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Walking the Talk

Ancient Chinese poet and philosopher Lao-Tzu stated that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. For Paula Francis and Linda Wheatley, two women from Vermont who really want to have a conversation with you, the journey of 8,000 miles starts with a single idea of spreading awareness that everyone has the inalienable right to pursue happiness.

A journey of discovery

Instead of lobbying for change in government halls, these co-founders of Gross National Happiness USA, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the use of wellbeing indicators to measure progress, are traversing the country, talking to everyone they see about what makes them happy. Their hope is that by changing enough minds to focus on happiness and wellbeing, we can ultimately shift the way we govern and live.

“A couple of years ago, Paula and I realized that if we are claiming to be measuring what matters [in life], then we really can’t presume that we know what that is,” Linda says. “We both liked the idea of walking for a purpose and doing something epic.”

Linda and Paula believe that instead of measuring the temperature of the country solely based on economic growth, we should be crafting communities and economies that support wellbeing. Once people are happier, relationships get stronger, people are healthier and live longer and productivity increases.

Talking to America

“When we talk to people about happiness, we are really serious about it,” Paula says. “When we get in deeper conversation, we find a lot more commonality to what matters to people.” So, with unforgiving pavement beneath their feet, supplies strapped to their backs and a thousand miles already under their belts, Paula and Linda have made The Happiness Walk not just a project but a calling to spread their message.

“We are finding that people are really ripe for [the Gross National Happiness] conversation,” Linda says. “There is a lot of wisdom out there.…We are building on this collective movement to a happier and healthier way of life together.”

The kindness of strangers

The happy hikers are finding that people really care most about other people. So much so, that they say they couldn’t have made it this far without the kindness and generosity of others. Whether that is an offer of a place to stay for the evening, a meal at a diner or even the gift of Band-Aids for blistered feet, they’ve found that those they encounter are eager and happy to help.

Common conversations

“We hear things that really aren’t that surprising,” Paula says. “We are hearing that people and relationships are important…and that family members are the absolute top priority.” She says love, health, caring for others and nature are common themes to their conversations.

“That’s why we are not going at this from a policy angle. That’s why we are walking, person to person, one mile at a time,” Paula says. “We are engaging people in conversation, encouraging people to…continue to be curious about what we are talking about” and take positive actions to make more time for the things that matter to them.

To learn where Linda and Paula will be next, go to happinesswalk.com.

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