Woman's Vision (part 1 of 2)

By Amy Bergley, Sustainability & Happiness Studies candidate at Arizona State University
Part one of two

Phoenix, Arizona
I’ve always felt sustainability was important but I had never actively pursued it, until now. It wasn’t until I moved to Arizona that I really started to see the importance of sustainability. Water is a precious resource everywhere, but in Arizona you can physically see and feel its impact. This is what initially sparked my interest in sustainability and what ultimately led me to pursue a Master’s in Sustainability Solutions at Arizona State University. Upon starting my degree, I didn’t know much about food waste and the impact it was having on the world.

It wasn’t until I watched the movie, “Just Eat It: A food waste story” that I began to understand food waste. In this movie, a couple challenges themselves to live off discarded food for six months. They thought this would be difficult to do, however,  that was not the case. In fact, they often found they had more food than they could store in their house. This documentary opened my eyes to the sheer volume of edible food that is being discarded in North America. 

Over the past several months, I began a journey with food waste and happiness that has brought me to where I am today. I set out to ultimately understand why food is wasted and what can be done to stop it. In the United States, it is estimated that around 40% of edible food is wasted (Gunders, 2012). That equates to around 30 million tons or 180 pounds of edible food wasted per person each year (EPA, 2016). With food insecurity running rampant in the U.S., this figure is horrifying. As I began to learn more about food waste in the US and the issues causing it, I wondered if other countries were experiencing the same problem.  In order to find out, I participated in a six week study abroad program where I traveled throughout Denmark and the United Kingdom. During my travels, I interviewed individuals from all walks of life in order to better understand their perspective of food waste and what their country was doing to prevent it.

Aarhus, Denmark
There was one interview that really impacted my perspective of food waste and how it relates to happiness.  This interview took place in Aarhus, Denmark with Annbritt Jørgensen, the founder of Skraldecafeen. This translates to the Garbage Café’. Going into the interview, I didn’t know what to expect or exactly what the Garbage Café’ was. So the The first question I asked was for Annbritt to tell me a little about the organization and how it was started. She replied that it started off as a good idea. She had been learning about dumpster diving in Denmark and the sub culture around it. Dumpster diving is legal in Denmark, although some stores lock their bins so divers cannot access them. Although it is less socially accepted among the upper classes and it is a relatively common practice within certain populations (such as college students). Some people sustain themselves solely on dumpster diving. This inspired Annbritt to take the food that was in the dumpster and to use it as a tool to bring people together. Her organization sets up mobile kitchens in parks around Aarhus and invites everyone people to come and cook food that was harvested by her and her team harvested from the dumpster. This food is clean and fit for human consumption. Typically, the food is thrown out due to low aesthetic standards or older expired date labels. 

The Garbage Café’ is doing a great job combating food waste in Aarhus by taking thrown away food and turning it into a resource, however, the food is not the focus of the organization. Rather, the food is used as a tool to create a gathering place where everyone is equal. Annbritt proudly stated that “it doesn’t matter if you are homeless or the mayor, everyone participates on equal terms.” She said that when they first set the kitchen up, the homeless population weren’t was not used to being invited to participate in the community things. Annbritt is proud that instead of the homeless of Aarhus being looked down on upon, they are were able to come to the Garbage Café’ and join as equals terms with everyone else. Annbritt’s perspective was so unique. She saw a problem with food waste in her city and acted on it. Her solution not only feeds people, but it also brings happiness and social inclusion to a stigmatized population.

Roof Garden in Copenhagen, Denmark

My interview with Anntbritt got me thinking about ways which combating food waste could benefit people and increase their happiness. I found that not only can reducing food waste save money, but it can also reconnect a person with food and nature. There’s a disconnect with our food system that exists today. This has led to a disassociation between food and the natural environment. It is as if some people have forgotten that french fries are grown in the ground soil and that milk comes from a living animal cow. All areas of the food system requires large quantities of resources in order to grow and maintain them. When food is wasted, all of the resources that went into growing, processing and transporting that food are also wasted.

This is really evident in “The Extraordinary Life and Times of a Strawberry” video (watch it here created by the Ad Council to fight food waste. In this video, you watch the strawberry grow, travel through processing, then travel again to the store. At the store the strawberry is purchased and taken home. It then sits in the fridge until it rots and is eventually thrown away. This story is tragic and unfortunately common.   

Jalapino after 2 weeks in fridge
Preventing food waste is easy; it’s just a matter of being proactive. I have a few strategies that I use regularly which have just about eliminated food waste in my home. In the past, much of my food waste came from over buying products at the grocery store. I would impulse shop and inevitably buy more food than I could eat. I began making lists of the items that I needed before going to the store. This has greatly reduced my impulse buying. I’m a vegetarian, so I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. This can be difficult at times, because I only go to the store once a week and the shelf life of some produce items can be very short. Storing produce properly can double the life of it. Certain types of fruits, such as avocado sand watermelons, should be stored on the counter before they are ready to be eaten. Fruits like grapes and strawberries should be stored in the fridge. Storing produce correctly will keep it lasting longer so you have more time to eat it. Another great strategy I have found is to always keep items that need to be eaten first (like leftovers) towards the front of the fridge. This way, they are the first thing you see when opening the door so you are reminded to eat them. On those occasions when I have a few veggies vegetables in my refrigerator that are getting old, I have found that you I can make chili out of just about anything and it tastes good. All you I need to do is throw everything in a pot, add plenty of seasoning, and cook it until its tender. These are just a few strategies I use to reduce food waste at home, but there are plenty more ways.

The more I reduced my food waste, the greater benefits I experienced. Not only did it save me money, but it also pushed me to try new foods that I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. Any leftover scraps I have from cooking go into the compost bin, which I eventually use in my garden. Living more sustainably and reducing my food waste has made me more conscious of my actions and decisions. This has increased my happiness and brought me closer to nature. 

Works Cited

EPA. (2016, February 23). Turning Food Waste into Energy at the Easte Bay Municipal Utility District. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from United States Environmental Protection Agency:

Gunders, D. (2012, August). Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill. Retrieved March 2016, from Natural Resources Defense Council:

A Community Without Food Waste: One Woman's Vision (part 2 of 2)

By Amy Bergley, Sustainability & Happiness Studies candidate at Arizona State University 

In June 2016,I set out to study food waste practices and policy in the United Kingdom and Denmark. I wanted to understand what other countries were doing to combat food waste and how individual happiness was impacted. For six weeks, I lived in these countries and experienced their culture, while conducting field work. Much of my research involved interviews with different organizations working to fight food waste. During my travels, I gained a better understanding of the problem of food waste in each country and what was being done about it. 

Food embodies culture, family, and a connectedness to nature. It brings people together and gives our bodies nutrients that we need to survive. Despite this,  food is being wasted on a massive scale all over the world. In the United States it is estimated that around 40% of edible food is wasted each year (Gunders, 2012). This equates to a loss of about 180 lbs per person each year and a total monetary loss of $165 billion. Efforts have been made to reduce food waste in the US through programs like USDA’s Food Waste Challenge (USDA, 2016). Despite this, the issue of food waste still persists. 

Denmark is further along in their fight against food waste than the United States. Deemed the European leader in the fight against food waste, Denmark was able to reduce their waste by 25% since 2010 (Facts About Food Waste, 2015). Denmark has also been named the happiest country in the world.  United Kingdom is close behind Denmark, with a 21% reduction in their food waste (Marsh, 2015). 

During my research project abroad, I created a vision for a community that does not experience food waste. My vision focused on three main categories. The first proactively limiting food waste from occurring in the first place. This would alleviate a lot of other issues down the line. The second is redistribution. Rather than putting the food in a landfill, it would be donated to food banks or used to feed  animals. The final area is disposal. This would involve composting the food waste. 

There are four main branches of the food system within the US. These branches are the farmer, the processor (companies which purchase food from farmers and turn it into a different food product such as soup or jam), the retailer, and the consumer (Gunders, 2012). Within my vision for a community, each of these branches must implement strategies to combat food waste. Below I outline how this would happen. 



There are multiple areas in which food is commonly wasted on the farm. Produce which is visually imperfect (i.e. too small or blemished) typically does not leave the farm, despite the fact that it is edible to humans (The Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign, 2016). What happens to it? Is it wasted? Does it go back into the land as compost? Often this food is left in the field and tilled under. The reason farmers don’t harvest visually imperfect produce is because it’s difficult to sell. Many stores will only accept produce that meets certain visual standards related to size and color. 

My vision is that  farmers would harvest all produce and take it to market. Visually imperfect produce would be sold at a reduced price in supermarkets. Farmers could also develop a secondary market for this type of produce, selling it to processors who could make it into soups, jams, and other processed food.

Processor and Retailer

The best way for the processor and retailer to prevent food waste is during transport. Food which is transported long distances can become damaged or overripe. This can lead to large quantities of food being sent to the landfill. This commonly occurs at the Nogales US-Mexico border crossing. Over half of the produce that’s grown in Mexico and imported into the US, comes through this border crossing (Morehouse, 2015). Some of the produce that comes through is rejected at the crossing and ends up in the landfill. There are organizations such as Borderlands Food Bank, which rescues the produce and redistributes it to those in need. However, they are not able to take everything and large quantities of food are still wasted. 

My vision is that transportation of produce and other food products would be greatly reduced. Processors and retailers would get all of their food supply from local (within 200 miles) farmers. Not only would this drastically reduce food spoilage during transport, but it would support local farmers and the local economy. 

Retail stores often carry a large selection of items. At Sprouts Farmers Market (a supermarket), you can find at least six different varieties of apple at any given time. On top of that, stores will often put a lot of product out at once in order to make produce look more appealing and bountiful. These factors combined can lead to food waste. In Denmark, there is less produce selection in the grocery stores. Often times you can only find one or two varieties of an item (apple, orange, peppers, etc). Likewise, the stores don’t overstock the shelves.. Some stores even run out of certain items such as produce and bakery bread by the end of the day. Reducing selection and not overstocking shelves decreases the chance of food being wasted due to spoilage. Another way to reduce this waste is by selling riper produce and older food items at a discounted price. This occurs in multiple supermarkets in the UK and helps sell older products before they must be thrown out. 

My vision is that grocery stores in the US would follow Denmark’s example. They would sell less variety, not overstock the shelves, and decrease the price on older or blemished foods. 

Another method grocery stores could prevent food waste - is - no longer providing  carts and providing only using baskets for customers. In Copenhagen, a large portion of the population commutes on public transportation or bicycles. 
People gathering on a pier in Copenhagen, Denmark where many come on a bicycle. 

Personal cars can be a hassle to have in the city due to small streets and lots of traffic. This limits the amount of food a person can buy at one time from a supermarket. Whatever food they buy must fit on their bicycle basket or they must carry it. This means people often visit the supermarket more frequently and purchase fewer items than they might otherwise do if they had a car. Throughout Copenhagen, it is rare to find a store that offers carts. Baskets encourage people to only buy what they need and reduce impulse shopping, which in turn may reduce food waste.

Rema 1000 - a popular grocery store in Copenhagen, Denmark

Rema 1000, a popular supermarket in Denmark, stopped selling bulk items and  no longer offer buy-one-get-one-free deals in their stores. They did this in an effort to reduce food waste at the consumer level within the country. This cut down on consumer over purchasing at their stores. Customers spend to purchase more than they need when they see deals such as buy-one-get-one-free, because Often times the extra food they buy goes unused and is eventually thrown out (Stopspildafmad). 

My vision is that these strategies would be implemented to cut down on consumer impulse shopping and over purchasing; this would in-turn would prevent food waste from occurring.


I have already discussed what grocery stores can do to prevent food waste from occurring at the customer level above.There are things the customers can do to reduce food waste. These things include organizing their refrigerator so older items are at the front, making a list before going to the grocery store, cooking more at home rather than eating out, and using up leftover foods. All of these strategies can lead to increased happiness. For instance, reducing food waste can save money, lead to a healthier diet, and increase connectedness to nature. When food is thrown away, the money that went into purchasing that product is also thrown away. Likewise, if a person uses the food in their refrigerator instead of dining at restaurants, they can save money and reduce food waste. Strategies to reduce waste such as cooking and gardening, can bring a person closer to the food they eat and allow them to better understand the amount of resources which go into growing food. Studies have shown that people who cook most of their meals from home generally eat healthier (Wolfson, 2014). Gardening, even if it is just growing herbs, can relieve stress and provide physical exercise. 

My vision is that , all of us would be proactive at preventing food waste by implementing these strategies. We would also notice the benefits that go along with reducing food waste and be more inclined to continue the behavior long-term.


Wefood outlet
There are times when creating some food waste can be difficult to avoid. These situations can occur at stores, when some food items don’t sell, or at catered events when too much food is prepared. In situations such as these, it is important that these food items are not thrown away but taken to a local food bank. or other organization which serves people in need. Any food that is not fit for human consumption can be donated to farms as animal feed. There are non-profit organizations in the UK, US, and Denmark which practice this redistribution of food. Wefood in Denmark is a supermarket which only sells rescued food items. 

Food which would otherwise go to waste is donated to Wefood, where it is sold at a drastically discounted rate. This gives people access to food who might otherwise struggle to pay full price. Wefood donates a large portion of their proceeds to local charities.

In the UK, there are organizations such as Exeter Food Action which pick up excess food from grocery stores and re-distribute the food to soup kitchens and other charities which gives the food to those in need. 

Both of these organizations provide food to those who might not otherwise get it. Not only is the food being kept out of the landfill, but it is being given to people who need it the most. In an ideal community, these types of organizations would exist. They would have easy access to the food in order to get it transported to those who need it. Any food that is not fit for human consumption can be sold to farmers at a highly reduced rate as animal feed. This will keep even more food from being wasted.   

Rescued food from Exeter Food Action morning pick-up


A London municipal food waste 
Within any food system, some waste is inevitable. Food that has spoiled is not fit for human or animal consumption. Food spoilage occurs at the farm, processor, retailer, and consumer levels. Spoiled food should be viewed as a resource, rather than waste. When spoiled food is composted, it can be used to put nutrients back into the soil. In communities across the UK food waste bins are collected by the city. This is also happening in Boulder, Colorado, Portland Oregon and Seattle, Washington. 

My vision is that the food waste bins would be collected from residences and businesses. Each  municipality would be in charge of collecting food waste. Each city or county would then have a processing facility put in place to turn the incoming food waste into a resource. This would be in the form of a composting facility which then sells compost to members of the community. With this in place, no food would go to the landfill.'


It will take time and work for my vision to come to pass. However, these changes are necessary to reduce the environmental impacts food waste is having on our planet. Food waste threatens ecosystem health, degrades soil, and reduces environmental quality. Food in a landfill creates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. These changes are necessary in order to reduce the likelihood of future environmental consequences and increase the resilience of our food system. 

Something personal here like. I believe these changes will happen, and my hopes and dreams are to work in this field to make these visions come true, community by community. 

Works Cited

Facts About Food Waste. (2015). Retrieved March 2016, from United Against Food Waste:

Gunders, D. (2012, August). Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill. Retrieved March 2016, from Natural Resources Defense Council:

Marsh, P. (2015, June 8). Food Waste in Denmark Down by 25 Percent. Retrieved March 2016, from CPH Post:

Morehouse, L. (2015, April 10). Lunch, Not Landfill: Nonprofit Rescues Produce Rejected at U.S. Border. Retrieved October 2016, from NPR:

Stopspildafmad. (n.d.). Stop spildaf mad: Food Waste: A Global Tragedy. Retrieved April 2016, from Stop Wasting Food:

The Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign. (2016). End Food Retrieved from
USDA. (2016). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved March 2016, from United States Department of Agriculture:

Wolfson, J. (2014, November 17). Is cooking at home associated with better diet quality or weight-loss intention? Retrieved October 2016, from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Love Trumps All

Three guiding principles for a leadership with love: seek to understand, be kind, and be the change you want to see.

November 9th I woke to an unexpected flood of sadness, despair and fatigue. My calendar told me I was chalk full of appointments but I decided to clear the day and spend it in contemplation.  No email, no calls, no meetings. Just the quiet of each moment, bringing my mind back to drop into the feelings passing, the thoughts arising, the breath rising and falling.

It is so easy to fall into the pit of depression and hopelessness. It is part of who we are to have a grief response to something that is lost. Just as it is part of who we are to be divisive, angry and hateful.  It is also part of who we are to be cooperative, caring and loving.
We get to choose which aspects of our nature we develop.  

Three guiding principles came to me after my day of contemplation. These three I share with you.

Seek to understand
Don't gather strength to fight harder.  Do not coalesce to get stronger against another philosophy, party or people. Instead open up and listen to the other side - the side you see as the enemy, or misguided and mistaken. Have the strength to soften. Develop your capacity to open up and listen. Seek to understand.  

If someone in your family voted for the party you resolutely disagree with, take time this holiday season to listen to why they voted that way. (If you can't find someone in your family, look to your family-in-law or ex-family-in-law, or friend's family...somewhere you will find someone linked to you with whom you do not agree with politically). Ask questions to get to the heart of the needs they are trying to fulfill in their own life and hopes they aspire for the future. Keep asking until you can find something in common and something that opens your heart to their perspective. If talking face to face is too hard a first step, read the facebook posts of a friend of a friend or family member who is for everything you are against. Develop your capacity to listen and understand until you can take bigger bites.

This does not mean you should allow yourself to be verbally abused, yelled at or ridiculed. But it does mean you can listen without judgment, without intent to change or challenge anyone. Listening to understanding has a profound effect on the person who feels heard and understood, and, like spending a good chunk of time in contemplation, on you. Trust in yourself, in your own values and in your natural ability to develop wisdom by listening.

Be Kind. Love trumps all. 
Each of our actions has a ripple effect, just because that is the nature of actions and reactions. Everyday people are committing acts of kindness that never get in the news, but have untold far-ranging effects. So you can choose to be your own good act generator, and make a difference in your neighborhood, office, home, and anywhere else.  

Try to do something unexpected and kind everyday. Compliment a stranger or buy someone a coffee in the line behind you (that is a famous and much loved random act of kindness). On your commute. give a car trying to merge enough space to get in easily. Hold the door open for the person behind you or who is going in the opposite direction. Spend 30 minutes of unstructured focused time with a child in your life. Do the same with your friend, partner or relative.  Join your neighborhood's "Buy Nothing (name of your neighborhood)" or "Nextdoor (name of your neighborhood)" and give away a batch of cookies, one hour of gardening or some other service for free to a stranger in our neighborhood.  

As you develop your kindness muscle, go for the harder things.  Give a gift to someone you don't like.  Say something really nice (and true) about someone you have a grudge against. 

One of the hardest ways to be kind is to be kind to oneself.  Count catching yourself when thoughts of worthlessness or self-hatred arise and noticing these as an act of kindness. Count replying to these thoughts with a feeling of love for yourself as a really big act of kindness. 

As your acts of kindness accumulate over the days, feel good about the good feelings that grow in you. Take the time to stop and drop into the goodness of you. This too is an act of kindness, and has a ripple effect. 

Be the change you want to see.  
This old old saying is never truer than when we are in the midst of all we do not want.  Jung said "what you resist, persists." Positive psychology research tells us to focus on our strengths. There is also a Native American teaching that the best way to parent is to be the adult you want your children to be. All of these adages add up to being the change you want to see.  

That said, Mark Twain said "Few things are harder to bear than the annoyance of a good example." Being the change you want to see does not mean trying to change others. It comes from knowing your true self and letting it shine through.  

In how you treat others, in how you treat yourself, in how you participate as a citizen, be the change you want to see. If you wished for a different outcome from the one we had November 8th,  find a way to be part of the change you wish to happen.  It may be by showing up at meetings held by your local policy makers, signing up for your local party and elected official's newsletters - and reading the news; volunteering for an initiative or on a campaign. A quick search "how to get involved in local politics (your city or region name)"  will give you avenues and ways to get involved.

For my part, I will keep doing the work I do to help make the world a better place, and help bring about a transformation of our system from money-based to happiness, wellbeing and sustainability based. But after this election, I am getting more involved in the democratic process in my town, and I will hold myself to an act of kindness each day and contemplating those acts; and I am looking forward to listening to those people in my family-in-law and learning about that which I do not yet understand. 

Written by Laura Musikanski, Executive Director of the Happiness Alliance 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Happy State: why you can be too happy and what it means for policy (part 3 of 3)

There are two counterintuitive lessons about happiness that, if you get them, will help you to understand in an experiential way what real happiness is. Each of these lessons has implications at a policy level. Let’s look at them:

Fact One: Truly happy people are not always happy.  

To experience real happy, you have to feel your downs as well as your ups. This means that by allowing yourself to move through all your difficult feelings, you are taking care of your happiness and well-being. 

A stiff upper lip means that while you do not express or fully feel your difficult emotions, you end up not fully feeling as hopeful, optimistic, relaxed or happy as you could. Brene Brown does a good job of explaining the balancing act of positive and negative emotions in her TED talk on vulnerability. When we stuff our feelings down, they come out sideways and we end up doing things we would not normally allow ourselves to do, like exploding at someone in our care. Feelings repressed for too long can lead to depression; feeling cut off from the world or a pervasive dullness. 

The not being happy lesson 

Allow yourself to feel and express your difficult emotions. Do this in a safe way — it is not okay to yell at people because you are angry, but it might be okay to go yell in a private space, punch pillows or write down all your anger until you can talk calmly about your feelings. Dr. Bliss, a director on the board of the Happiness Alliance, devised a process for safely feeling difficult feelings: feel, express, consider, act.

What not being happy means for policy makers  

Richard Layard stressed the importance of mental health services in his contribution to the World Happiness Report for 2013. Everybody suffers loss and hardship in life, and not everybody has the resilience or resources to bounce fully back. Up to 80% of people suffering from depression never get the care they need. We expect to go to the doctor for an annual physical health check up, but more often than not ignore our mental health. 

Removal of the stigma for mental health care, particularly for young people and men of all ages, combined with ready access for mental health services is a policy that would increase happiness. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration published a handbook “Developing a Stigma Reduction Initiative” for local governments, and New York City launched a program to increase mental health care that other cities can build on. 

Fact two: You can be too happy. 

It is possible to actually be too happy — not to be someone who forces themselves to be happy (and hides all their sadness) but to actually be too happy. People who are indiscriminately happy may lack compassion for others and lose the ability for self-reflection. They lose their creative juices, and may become slackers. A little bit of unhappiness can spur a person towards self-improvement in their community, in the workplace and in learning. 

The lesson in being too happy

If you define happy as always being up, positive, smiley and optimistic, rethink happiness. Maybe even use a different word. Think of happiness as the fulfillment your true potential, as in self-actualizing. In this way, happiness is ever and always unfolding, as we live and grow along the many “lines of development,” or dimensions, that define us as human. 
This lesson carries over to policy, where happiness may be better defined as well-being, thriving or resilience. Besides the issue of terms, there are implications for policy makers in this lesson. 

What being too happy means for policy makers

Bruno Frey, one of the first to research the connections between happiness and public policy gives a few lessons to policy makers about happiness:
  1. Educate people about what brings lasting happiness. For example, involvement in the democratic process and spending time with family and friends are choices that may not give immediate gratification but a yield longer term sense of wellbeing. The connection between getting involved in the democratic process and happiness is important information to disseminate for the next steps.
  2. Use happiness and wellbeing surveys to measure happiness and wellbeing. In this way, also expand the definition of happiness and well-being to include the domains of happiness (environment, economy, society…) Get as many people as possible involved in the process (see above, participating in the democratic process).
  3. Use happiness and well-being survey data alongside economic data to determine policy. 

Written by Laura Musikanski, Happiness Alliance.  

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Happy State: The Happiness Ministers (part 2 of 3)

To date only two nations and one state host offices of happiness: United Arab Emirates, Bhutan and the state of Madhya Pradesh, India. It is my dream that someday every nation, state and city will have an office of happiness. I do not believe I am alone in that dream. In 2012, the United Nations issued a resolution urging nations to develop happiness and well-being measures in light of the fact that Gross Domestic Product (the sum of all goods and services produced in a year) is not an adequate measure for governments to use a guide by itself.

At the time of the proclamation, Bhutan was the only country in the world with a happiness office, entitled the Secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission. Then and now the Secretary of the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Commissionworks with other officials to screens all national policies. A complete list of their tasks ranges from using GNH index as a “guide” and “monitoring stick” to forming a twenty and five year plan, from overseeing smooth functioning of government agencies to budgeting.

Sonam Wangchuk currently holds the office of GNH Secretary. His administrative duties are vast. Prior to Sonam,Karma Tshiteem held the office, and sometimes acted as an ambassador for the spread of the GNH philosophy. His work is different from other current or future happiness officers as happiness is already the chief purpose and aim of the government.

In the United Arab Emirates, Her Excellency Ohood bint Khalfan Al Roumi holds the office of theMinister of State of Happiness. She was appointed earlier in 2016.  She is integrating happiness into government and business. A similar but different take the customer service chats that are a part of most every online interaction today, she created a happiness customer index. She is also bringing happiness trainings to corporations and well as investigating happiness metrics for wider use.

In the state of Madhya Pradesh, India, the Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, created the office of happiness minister and holds the office. Chouhan has plans to create a department of happiness which will include a president, chief officer, research director, coordinators and assistants. A panel of experts is being convened in the next step to implement these plans. Bhutan is the source of inspiration for Madhya Pradesh’s happiness ministry and department.

These three offices have scant examples to look to in doing their jobs. No doubt each has and will make mistakes, and will put in place plans and actions that receive a great deal of criticism and lack of understanding. Nevertheless, they at the forefront of the happiness movement, and as such, will provide for other nations and other states the hard won lessons and foundations for best practices that someday will compose a commonly understood definition of happiness minister.
First posted on Medium, written by Laura Musikanski. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Happy State: finding our way to the pursuit of happiness (part 1 of 3)

Everyone who complains about the happiness movement has one thing in common: the fear of a nanny state. (Well, maybe two, the other that happiness can’t be measured, but that is a complaint out of ignorance, because not only is happiness being measured, there are even guidelines on how to do it. See this short video for a survey of these and other examples.) So let’s focus on the nanny-state complaint.

This usually complaint arises when one first learns what the happiness movement is. It is composed of small group of committed people and organizations working for a new economic paradigm. Our aim is for governments to be guided by wider measures of wellbeing. We aspire for governments to put at the forefront the protection all beings rights to the pursuit of happiness. The singular focus and dependance on monetary measures will end, and the gap between the rich and poor will mend.

Proponents of the happiness movement don’t say that the economy does not matter, just that the economy is not the only thing that matters. And what’s more, that economic equality is at least as important as economic growth. We in the happiness movement say that governments can govern for happiness, and that happiness policies can and will be the work of government. This ideal triggers critics into crying against a nanny state.

First you might ask, what is a nanny state? A nanny state is akin to Big Brother. Imagine that each and every part of your life were controlled by government. The American Heritage Dictionary has a nice definition: “A government perceived as having excessive interest in or control over the welfare of its citizens…”

One of the problems in addressing this accusation is there is not yet an example we can point to that demonstrates a state guided by happiness and wellbeing. Or is there?

Since 2008, the country of Bhutan has been using happiness metrics and passing happiness policies. They call it Gross National Happiness. In the United Kingdom, happiness and wellbeing are measured by the Office of National Statistics and used by various governmental offices (check out Appendix A for examples).

But most importantly, governments all over the world, from neighborhoods to nations, have been passing laws and promulgating policies that protect our rights to pursue happiness for a long time. From this we can draw ideas on what a happy state will look like.

Over the course of the next 12 months, my organization, the Happiness Alliance, is publishing a series of tools that identify exactly what policies a government could pass to protect our inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.
We call these courageous policies and aim to show as examples where these policies have been promulgated, and give resources explaining their viability for where they have not.

One such policy is Basic Guaranteed Income. It may sound crazy, but it actually was tried to some success inManitoba, Canada, and Canada is scheduled to experiment with it again in Ontario. is an organization that offers research, updates and resources for community organizers and policy makers curious or wanting to be active in this goal.

Another policy that our happiness data indicates would lead to a happy state is a national vacation law. It turns out the United States is the only industrial nation not to have this laws on a national scale. Moreover, we are one of only a handful of that does not promulgate laws for paid family leave.

These are two of many different policies that governments could put in place that would protect our right to pursue happiness. Whether these policies would lead to a nanny state would be dependent on many factors, but we can look to similar past objections to social security, national environmental protection laws and public school, knowing now the great benefit of policies that lead to happiness and that they did not create the Big Brother/nanny state. Homeland security, now that is another story. In the next post in this series, I will write about safety, trust and community; and how policies promoting these relate to happiness.
Reposted from Medium, written by Laura Musikanski

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Crafting an Open Letter to Happiness Ministers

Hello Happiness Friend and Fellow Happiness Movement Revolutionary!

We will be issuing an open letter calling on all governments to create happiness cabinets, appoint happiness staff and contribute to the beyond GDP movement through measurement of happiness, well-being and sustainability, use of happiness data,  promulgation of happiness, well-being and sustainability policies, and implementation of these policies. There is still time to give feedback on the letter, soon to be launched.

On September 22: we updated our letter as we recognize that we are writing to two different audiences with very different circumstances and goals.  See our updates below!


Earlier this year officials from the office of the newly appointed Happiness Minister of the United Arab Emirates reached out to us. We were happy to share our knowledge and resources. Shortly after
Read the World Happiness Report at
a Happiness Minister position was created for the state of Madhya Pradesh, India.

We (the board of the Happiness Alliance and those of us working on the ground in this very grassroots volunteer organization) decided to write an open letter to these two happiness ministers and to all future happiness ministers. Part of our hope is that every state, nation and union will appoint happiness ministers.

Our deep belief is that the purpose of government and the purpose of our economy is the happiness and well-being of all beings. We ground this belief in the revolutionary words embedded in the Declaration of Independence that the purpose of government is to protect our inalienable right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

To this, we feel that the job of happiness ministers today and in the future is to bring our governments and economies back to their original purpose.

And so, we ask you, dear reader, to tell us what you think of our open letter, and if you choose, to join with us in further crafting it and in ultimately sending it to today's happiness ministers and to those of our future.
_______       _______      _______      _______      _______      _______      _______      _______    

Open Letter to Governments:

This is a call encouraging the formation of happiness, wellbeing and sustainability cabinet level position in each level of your government. We ask that you create a Secretary of Happiness and Wellbeing for each state in your country and a Commissioner of Happiness for each local government.  We ask that these positions be tasked with measuring happiness, well-being and sustainability using survey and objective data collection; analyze the data, work with civilians and governmental agencies to identify policies and programs and implement such. 

We ask you to look to Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Commission and the appointment of Happiness Ministers by the United States Emirates and the state of Madhya Pradesh in India for inspiration. 

We ask you to join the beyond GDP or happiness movement. The happiness movement harkens to the once revolutionary concept in the US Declaration of Independence that the purpose of government is to protect each person’s inalienable right to “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”  The following events are the foundation for the happiness movement:

In 2009, the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (or the Stiglitz Report) called on governments to go “beyond  GDP” indicators to  measure “economic performance and social progress.' 

In 2011, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the organization that measures nation’s competing GDPs, issued its Better Life Index and then in 2013, issued Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Wellbeing in an effort to help governments go beyond merely monetary and economic growth measures as the primary metrics that guide policy decisions.

That same year, the United Nations issued resolution
65/309. Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development inviting governments to develop “measures that better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies.”

The next year, in 2012, the Secretary General of the United Nations with the Prime Minister of Bhutan, held a High Level Meeting Well-being and Happiness: Towards a New Economic Paradigm.

We ask your government to take a bold and necessary step in the happiness and beyond GDP movement.

We feel a fundamental goal of the happiness movement is to shift our values, individual and collective, from viewing wealth and material acquisition as the primary indicator of success and well-being to values that include the parameters of life satisfaction, environmental sustainability, culture, social support, community, material well-being, job satisfaction, education, time-balance, good governance, as well as physical and psychological health. Following Bhutan’s lead, these are the “domains of happiness.”  Although each country, community, individual will have somewhat different needs and approaches for improving satisfaction with life and sense of well-being, we agree with Bhutan and our research into the domains find that indeed, these domains reflect an over-arching commonality for all of us.  

We have been providing tools to communities and governments, including a subjective happiness survey for individuals (translated into many languages, and with full data analysis capability); training modules; access to research papers in the field; and tool kits for improving both personal happiness levels of individuals and community-wide well-being.  We would be pleased to share our knowledge, resources, including a happiness index, and experience with you.

Our Letter to Ministers of Happiness:

On behalf of the Happiness Alliance we are pleased to send you congratulations on obtaining the office of Happiness Minister, a rare but very welcome title in this unsettled and challenged world.  We welcome a collaborative relationship in the coming years to effectively assess happiness and design strategies to enhance it.

Since 2010, The Happiness Alliance, based in Seattle, WA, U.S.A, has been exploring strategies for increasing the happiness of individuals, communities, and nations. We have worked with policy makers, community organizers, educators and spiritual leaders, among others to make meaningful contributions to the happiness movement for a new economic paradigm. In 2012, we were pleased to participate in the United Nation’s High Level Meeting Well-being and Happiness: Towards a New Economic Paradigm convened by Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon and Prime Minister Thinley of Bhutan. 

Our experience in the happiness movement, backed up by prominent research findings in the field, has taught us that happiness and well-being policy coupled with relevant data, both subjective and objective, that measure satisfaction with life and affect alongside the domains of happiness are core elements of happiness.

We call on you to use subjective and objective happiness metrics to gauge the degree of suffering and well-being among your people, implement policies, and again use these metrics to assess progress. Our data leads us to suggest a few illustrative examples of happiness policies:
  • Environment:  mitigation of climate change and water scarcity, sustainable growth, clean air and water, green spaces within communities and cities.
  • Education: training for future needs in the IT and green energy sector, sustainable farming, and also “soft skills” such as compassion, gratitude, community involvement, care-giving, sharing, resilience and coping techniques.
  • Economic security:  universal basic income, minimum wage statutes, progressive income tax.
  • Quality of governance:  human rights, corruption reduction, open and honest dialog between those governing and those governed.
  • Health and health care:  affordable universal coverage, more help for mentally ill, nutritional improvements.
  • Community wellness:  child care, social opportunities, integration, parks, neighborhood safety and  pleasant surroundings, care for the aged and disabled.

There are difficult and complex tasks ahead for all of us. Again, the Happiness Alliance hopes to establish a dialogue with you and is ready to provide assistance in any way possible.  Please explore our website at

Monday, June 20, 2016

Happiness Ministries - What Do You Think Their Job Is?

Have you noticed? The appointment of Happiness Ministries is spreading.

Inspired  by Bhutan and the work we are doing (we know this from letters of inquiry), the United Arab Emirates appointed a Minister of Happiness earlier this year. Now a state in India, Madhya Pradesh is appointing theirs.

So what do you think a Minister of Happiness should do?  We will be composing an open letter to these new and future Ministers of Happiness to be published in July.

In 2015, we were invited to participate in the OECD fifth world forum: Transforming Policy, Changing Lives and we collected ideas from policy experts. We will be using these, as well as information we gathered when participating in the UN High Level Meeting on Wellbeing and Happiness and over the course of the last six years working in communities

Send you ideas for what a Happiness Minister's job is to info@happycounts for our open letter.

The team at the Happiness Alliance.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Smell the roses - three things you can do RIGHT NOW for your happiness.

In case you have not noticed, the roses are in bloom.  It's already June, and summer vacation for the kids is just around the corner.

Remember when you were a kid? Remember the long summer days that seemed to stretch into forever? Whether or not you had a happy childhood, remember those little moments when you caught a glimpse of something that felt eternal?

Yesterday I dedicated the day to my partner, who was close to burnout from 18 months of intense work on a project that is two days from closing.  I'd been helping along the way when I could, but he had been carrying the load, and it was crushing him.  Part of my care for him was to take him to the rose garden with the instructions to look at beautiful things.  I fed him a home-made truffle my friend Andre had given me to sweeten the deal.

We got home and I fed him dinner, and then he crawled into bed for a nap that merged into an early bedtime. I went to dance, a free-form dance where I could spend a couple of hours dancing by myself in the crowd of dancers.  The next day he woke up his usual bright eyed and bushy tailed-self.  It was nice to see his smile.

And so, here are three things I learned & experienced yesterday that you can do for your happiness:

1) Do something for somebody else.   Three ideas:

Buy a friend a coffee or go for walk and spend your time really listening.  Don't give advice unless asked, and even if asked, instead say "this is what I am hearing..." or "what comes up for me is..." or "Well, if you were going to tell yourself something or advise yourself, what would you say?"

Give your partner a body massage, asking them for feedback and doing your very best to respond to their requests. Start with the head, work down to the feet. Some people like deep tissue, and for some that hurts and they need soft brushing motion. If you have never given a massage, learn how on you-tube (punch in instructions for swedish, shiatsu or thai massage and you'll find lots of ways to learn) or best yet, get a massage from a massage therapist to learn from experience.

Give a colleague or member of your community a gift, or make a donation to a cause that you really believe in on behalf of a friend, family member or colleague at work. Given them a card with the information about the donation.

2) Appreciate yourself. Take at least 15 minutes and try for more time to go over all the good things you have done in your life. If you are a list maker, make a list of all the good things about you. If lists don't appeal to you, doodle on a large piece of paper.  No one needs to see it, so just go to town. If this is hard to do, pretend you are someone else - someone who loves you beyond measure and sees and appreciates you.

3) Smell the roses.  Slow down for a few moments and look for the beauty in whatever is around you. If you can, go to where there are roses, and get lost in the splendor of a rose. Research tells us that spending time in nature makes us happy and that even if we spend time looking at picture of nature, we can get happier. So here are some roses for you.

 Post by Laura Musikanski, ED of the Happiness Alliance