NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.
Laura Musikanski is Executive Director of The Happiness Alliance. As part of PCI’s “Weaving the Movement” project, a series of interviews and group conversations with leaders in the new economy and community resilience movements, we spoke with Laura about measuring values in our work and in our lives:
Interview with Laura Musikanski (edited transcript)
Tell us a short story of a time when you were most inspired, effective and engaged in your work.
The Happiness Alliance provides the tools and resources for grassroots activism, and deep listening is a key too. The project started gangbusters. We were just stumbling over ourselves to keep up, and because of that, we weren’t taking the time to listen.
This work has completely caught my heart. And so, we just slowed down and essentially took the year off only doing the work that was necessary to keep the project alive.
From that came something really exciting. I got integrate myself into this work in new ways, including my sort of artistic side. And we recognized how important it was to have visualizations in terms of data and imagining what it would take to have a new economic paradigm. So I’ve been changing all of our tools (except the survey) and put together a completely new website (you wouldn’t imagine putting together a website would be exciting!), and it’s been lovely. I came to understand how important this (visual representation) is in [terms of the effectiveness of] what you’re putting out there.
So I get to use all of myself, to have integrity with myself. In this work there’s often such a call to produce the tools or give the talk, [and] we end up devoting such a huge amount of time to that, and we don’t bring our whole selves to the work.
So what is most inspiring comes from a long period of NOT doing, allowing something to emerge. And when it did, it was aligned with the basic values and tenets that are key to bringing about a new kind of being, including integrity on every single level.
What allowed you to slow down in that way?
It was out of necessity–this is a volunteer project with no foundation or angel. We had to be real, so that’s why we needed to take that much time.
How did you come to make that decision?
It was kind of made for me. There was a series of events, and we just worked through them. But in 2012, two things happened for me personally. Because of the work I’ve been doing, I received a fellowship from the Donella Meadows Institute, now called Ballaton Fellows. I got to go to Hungary, and meet world leaders. It also included a scholarship, that was intended to be for the project you’re working on, but a mentor told me, "Laura you’re doing too much. You need to find a way to slow down."
I found this "Mindfulness for a Happy Life" workshop, and it turned out to be a meditation retreat. I have a history around this, because my single mom ended up in a mental institution because of mindfulness work, and my childhood came to an abrupt end. So in the past, when people told me to "just breathe," I would say, "I don’t do that!" [But] doing this workshop was like being in the desert and finally finding water.
Later, I went to a high-level UN meeting with the Prime Minister of Bhutan and the President of Costa Rica and others. It was insane. The secretary of the environment from one country and another giving three minute talks! Then two days of working groups, in which I participated. The point was to launch a global happiness movement. Many were already doing that–this was to make it official. It closed with the PM of Bhutan saying that individual happiness and well-being is the key, based on gratitude, altruism, generosity, and compassion. So then I got it. And I made some radical changes in my own life too.
What is most alive in your work right now?
I mentioned earlier that these are tools and resources for a new economic paradigm. Ultimately when we have a society/economy/environment based on love, etc. we won’t need metrics, so this is a stepping stone.
Underlying this is a cultural change. Like in your own life, when you can look back and see the signs–that this path was there the whole time. We can do that now for cultural change. I’m seeing that relationships and values are the two pieces. Science and our own experience tell us that relationships–with people, our government, family, etc.–are key. So looking forward, we need to model being in relationship as leaders (with all of us being leaders), and spreading our capacity for relationship. And modeling this so that all our relationships go deeper and inspire others, and the nodes and nexuses grow and become fuller.
The other piece is our values. Two aspects; one is starting the conversation. A lot of what’s happened is that the conversation has been hijacked, and isn’t about the well-being of all, but about just a few. So understanding this conversation today and using this language in a way that empowers us–this was expressed beautifully in Don’t Think of an Elephant–and then taking it forward and using a model of integration. What will it take for this transformation? How can the values filter and move through all of it?
We have metrics, on-the-ground initiatives, spiritual work, work in states, positive psychology, climate solutions, etc. Having the values piece filter through all of that, to help us realize our vision five to ten years down the road, is key.
What are you doing now to take back the conversation?
We’re talking now about how to do this. And it relates to relationships too. So we’re simply asking how do we talk about this and is this important to you?
Is the survey a tool for this?
Yes, and this is where more relationships and projects and collaborations would be great. People can use our tool in conjunction with others to round out the conversation and [create] spaces for action. For example, say a community wants to address sustainability, happiness, and social justice, through a resilient communities paradigm. The index could be used to show the need–where they are hurting and thriving. That can lead to deciding on actions. Values work can be a way to determining specific projects.
If equality and just treatment is most pressing, maybe they go and find a way to locate their food forest in a way that serves that goal. Having the metric allows them to see that there was a perceived and also an objective impact to what was done. How much food was grown, and how much people’s sense of connection with nature was enhanced. There’s a sense of building their vision.
We worked with the Aromo immigrant community in Seattle. We thought they would score a certain way, with some domains being higher and others lower, but everything was low. The Aromo were scoring 17-25 points lower. There was a small amount of money for the project. They decided to focus on safety, and to take back their streets by having a monthly picnic. But we decided to do more, a full-scale intervention (there was a paper just issued by the National Academies on the need to use both subjective/experienced and external/measured well-being and happiness to understand the impacts of interventions.) We hope we’ll see indices that…include what really draws and drives behavior.
In Vermont, GNHUSA has been working with us from the beginning and have been trying to get VT legislature to use GNH measures in lieu of economic ones. GNH is using GPI Plus, the first to use it in a random survey. So now they have data. This is very new. Even Bhutan and the UK where they’ve been doing random surveys for a couple of rounds they’re still working on how to use this with policymakers who may not be "data freaks." How do we bring about that data literacy in a measurement-driven society where people are most often looking at their bank accounts or the GDP of a country? Part of that is because we’re seeing a burst in creative ways of communicating data. I’m coming out of this conference with a lot of hope.
The third example I’ll give is in the city of Eugene, OR, where my mom lives. One of the city’s employees who came to one to the "city happiness" trainings [we offer], he went back and created his own presentation and survey, which he’s now given to 350 of the 1000 employees of the city. They’ve integrated our tools into the parks and recreation program, and it’s now attracting the attention of top administrators. We’re hoping that Eugene as a city will be one of the first to take on happiness measures in a serious way. And show how happiness can really guide them. The purpose of government is happiness, not money, the happiness and well-being of all.
Imagine it is five years from now and your work has succeeded wildly. Frame your next responses as if you are speaking from that future point in time.
a) What has been catalyzed in the world?
Today, as for the last several years, the US Census Bureau has finished its third random survey of the happiness of all of America, because this is the indicator used by federal policymakers to guide our future. States and localities are following suit.
We’re lagging a bit behind other countries that started this before us, but we have a really good idea how we’re doing, and what policies have what impacts to help create a thriving society and help people to have happy personal lives.
You get your paper or go on the web and the front page says, "GNH in the US is up/down," and reports from companies talk about profit, community, and general well-being–and those measures guide our [valuations].
When you think about your personal success, it’s not money any more, but about how happy you are.
b) Imagine that the emergence of the New Economy Coalition in 2014 was a key to the success of your work over those next five years. Tell us how that happened.
It was relationships. There was a cascading of deepening relationships between individuals and organizations that led to collaborations and actions. In every case, the relationships were formed around integrity and trust. Where that didn’t occur, it was OK to move on. And [it was important] to continually allow the deepening. This wasn’t just sitting around talking. There were collaborations, partnerships and cooperation’s that flourished into action.
An example is with Ed (Whitfield)–from today’s call–and the farmers’ cooperative. We demonstrated with the GNH index how farming was having a positive impact on the community, which led to community support for the farmers so they could make a healthy living. The numbers–subjective and objective–were used by policymakers, and the media caught on. Other farming communities adopted this model too, also small farmers got access to more resources. Not just more customers, but other support, seed libraries, cooperative granaries, people taking farming personally, half farmer/half worker programs as in Japan, etc. We became resilient and sustainable and self-loving/thriving.
Magical thinking is very different from visioning. [No fairies were harmed in the production of this vision.]
Thank you–this was really nice
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