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Transcript – Meet Happy Activist Will Thomas and Celebrate the International Day of Happiness

Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Meet Happy Activist Will Thomas and Celebrate the International Day of Happiness




[00:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 460 of Live Happy Now. On March 20th, we celebrate the International Day of Happiness, and that makes this the perfect time to talk to a happy activist. I’m your host, Paula Felps. Today, I’m talking with Will Thomas, who founded Good News Magazine in the midst of the pandemic to give people a break from the steady stream of negative news. What was supposed to be a one-time publication has turned into a growing media brand, and he’s here to tell us how that happened. Let’s have a listen.




[00:00:36] PF: Will, thank you so much for joining me for Live Happy Now.


[00:00:39] WT: Thank you. I’m excited to be able to talk to you about what we’re doing.


[00:00:42] PF: This is a big week for us at Live Happy because it’s the week of International Day of Happiness that actually happens the day after this episode airs. We’ve been celebrating happiness all month with a campaign we called HappyActs, where we encourage people to go out and do things for other people and build happiness in their communities. From the moment I first heard your story, I knew that I had to get you on the air as a happy activist because you embody this. You saw a need. People complain about we need good news, and you actually went out and did something about it. Tell us your story.


[00:01:17] WT: We were in the direct mail shop republication business until two years ago, 2022. It was a great business. We served small businesses in Southern Milling, Tennessee. It’s a family business. Then we loved helping all those companies and had customers for 40 years. It was rewarding.


Then COVID happened for a lot of businesses. Our business was under pressure in some elements on the print side. COVID, I think, made those wounds and those risks, highlighted them more. While we were still performing in most of our markets, we knew it wasn’t a business we’re going to be doing for another 20 years. During COVID in 2021, we had sold ads for the Lincoln County Fair magazine here in Tennessee. The fair got canceled because of COVID, and so we were like, “What are we going to do?” I mean, I guess, selfishly, we didn’t want to lose the revenue. It was like – because that was a tough time for revenue, and our team came up with the idea. Well, what if we did something positive?


In general, media is pretty negative, [inaudible 00:02:23] news or the 24-hour news cycle. Then during COVID, it was even worse. Everybody seemed worried about things. It just felt all this negative pressure. So we came up with the idea in Lincoln County to feature 20 people in a magazine to tell their stories, how they’re positively impacting the community. We did that, published that magazine that fall, and had great feedback from people about the quality of the content and the purpose of it.


Six months later, we converted one of our direct mail shoppers to a monthly, and we call it Good News, Good News Magazine. Of course, we know Good News is a generic type term, and it’s not – you can’t trademark that name for a magazine or anything like that. But we went with that name because we felt like that 100% embodied what we wanted to do. From a reader perspective, I mean, the stories that our team has told and the feedback we’ve had has been great and definitely the fuel to keep us going.


[00:03:21] PF: Because of that response, you ended up not just doing it in that single market. You have now expanded into other markets. I’m an old print person. I’m not that old, but I’m a print person. That’s what my background was. We know that starting a print magazine right now, a lot of people would say, “What are you thinking?” But this is working for you. So can you talk about how it is now? It’s spilling over. You’re doing other markets that you’re entering into.


[00:03:45] WT: Right. Yes. Early on when we first launched, so we have eight markets now. Five markets we had direct mail shoppers in, so we had some relationships to help in those markets. Then our three newest markets are Bowling Green, Kentucky; Lebanon, Tennessee, and then Lynch, Virginia. I’m excited about all three of those markets. They’re great communities. I’m proud of the content we put out, both editorial and photography. Then the layout is great.


[00:04:10] PF: How do you go about finding the stories because it blows me away? Your magazines are how many pages? It’s not like a little 32-page magazine, right?


[00:04:18] WT: No, no, no. I think the minimum page count we’re running right now would be 64. Around 60, 64 pages is the minimum. The stories, from day one, we’ve wanted them reader-generated. It’s reader-generated, community-generated stories. We have publishing partners in all our markets who are the face of the magazine. It’s really – they’re in the community. It’s their magazine for their community, and they look for stories. When they’re talking to people in the community, they’re always asking. We have this theme coming up. Do you know anybody that’s really made a difference in the community we should tell a story on?


Then each month, each magazine has six stories. Each year, we’re telling 72 stories about people that have made a difference. It doesn’t mean we can’t tell a story about the flower shop across the street, but we wouldn’t tell it about the business entity. We would tell it about the lady that works in the flower shop and the impact she’s had on whatever her passion is to give back. It’s been real cool. We’ve created a pretty loyal readership audience of people that get the magazine because it is unique.


Especially in the communities we’re in, Bowling Green has a TV station. So they have a little bit bigger media presence in that market. But still, there’s nobody in the market addressing the void that we’re filling. Or there’s very few people in any market doing it. I definitely don’t think they’re doing it at the quality we are because even – and you’ve seen the final piece. It’s a magazine you put on your coffee table or nightstand, and you let it sit there. It’s not something you’re going to recycle as soon as you get done reading it.


[00:05:50] PF: It’s so interesting because you learn things about people in your community you didn’t know they were doing. You learn things that are going on that – because in addition to the six profiles on people, you have other stories. Can you talk about your other sections that you have in there? You give other value to the readers as well.


[00:06:10] WT: We have a theme each month. They change a little bit year after year, but it’s one pretty straightforward to be like an education theme. We focus on educators or first responders. We have veterans. I think one of the ones that’s been the most popular is in February, we have one about love. It’s about focus on couples and their life together. That’s been cool.


To your point, we’re telling stories of people that they’re the fabric of what makes the community great, but no one’s ever told their stories. That’s what’s cool. I mean, it’s a very micro thing, right? We’re not – it’s not macro and it’s definitely hyper local type of content. But for the community, there is no better content because those people are the ones that have made the community great.


[00:06:57] PF: Right. With newspapers these days, with them being so large, and they have a section that covers a certain area, a certain community. The way that community is going to get covered is usually not because something good happened. That’s not where it comes out. So I would think it kind of changes how people see their community. If they can sit down every month and they’re reading all these positive stories of great things people are doing, it takes away that sense of like, “Oh, my God. The world’s going to hell in a handbasket.”


[00:07:27] WT: Right, I agree. I think the whole newspaper mentality was if it bleeds, it relieves. It’s kind of – that might be back in the seventies and eighties. But that was kind of the mantra. That’s the opposite of what our mantra is. That kind of goes back to what you’re saying about you hear these stories you never heard of before. It makes you feel good about the place because you didn’t know Sally down the road was making that difference. Or I volunteered that long at the soup kitchen. And same for me, I grew up in the market I’m in today. God, I mean, most of the stories we tell, if I even kind of knew the person, I sure didn’t know the story that we’ve told.


[00:08:03] PF: How has it changed you as the publisher to be working in such a positive space? I know, for me, working with Live Happy, it has changed the lens through which I see the world. Now, you’re getting to find. You are constantly discovering the good in people. What’s that been like for you?


[00:08:23] WT: I’ve always probably leaned toward being an optimist glass-half-full-type person. Before Good News, I guess it was more selfish. It was about our company and about my success and our company’s success. What’s cool about the Good News is, and you could call this selfish, but it’s cool because now our success hinges on telling and making the community, telling positive stories and making the community better.


It’s kind of cool that that’s what we’re putting our effort toward versus trying to make money. We love capitalism and business and trying to figure out how to make money, but the approach that we’re able to do it now definitely makes it a little bit more peaceful, if you will, with the type of work we’re doing. I mean, because it’s gratitude. You’re constantly looking at things that make you thankful, which is cool.


[00:09:10] PF: It’s more of a movement that you’ve created versus a machine that you’re trying to feed. I think that really helps. I think people feel that, too. They receive that. When you look at your magazine, yes, we know it’s a business venture but heartfelt. That’s the only way I can describe the stories that are in it. They’re very heartfelt. So kudos to your editorial team as well. They are very engaged in their storytelling. It feels like each one was written by somebody’s son or daughter because it’s like that’s how much they care. That’s how much praise they have for that person that they’re talking to.


[00:09:42] WT: Right. One of our head photographers told a story at a company huddle a couple of months ago about one of the things we do in our company huddles is one teammate each month will tell what a typical day is like, just trying to help everybody in the company understand what that person does. She was just talking about the impact, and she didn’t realize this when she first joined the team, the impact of the photography that she’d be doing and hearing these people’s stories, how impactful it is on her and kind of emotional.


Our writers are the same way. We’ve had a couple that have been with us from day one with the product, and they love what they do, which is great to lead that type of team that’s so passionate. It makes my job a lot easier. I don’t have to get them passionate. They’re just passionate about the product. Yes. They’ve done a great job. You’re right about the content side. I wish I could take more credit for that side, but I really have to give that all to the content team because they’ve really driven that.


[00:10:33] PF: I remember years ago, a mentor told me a good story will always find its audience. That really seems to be what’s happening with good news because I think it is. It’s going to find its audience, and there is such a need. There’s such a desire for positive news, to hear the good in the world. You’re doing such a great job of just putting that right in their mailbox.


[00:10:54] WT: Our magazines, all stories that are in there are about a person. I said that a little bit earlier, but it’s not about a person that put on a gala and about all the people that attended that event. The stories about how people have made a difference and impact on some segment of their community, which is really completely different than anything even that newspapers used to have. The misnomer would be that we’re telling good news, and maybe the city’s putting in a new gym set for the community. Well, that story would not make it in good news. The story that would make it in good news would be the lady that has been trying to raise money for 20 years because when she grew up, this playground had an impact on her life. Now, she’s trying to give back. That maybe would be a story we could tell.


I do think we have a – or there is a niche there and definitely an itch we’re scratching in all communities that we’re serving.


[00:11:48] PF: I would say so. We are going to tell people how they can find you, how they can learn more about you. In the meantime, what do you really want people to take away from this? What do you want people to know about Good News?


[00:11:59] WT: I think more for themselves is to find the good in their own communities. I think it’s so easy to be negative and pessimistic. But when you live in this country, I think first that it gives you some appreciation when you see what goes on in other parts of the world. Then when you look locally, there’s a lot of good and positive things. Just try to focus on the positive a little bit more versus the negative.


[00:12:22] PF: That was Will Thomas talking about Good News Magazine. Now, we’re bringing in Live Happy’s own Laura Coppedge and Casey Johnson to talk about how you can celebrate the International Day of Happiness.


Laura and Casey, thank you for joining me today.


[00:12:37] LC: Thank you for having us, Paula.


[00:12:39] CJ: Yes, thank you.


[00:12:40] PF: Well, it’s always a treat to get in the same room with you, even if we’re not actually in the same room, but we’re on the same screen. It’s always fun to get together and talk about what we’re doing. What we’re doing right now is, of course, the International Day of Happiness tomorrow. I wanted to talk to you. Both of you are pros at this, your experience at celebrating. So I wanted to find out how each of you like to celebrate International Day of Happiness. Casey, we’ll go alphabetically. We’ll start with you.


[00:13:08] CJ: All right, yes. Gosh, I can’t believe we’ve been celebrating this for 10 years. That’s amazing. I love it. Yes, I mean, the way that I celebrate, I mean, obviously, I have a happiness wall. I keep it simple over at my house. I just print the one that we have on our website. My partner and I will just fill it out. I also like to do just simple actions. I don’t think it has to be like extravagant to make a difference. I’ll start my day off just sitting outside, getting in the right mindset. Then I’ll try to do something nice for someone else, whether it’s a friend, family member, or stranger.


[00:13:43] PF: I love that. How about you, Laura?


[00:13:45] LC: We actually ended up kind of making it a tradition at our house. Just to give listeners a little background, Paula and I actually met on the International Day of Happiness the first time we did that at Live Happy 10 years ago.


[00:13:56] PF: Ten years ago. It’s our anniversary, Laura.


[00:13:59] LC: It’s our friendiversary.


[00:14:01] CJ: Now, that’s a happy act.


[00:14:02] PF: There it is.


[00:14:03] LC: Which was an awesome thing. That is probably one of the best things that has come out of the International Day of Happiness for me is some of the friendships I formed, so love that. But I think it was the second year that we were at Live Happy, and we did an interaction at work where we made the happiness rocks, where we painted on the rocks, and we went and distributed them, which has positive messages on them. I don’t think I did it that year with the kids. The third year with the kids, we did that at home and put them out in our neighborhood. The kids are teenagers now, but we’ve been doing that every year.


It’s just always been – I think it probably means something a little different to them now. It was more like hide and seek when they were little kids. Now, they get that they’re doing it kind of for younger kids or people. It was a really big thing for us, and it was fun to do right after the pandemic hit. It’s a wonderful thing that we’ve kind of kept going.


[00:15:07] PF: When I was still in Nashville, there was an organization that would do that. They’d collect rocks, and they’d paint them positive messages. Then you would just be – I’d be walking my dog and just find these rocks in various places around the neighborhood. I thought that’s really cool. Love that. It just makes you smile.


[00:15:22] LC: I think with HappyActs, it’s just a positive thing. Not just a positive thing with an intention. It’s nice.


[00:15:30] CJ: [inaudible 00:15:30] moments of joy.


[00:15:32] PF: Exactly. It doesn’t take much.


[00:15:33] CJ: Little moments.


[00:15:34] PF: It doesn’t take a lot. Then it really changes the trajectory of somebody’s day, including your own.


[00:15:41] LC: It might change the trajectory of multiple people’s days.


[00:15:43] PF: That’s true.


[00:15:44] LC: That whole like how it’s supposed to expand and grow [inaudible 00:15:47].


[00:15:49] CJ: The ripple effect.


[00:15:51] PF: 100%. We are rippling out with some new things going on this year. Laura, you mentioned the happiness walls that we’ve done for several years and have always had a great time with those, getting people to write on these walls how they’re going to share happiness. This year, I know Deb touched on it when we had her on the show a couple weeks ago. But explain to us the digital wall and how people can jump on there and be part of this and use it as part of the celebration for the International Day of Happiness.


[00:16:20] LC: I mean, first off, I know that sometimes I find that I go and I see news and I just realize that I’m getting down. I mean, the first thing that you can do is just if you need a pick me up, go and look at it. It’s livehappy.com/wall. It’s pulling in HappyActs from social media posts, not only things that we’ve posted about but things that are – anybody in the public that is aware of our thing can just hashtag HappyActs from their social media accounts, and that’ll pull into the wall.


Also, there’s a QR code directly on the digital screen, where you can just scan the QR code and post right to the wall. What we’re saying is it doesn’t have to be something you’ve done because some people have a hard time being like, “I’ve done this thing.” It’s something that maybe had been done for you that day or a week before or maybe something that you’ve thought about for years and years, some of those little things that just changed your outlook or changed your day.


[00:17:21] PF: I love this digital wall. It’s so refreshing. You can just – every time you look at it, it’s something new, and there’s new acts on there and new things to do. Then, of course, if people run out of ideas, they can download our calendar.


Casey, that’s where you come in. You do such a fantastic job with this. Every year, you create our 31 Days of HappyActs and come up with some really innovative things that we can do to make our world a happier place. Talk to us about the downloadable calendar.


[00:17:49] CJ: Well, first of all, thank you for that. It’s definitely a team effort. Yes, this 31 Ideas for HappyActs, you can download it at livehappy.com/happyacts, first of all. It’s free, and it’s a great way to get inspired and follow along. We have a new happy act each day in March. It’s just such a fun and easy way to focus on those positive acts and just get people engaged in an activity that is part of a global movement.


[00:18:16] PF: You also have some cool stuff going on in the store.


[00:18:19] CJ: Yes. All month long, people can save 20% off with code HappyActs 20 at checkout. We have the encouraging sticky notes, some Live Happy classic T-shirts. We have our Live Happy Now tie-dye T-shirt, which is one of my faves. Lots of fun stuff on the store right now.


[00:18:38] PF: That’s excellent. For both of you, what do you hope that people will do this International Day of Happiness? How do you hope it’ll land with them, and what can they do to make it meaningful to them and to those around them?


[00:18:53] LC: International Day of Happiness is just a really kind of cool thing. Not only do we look at what’s going on in the world. But what’s going on in our own little lives and the things that we can do to make the people that are closest to us just a little bit more positive throughout the day? If it’s a hug, if it’s a kind word, if it’s holding the door, if it’s a wave and a smile, I mean, it can change the way you feel day-to-day.


[00:19:21] PF: Right, right. You never know what that person is going through, what it’s going to do for somebody else, and how much they need that. I want to share a story real quick. A friend of mine, we’ve had him on the show. That’s how he became a friend. His name is Greg Kettner. He has an initiative called WorkHappy. He’s very good about posting on Facebook and Instagram just thoughtful messages like, “You matter to me.” Things like that. He’s very intentional about it.


He had shared with me that he had posted that exact sentiment. He had posted you matter to me. Someone reached out to him and said that they had actually been in the process of creating a plan to end their life because they thought nobody cared. They opened up their social media feed, and the first thing they saw was Greg’s post, you matter to me. To Greg, it was just something that he does every day. I mean, he means it, but he had no idea what effect that was going to have.


I love that story because we don’t know. You don’t know how your goodness is going to affect somebody and how it can change their day, their plan, their whole outlook on life.


[00:20:28] LC: I love that. You’re going to make me tear up.


[00:20:30] CJ: Me, too. Where are the tissues?


[00:20:33] PF: Casey, what about you? What do you hope that people take away from this? I think people need to know that both Laura and Casey are so invested in making this day happen and making this month really come to fruition and put a lot of effort into it. Casey, you especially really roll up your sleeves on this at this time of the year. What do you hope people get out of that?


[00:20:53] CJ: My takeaway is bringing it back to the theme this year, bringing the world together. We see so much negativity, and I just hope that these simple actions, I mean, they really are so easy. I just hope that they can make a bigger impact, whether that’s internal, external. I really think it all starts with making a difference in your community and your backyard. It’s that ripple effect. I think it just expands from there, so I just really hope that HappyActs can help bring the world together. We need it now more than ever it feels like.


[00:21:26] PF: We do. Very well said. Again, we want everyone to check out the website, livehappy.com, because we have all kinds of resources there that they can download. They can learn about HappyActs. They can listen to other podcasts. There are so many things that they can do. We just look forward to seeing them online.




[00:21:47] PF: That was Laura Coppedge and Casey Johnson, talking about HappyActs and the International Day of Happiness. If you’d like to visit our digital wall or download your own HappyActs calendar, visit us at livehappy.com and click on HappyActs. If you want to learn more about Will Thomas and Good News Magazine, you can also find that at livehappy.com when you click on our podcast tab.


That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.



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