By JOHN McCALLUM
The U.S. Declaration of Independence lays it out in simply language: One of the goals of human endeavors, and an unalienable right is the pursuit of happiness.
But how happy are we really? How do we measure it? How does happiness, or lack thereof, impact our daily lives?
Difficult questions, but some people are beginning to take a stab at finding the answers, the latest being Eastern Washington University which launches “The Pursuit of Happiness Week” this Friday, April 12. The campaign is associated with the Happiness Initiative and directed by EWU recreation management professor, Dr. Barb Brock.
Americans tend to measure happiness in material benefits and gains as well as education, Brock said, couching it numerically in economic indicators such as gross domestic product.
“But gross domestic product always goes up even when there are divorces, oils spills, things like that,” Brock said.
So are these true measures of our happiness? Brock recounts an example of a group in the Seattle Vietnamese community who were persuaded to take the “Happiness Initiative Index,” a survey of 11 areas experts have defined as measures of our overall sense of happiness: Material well-being, community vitality, physical health, governance, environmental quality, time balance, education and lifelong learning, workplace experience, social vitality, psychological well-being and cultural vitality.
“They found out after taking the survey that they were low in governance,” Brock said. The group took the results to leaders in the Seattle City Council, who after studying it and listening realized they weren’t communicating well with the whole community about government functions.
“They ended up having a potluck with the movers and shakers,” to begin a discussion about fixing their problems, Brock said.
Part of Eastern’s Pursuit of Happiness Week is getting the public to take that same survey online, available on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/EWUHappinessInitiative or by logging into the website Happycounts.org.
Happycounts.org is the home of the Happiness Initiative, the creation of independent television documentary producer John de Graaf, who spoke at Eastern Feb. 14. De Graaf’s inspiration came from a visit to the country of Bhutan, whose ruler decided to measure his country’s success by measuring Gross Individual Happiness rather than GDP.
After returning to the states, de Graaf approached the federal government with an initiative to create a national vacation policy, but “got blown away” by officials, Brock said. He then partnered with several other individuals and created the Happiness Initiative.
The Pursuit of Happiness Week features a number of events – all student run – beginning this Friday with the launching of a weeklong scavenger hunt around campus and city of Cheney, and culminates Saturday, April 20 with Earth Day. To participate in the scavenger hunt, created by David Early and Sascha Smith, and a chance to win prizes and some “bling,” check for clues on the initiative’s Facebook page.
Each day next week is assigned a theme and an associated activity designed to focus on one of the contributors to happiness while also providing participants the opportunity to learn hands-on strategies to change each component for the better. Brock said to check the Facebook page and watch around campus buildings for posters and other informational items.
There will also be a Happy Travels Cart manned by EWU recreation students at various campus locations throughout the week, providing free advice, games, trivia, buttons, stickers, scavenger hunt hints and other items related to happiness. The cart should be easy to spot, just look for balloons around a cart designed like the Peanuts character Lucy’s famous “Psychiatric Help 5 cents” booth.
“All this on a $200 budget so we’ll see what I can do,” Brock said.
Besides increasing awareness about happiness and having some fun, the focus of Pursuit of Happiness Week is to get people to spend 15 minutes and take the survey. The survey is divided into four groups, EWU student, EWU staff, EWU faculty and EWU community, in order to provide measurements of each group’s level of happiness.
Brock said the survey will be online through the end of April. After that, the results will be tabulated and shared with representatives from each group.
“If anything, we hope to at least start a conversation,” Brock said.
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com.
Schedule of Happiness Week events
Friday, April 12
Scavenger Hunt is launched on EWU Happiness Facebook site: www.facebook.com/EWUHappinessInitiative (prizes and bling to win!) Happiness Counts posters in all residence halls; free buttons, stickers, etc.
Monday, April 15 – Friday, April 19
EWU coffee shops offering Happy Specials
Monday, April 15, noon – 2 p.m.
Theme: Good Choices
Tawanka 215 B-C: Professor Phil Watkins talks on “The Things That Do Not Make Us Happy” at noon. Viewing of the documentary “Happy” to follow
Tuesday, April 16, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Theme: Stress Awareness
In the Library Lobby, meet at the round tables with both the Health/Wellness and the Active Minds clubs presenting
Wednesday, April 17, noon – 2 p.m.
Theme: Cultural Vitality
Noon-1 p.m. in Monroe Hall: Meditation, Mindfulness and Gratitude lecture, with a presentation by Daya Goldschlag
1 – 2 p.m. in the PUB Outdoor Mall: Professor Wayne Craft with Csángó dancing, Dane’ Standish, Let’s Move Cheney, with Zumba and more
Thursday, April 18, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Theme: Workplace Experience
10 a.m. – 1 p.m. in the PUB MPR: 25 non-profit booths with service learning options
From 1 -2 p.m. instructors Joe Hewa and Craig Fisher will talk about the importance of happiness in teams and organizations, and offer practical tips for increasing one’s positive influence in groups.
Friday, April 19, noon – 2 p.m.
Theme: In Pursuit of “HYGGE” with Compassion and Connectedness
On the second floor of Showalter rotunda: Professor Russell Kolts and Venerable Thubten Semkye from Sravasti Abbey
Saturday, April 20 Theme: Earth Day
Join with and promote dozens of Earth Day volunteer projects (to be announced)