Two women are on a journey to discover what makes Americans happy.

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
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Woman reading a book

Power of the Page

Back in the day, unless you were taking a literature class, you did your reading and analyzing pretty much on your own. Then in the 1990s, suddenly everyone and their mother (especially their mother) joined clubs where people read the same books and gathered to share opinions and one-pot dishes.This easily could have been a passing fad of the time, but book clubs stuck around to become an important part of the culture—especially women’s culture.Oprah’s book clubOprah elevated the concept when she began her televised book club on Sept. 17, 1996, on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Beginning with her first pick, author Jacquelyn Mitchard's novel The Deep End of the Ocean, nearly every book Oprah touched turned into a bestseller and often was made into a movie.Oprah’s influence on the book-reading world was immense, and publishers certainly took notice, adding suggested book club questions and interviews with authors to the ends of many novels.What makes them so popular?But Oprah’s contribution to the form doesn’t fully explain the lasting power and popularity of the book club. For many women, that monthly get-together with friends over a book and a glass of Pinot has become an indispensable source of support—a place to exchange information and an outlet for emotions.More than attending a casual get-together or a scholarly seminar, it turns out that belonging to a book club can affect our wellbeing in several ways. In addition to exercising some of the brain cells many of us have kept dormant since college (or since having kids), apparently, “Joining a group that meets just once a month produces the same increase in happiness as doubling your income,” journalist David Brooks wrote in The New Yorker.Reading happiness“I absolutely feel that my book club brings a huge amount of happiness to my life,” says Jen Heller, a writer from Boston. “It blends the comforting continuity of regularly scheduled time with friends with the adventure of a new reading experience every month.”Adds Heller, “Women in general are in search of human connection, and it enriches our lives to be part of a community where we—and our ideas about life and literature—are always welcomed.”A source of strength and supportBook clubs have become modern versions of the consciousness-raising groups of the 1970s.According to Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, authors of The Book Club Cookbook, book clubs have “become sources of strength and support in the face of illness or other personal tragedy. They are a place to celebrate a new baby, a marriage, a promotion, or a graduation. And for many, they simply represent a refuge from the demands of work and home, a place to catch one’s breath.”Connecting with other peopleNurse practitioner Jane Parker of St. Paul, Minnesota, calls her book club, “a built-in focus group.” Launched in 1998—and still going strong—Parker’s club is a place in which “we’ve seen each other through births, deaths, divorces, child-related heartaches, marriages, grandchildren and everything in-between.”Connecting to people going through similar life experiences, such as raising a baby, was one reason Jolina Petersheim, a Tennessee-based novelist, joined.“Book clubs are so popular for women because they provide an outlet for intellectual conversation, beyond the best brand of diapers and the Moby wrap versus the Ergo carrier,” she says. “Plus, sometimes it’s nice just to read a book where the text doesn’t rhyme!”
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Overlapping hands

31 Days of Community

July is all about community.Join us as we continue our year of happiness with July and 31 days about community. Do, read, listen and think about the ideas on our list, and then share your favorites, below, in the Comments section. For more ideas, see our web article on 10 Ways to Build Community.1. “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”― Mother Teresa2. Help beautify your neighborhood.3. Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.4. Read Lake Wobegon Daysby Garrison Keillor.5. Watch TEDtalk: A life lesson from a volunteer firefighter, by Mark Bezos.6. Listen to “I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing,” by the The New Seekers7. “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” ― Kurt Vonnegut8. Throw a block party.9. Volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters.10. ReadOn the Town: A Community Adventureby Judith Caseley.11. Listen to “One” byU2.12. “Thank you, yard sales, for being the perfect way to say to your neighbors: 'We think we're important enough to charge money for our garbage.'" – Jimmy Fallon13. Thank a veteran for his or her service.14. Volunteer for Meals on Wheels.15. Read Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy Town.16. Watch TEDtalk: How to build with clay... and community, by Diébédo Francis Kéré.17. Listen to “Community Song,” by Have Fun Teaching.18. “I came from a real tough neighborhood. I put my hand in some cement and felt another hand.” —Rodney Dangerfield19. Donate food, gently worn clothes and old toys to a local shelter.20. Volunteer at the America Red Cross.21. Read The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoodsby John McKnight.22. Watch Lean on Me.23. Listen to “Waiting on the World to Change,” by John Mayer24. “It’s not too late to rebuild the balance of life in our neighborhoods and cities, and in so doing, to build a more resilient future.” – Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Designby Charles Montgomery25. Donate pet supplies to a local animal shelter.26. Read Cities on a Hill: A Brilliant Exploration of Visionary Communities Remaking the American Dream, by Frances Fitzgerald27. Watch Dr. Seuss' The Lorax.28. Listen to “This Land is Your Land,” by Woody Guthrie29. "Community helps makes you feel balanced. It makes you feel a connection with everyone." —Mariel Hemingway30. Take time out of your day to welcome a new neighbor to your street.31. Watch the TV seriesCommunity.
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Kids doing a lemonade stand

10 Ways to Build Community

We all thrive from connection—whether it’s with family, friends or neighbors. Creating a network of friendly relationships in your neighborhood can give you a greater feeling of belonging and wellbeing. Working together to create a tighter-knit community makes you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself. Here are nine simple ideas to get you started:1. Step outside your front door. Sometimes, you have to leave your house to make things happen, but you don’t have to go far. Casual encounters are sometimes the best kind. Meet neighbors while getting your mail, planting flowers or weeding out front. Tinker in your garage with the door open, or just hang out on your front porch or lawn. Try walking to a nearby business instead of driving, when possible, and you're more likely to run into others on the way.2. Front yard fun.Pretend your front yard is your backyard, and focus your leisure and play activities out there. Put your picnic table or lawn chairs out front and hang out; as you read or watch the world go by, people will stop to chat and introduce themselves. If you have kids, host a lemonade stand on a hot day. Not only will you meet more neighbors, your kids will also earn a few bucks.3. Host a block party or neighborhood potluck.Pick a date and time and distribute a flier for a neighborhood cookout, potluck or party. Everyone can participate and share in the hosting. Have your cookout at a common area like a nearby park or a clubhouse—or on your own front lawn, if that works. It’s not a new idea, but it’s still one of the nicest way to meet your neighbors on a positive footing.4. Plant a community garden.If you have a common grassy area or someone who is willing to donate part of their land, you can create a community garden where lots of hands, big and little, can create something beautiful together. Often a neighbor with some gardening knowledge can take charge, or you might hire someone from the local nursery to come tutor you and get things started.5. Establish a book-lending cupboard.Imagine a tiny little library in a neighborhood park. A library cupboard typically looks like a big mailbox with a clear glass door and books inside. Leave a book, take a book. Check out to get started.6. Start a tool lending library. See if your community library can donate a space that you can turn it into atool sharing center. Neighbors can donate used tools, and if possible, get donations from local hardware and home stores. Need a tiller, a chainsaw, a snow-blower or a tall ladder? Instead of every household stocking its own stash of power tools, make it a shared community resource. 7. Create a neighborhood social media page. Private neighborhood Facebook pages were becoming so popular that the idea spawned its own company, This electronic bulletin board allows people to share recommendations for everything from preschool to refrigerator repair; find the home of a lost dog, or share information about your upcoming garage sale. According to the company, 70 new neighborhoods launch a neighborhood website every day in the US. Volunteer to start it up or be the facilitator.8. Organize a neighborhood garage sale. Pick out a time and place, announce it on your neighborhood social media and on cardboard signs, and get together to bond with neighbors over old lamps and baby strollers.9. Give a warm welcome.See a new neighbor move in? Pop by with a fruit basket, cookies or bottle of wine and a welcoming note. It’s a great way to actually meet, instead of waving blankly across the driveway. As a bonus, it puts you in a better position, should you ever need to borrow a cup of sugar or have someone water your plants while you’re away.10. Ask yourself how you can be a better neighbor. If you set out to be a fabulous neighbor you can set a positive tone for your community and others will follow. Look out for elderly neighbors by checking in on them occasionally or bringing them something from the store. Pick up the mail or newspaper for a neighbor who is traveling, or shovel a neighbor’s driveway in the winter if they are unable to do it themselves. Even just smiling and waving when you pass someone in the street has the cumulative effect of warming up the neighborhood.
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Adam Shell and Nicholas Kraft in Valencia, CA

Happy Trails

We hear a lot about finding happiness, but it’s not every day that you hear about an actual pursuit. Meet Adam Shell and Nicholas Kraft, two filmmakers who are traveling coast to coast to find the happiest people. (Along the way, they are also blogging for our website.) The idea for their latest documentary, Pursuing Happiness, stemmed from Adam’s previous film, Finding Kraftland. He followed Hollywood film music agent Richard Kraft and his son, Nicholas, on a worldwide quest to get as much joy and excitement out of life as possible. Overwhelmingly positive feedback from film festival screenings of Finding Kraftland inspired their next venture. The happiest person in town “I made a film that’s actually inspiring people to find happiness. Doing things and having the attitude of being happy were always something of high importance to me,” Adam says. “I wanted to see if I could actually spread more happiness and inspire people to think about their own happiness.” In Pursuing Happiness, Adam and Nicholas talk to psychologists, researchers, theologians and, more important, everyday people, to find out as much as they can about happiness. There has been no shortage of people to interview. Somebody knows someone who is the happiest person they know. From time to time they find themselves in a town where they don’t know a soul. Then they start talking to strangers. “It’s not about the happiest place in America. The real focus is to find a wide variety from different parts of the country,” Nicholas says. “Part of it is to capture those differences and part of it is to show what unites us.” The secret to happiness The most frequently asked question when people discover the scope of their project is, “What is the secret?” Since happiness means different things to different people, there isn’t a single answer. And while their journey is far from over, they are starting to see a trend: Happier people usually come from stronger communities. “It always comes down to community and connecting with people, and that’s where we have definitely found the happiest people in the tightest communities,” Adam says. “We are pack animals. And as a pack, we are strong; as individuals we are weak,” Adam explains. “The idea of sharing is the utmost idea in the history of humanity, right? Because when you share, that strengthens the community, and when you strengthen the community, your chances of survival improve.” The most encouraging aspect to this project is that the secret to happiness seems to be no secret at all. There is no unattainable grail. Everything about being happy has already been said. Which is not to say that there isn’t a lot to understand,” Nicholas points out. “It is kind of like music. There are only 12 notes and people are still composing music with those 12 notes. I think there are only a limited number of things that really contribute to happiness, and those are things that we already know.”
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Pretty ladies at the Santa Monica wall

Happy Day

Considering that it was only the 2nd annual celebration of the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness, we at Live Happy consider it a massive success. In dozens of cities and towns across the country, people got together to exude joy and gratitude, and post their personal Acts of Happiness on bright orange walls. From Atlanta to Dallas and LA to New York, people of all stripes came out to embrace a more positive approach to life and to each other. Some came with kids, with loved ones—some came just to let their freak flag fly. The walls were just the beginning. We also reached millions of people through Facebook and Twitter with our hashtag#HappyActs. Next year we plan to launch hundreds more Acts of Happiness walls on March 20, 2015—this time around the world. We’re giddy with anticipation about the prospect of making the world a better place. We hope you’ll join us.
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International Day of Happiness illustration

Celebrate International Day of Happiness!

As United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moonsaid, “Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.” The Happiness Movement, a heady combination of positive psychology, personal development, social justice, and simple joyfulness, has been growing steadily in the past decade. By designating March 20 as International Day of Happiness, the United Nations has codified the movement into a bonified global phenomenon. As conflict and turmoil seem to dominate the news, a focus on positivity is not just a matter of turning away from reality, it is a way of changing reality. By performing small Acts of Happiness in our daily lives--by showing that we can be kind, compassionate and altruistic, we not only help others but also ourselves. Studies show that true, lasting happiness comes not from the short-lived "hedonic" high we get from, say,eating a donut while watching Duck Dynasty, but by engaging with and helping other people. This year, in more than 25 cities around the country, including San Francisco, New York, Dallas, and Atlanta, Live Happy magazine is celebrating International Day of Happiness byerecting‘Happiness Walls,’ where people can gather to exchange good will and to express their support—for happiness and for each other. Meet up with friends, share smiles and stories, and post your own positive wishes for the planet on the Wall. If you can't make it to a real Wall, create a wall of your own! Together, we can make the world a happier place.
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A cheerful group of friends.

Revitalizing Community for Renewed Happiness

In the not so distant past, maintaining strong communities was a staple in everyday life. People depended on their local butcher for their meat, the town doctor for all their ailments and the local sheriff to keep the peace. It was not wise to alienate or upset these people; they were the only ones for miles who could help meet your needs. Neighbors were more than just the people who lived next door. They were often more readily available than family members and could be counted on in times of need. A happy community meant a better and more stable life. In a modern society, there are many reasons why people do not interact with one another like they have in the past. Most do not rely on one person to supply their food, heal their sickness or be there when they need a helping hand. Technology and transportation have put just about everything we need at our fingertips, making it for easier for people to become more isolated with less community involvement. Just because the geography of community has changed, does not mean there still isn’t a need for fellowship. Being part of a community provides a sense of stability, belonging and support. It helps people feel they belong to something bigger than themselves. Communities help strengthen friendships and allow you to share your passion with others. Recent research even says that being part of a community can even help you cope with stress and crisis. Identifying yourself with a particular community group may be easier than it sounds. Knowing only a little about yourself can help you find a group that will help you help yourself. Do you love to read? Find or form a book club. Have a heart for volunteering? Contact a local nonprofit to see if you can help with a community-service project. Just find a way to connect with a group of people who have something in common with you. Examples of communities that you can be a part of: Neighborhood get-togethers Church groups Recreational sporting league Community-service organizations Running or Biking Club Gardening group Extra-curricular activities for children One benefits of becoming part of a community is the happiness it will bring. Often in a group of like-minded people, you are able to be yourself, let loose and have fun; knowing you are in a trusted circle of people who accept you for who you are. Take some time to become part of a community group or reconnect with a group you have lost touch with. It might not be a necessary to survive but it might be vital to your happiness.
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