Can Spreading Happiness Save the World?

Anyone can spread happiness and kindness, it’s up to you.

I know this may sound crazy or silly but I believe spreading happiness and kindness could indeed help us save our planet and this is why.

Earth is struggling to survive and so are people. There is no planet B and even if astronomers discover one tomorrow, evacuating over 7.5 billion people and billions of other living creatures is way beyond our current technology, resources, and money. Working together to live sustainably on Planet A our Earth seems like a practical idea.

Whom do you think will succeed? People who love, respect, and care for each other or people who hate, demean, and harm each other? My money is on the first group.

Let us say you agree but you feel increasingly disturbed by the constant cascade of depressing, sad, and hateful news. The urge to turn away, to escape, or give up can be very strong. When problems seem vast and insurmountable, you can feel overwhelmed, powerless, and hopeless.

You are only one person. What could you possibly do that would make a positive impact?

Okay, so here is the crazy silly part.

You can choose to shine a light in your little corner of the world by spreading some happiness and kindness. I know this is not an earth-shattering concept but sometimes if you are stuck in neutral or frozen like a deer in the headlights you just need a nudge to get going again.

My nudge came in a yellow envelope.

The Happiness Sprinkling Project

Happiness Sprinkling Project Newsletter, Sticker, and You Rock CardIn early August, I received a bright yellow envelope in the mail with a circle on the front embracing the words “enjoy today.”

The envelope contained a newsletter, a “Sustaining Happiness Ambassador” sticker, and a business card with the words “You Rock!”

That card immediately brought a smile to my face and unbeknownst to me planted a seed in my mind, which turned into an idea about six weeks later.

The idea will make more sense to you if I digress and tell you about the source of the envelope, which was from Laura Lavigne who runs the Anacortes Center for Happiness and its Happiness Sprinkling Project.

My introduction to the Happiness Sprinkling Project occurred while I was serving on the Board of Directors of an environmental and social justice nonprofit based in San Luis Obispo, CA called Ecologistics.

I challenge you to say the word sprinkling without smiling. Here is what the project is about very briefly.

Picture yourself getting ready to cross the street on your way to a job interview feeling nervous and scared or sitting in your car at a streetlight feeling depressed and sad because you just found out a friend passed away or riding your bike down the street after an especially stressful day.

Suddenly you look up and spot a group of people standing on the corner wearing yellow shirts and holding up big signs that say things like “You Rock!” “It’s Going to Be Okay” and “You Are Delightful.” Chances are you would smile and feel your spirits lift even if just for a moment. You might even be inspired to pull over, park, and join the group or stop on the sidewalk for a hug.

People Wearing Yellow and Holding Encouraging Signs - Happiness Sprinkling Project
People Wearing Yellow and Holding Encouraging Signs – Photo Credit Happiness Sprinkling Project

These yellow-garbed happiness ambassadors are sprinkling happiness and kindness and so can you and me. Here is what I am doing.

Happiness Sprinkling for Shy Introverts

The chances of me organizing a Happiness Sprinkling event where I live are infinitesimal unless I wake up some morning transformed into a totally different person, meaning an outgoing extrovert who thrives on trying to get people to volunteer to do something.

Since a personality transformation has not been forthcoming, I have been musing about what I could do to sprinkle some happiness in my neighborhood.

After weeks of staring at the “You Rock!” card I had pinned on the bulletin board next to my computer, I had an idea. I could do a happiness sprinkling project right in my own yard.

We live in a small town and the street our house is on leads from the main thoroughfare (aptly named Main Street) up a steep hill to other roads and quite a few houses. We get a fair amount of traffic going past our house as people drive to and from work or just go about their daily routines. A few hardy souls walk past on their way to or from Main Street.

My idea was to revamp one of the signs we had made for the March for Science and stick it in my yard to cheer up passersby. My spouse was enthusiastic and being a person who likes engineering and building stuff suggested a weatherproof sign holder that could withstand the fog and wind that frequents our house.

Now that I had roped my spouse into the project, my vision expanded into being able to change the sign periodically so we could display different messages. Project managers will instantly recognize this as scope creep.

My spouse constructed a sturdy sign holder completely out of materials we had on hand from other projects; and created the first sign printing it on three pieces of letter-size copy paper (this part was tricky).

We scouted a suitable location in our yard. I weeded the area while my spouse pounded in a couple pieces of rebar. We slid the sign over the rebar and took a photo.

Green Groundswell You Rock Yard Sign

I may never know if anyone actually notices the sign or if it brightens anyone’s day but odds are that at least a few people will crack a smile, laugh, or tell someone else that there is a nut job living down the street with a sign that says “You Rock!” in their yard.

As much as I like the sign holder my spouse made, I would have been happy with my original idea, too. The important thing for me is that I took action and did something to sprinkle a tiny bit of happiness in my neighborhood and so can you.

You Can Sprinkle Happiness, Too

Sprinkling some happiness is within everyone’s power. It can involve wearing yellow or signs, but it does not have to. There are countless opportunities every day to be kind to another person and spread some happiness. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices started.

Let the person behind you in the grocery market checkout line go in front of you even if they have a lot of items. Smile at the people you pass on the street or in the hall and say “Good Morning.” Volunteer to take out the trash even though it is not your job. Engage in a conversation with someone who does not share your view on a particular topic. Listen to an excited coworker talk about their kid’s school play even though you have a deadline to meet.

You get the idea.

Let’s go sprinkle some happiness.

Reader Note: Neither the Happiness Sprinkling Project or Ecologistics solicited this post. They will find out about my project when I email them the link to this post.

Featured Image at Top: Yellow Happy Face Ball Surrounded by Blue Sad Face Balls – Photo Credit Dreamstime/Pablo Scapinachis

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Coastal Cleanup Day – Picking up Litter is Empowering

Wherever there is litter, there is an opportunity to pick it up.

Picking up trash during a beach, creek, or park cleanup day is an easy and rewarding way to do something good for the environment and your local economy.

A few weeks ago when I saw a Coastal Cleanup Day notice in my social media feed, instead of clicking on the signup link I scrolled down the page feeling irritated and frustrated.

I was thinking things like, “Geez, if people didn’t litter, then the beaches wouldn’t need to be cleaned up every dang year!” and “Why do people pile up trash around a full trash can instead of looking for another one or just taking their trash home and putting it in their own garbage can?” The thought of people tossing trash out of their car windows as they are driving along our coastline made me feel infuriated and powerless.

After fuming for a day or so, I decided I was not powerless and that I could do something about litter so I signed up for a Coastal Cleanup Day event where I live in San Luis Obispo County, CA. I talked my spouse into participating, too.

Once I had taken this positive step, I returned to thinking about how litter affects people, the environment, and local economies.

Why Do People Litter?

Even though I believe, everyone has littered at one time or another I doubt most of us would say we think littering is a beneficial act.

At the dinner table one night, I posed the question “Why do people litter?” to my family. The responses included people do not care, it is a small crime easy to get away with, and people think someone else will clean up after them.

I think that pretty much sums it up.

What are the Consequences of Litter?

Someone taking the devil’s advocate approach might say, “So what if there is a discarded candy wrapper, plastic bag, or Styrofoam cup on a beach, in a street gutter, or on a hiking trail? Is it really hurting anyone?”

Yes, it is.

Litter Begets Litter

Litter mysteriously seems to attract more litter.

If one person discards his or her empty single-use plastic water bottle on the wall between the beach and the sidewalk, it sends a message for other people to do the same. If someone discards their old mattress in a vacant lot or on open land, it attracts other unwanted items and the area becomes an unofficial trash dump creating a dangerous and potentially toxic situation for the people living near it.

Conversely, if people clean up a trashed area it shows that someone cares and people are more apt to keep it clean.

Litter is Dangerous

In many cases, the littered items are harmful to the people, pets, and other living creatures that encounter them. Below are examples of dangerous litter people leave behind.

  • Sharp objects – fishing hooks, pieces of broken glass, and syringes
  • Entangling items – fishing line, six-pack holders, straws, string, and plastic bags
  • Ingestible bits – cigarette butts, bottle caps, and tiny pieces of plastic and Styrofoam
Litter is Costly

Whom do you think pays for removing litter from public places, dealing with plastic bags clogging up storm drains, and clearing up unofficial trash dumps? You do one way or another.

Any town, city, or region that relies on tourism cannot afford to have visitors deterred by yucky debris filled beaches, parks, or campgrounds. That means diverting tax dollars and fees to clean up trash instead of paying for community programs, fixing potholes, or doing hiking trail maintenance.

Picking up Litter is Empowering

When Saturday, September 16 rolled around, my spouse and I slathered on sunscreen, grabbed some gloves, a tub, and a pair of kitchen tongs (instant trash picker upper), and headed for the Cleanup Day check-in spot at our local beach.

After turning in our release waivers, the site volunteer Dave gave us a tiny pencil and a sheet to record the different types of trash we picked up. Voilà we were now citizen scientists collecting data on marine debris.

Tub of Trash Picked Up on Coastal Cleanup Day September, 16, 2017I was in charge of making tick marks on the trash sheet as my spouse picked various pieces of trash and carried the tub. I did pick up trash, too.

At the end of 2 ½ hours, we had covered our self-assigned section of beach and the adjacent park and we had filled up our tub about half full of trash.

The most numerous identifiable litter items we encountered were cigarette butts, bottle caps (metal and plastic), and aluminum can pull tabs (I was surprised by these because I thought they were supposed to stay on the can). Combined we found about 40 cup lids, straws, pieces of plastic flatware, plastic single-use water bottles, plastic bags, and picnic plates and cups.

We picked up hundreds of little pieces of plastic, Styrofoam, and paper that had begun life as candy wrappers, picnic ware, coffee cups, potato chip bags, and take out containers. The number of little plastic labels that are put on fruit and vegetables that we found lying around the park was astonishing. To me, all the small bits were the most worrisome. They are lightweight so they can blow all over the place and they can be picked up and eaten by curious and unsuspecting toddlers, pets, birds, fish, and other critters who live on land and in the water.

Comb, Clothespin, Chess Piece Picked Up on Coastal Cleanup Day September, 16, 2017One of the fill-in-the-blank boxes on our trash form was for recording the most unusual item we collected.

Our findings of a dog collar, a filthy sweatshirt, a clothespin, a comb, and a chess game pawn were not especially unusual but I bet the person who owned the chess set was bummed when they discovered they were missing a piece.

We returned to the gathering spot to weigh our trash, turn in our tick mark sheet, and thank Dave.

I was glad we participated in the Cleanup Day for a number of reasons. Leaving behind a litter-free stretch of beach and a park for everyone to enjoy gave me a sense of accomplishment. My spouse had spotted and cleaned up a broken beer bottle, which could have given someone a nasty cut. Maybe we saved a seabird from ensnaring itself in the tangled fishing line and hook we picked up off the beach. Perhaps someone who had seen us that day picking up trash was inspired to make the extra effort to walk to a trashcan to throw something away instead of just leaving it on the ground.

People littering still ticks me off.

However, I can empower myself to do something about it and so can you. Wherever there is litter, there is an opportunity to set a good example by picking it up.

See you next year.

Featured Image at Top: Leffingwell Landing State Park and Beach in Cambria, CA (our cleanup site)

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