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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GDP is So 20th Century – Gross National Happiness is In

Gross national happiness is catching on around the world. Countries are looking beyond gross domestic product to determine the wellbeing of their citizens.

Bhutanese Kids with Fields and City in BackgroundLast January I came across the gross national happiness concept. The idea of measuring a country’s prosperity by something other than money is compelling and led me to research and write two posts. One covers gross national happiness in Bhutan, its country of origin. The other looks at gross national happiness in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

Recently, after spotting a United Nations press release announcing the publication of World Happiness Report 2103, I decided to read the report and find out what else was going on in the area of gross national happiness.

What is Gross National Happiness?

The gross national happiness model originated in Bhutan in 1972. It is a method for assessing a country’s wellbeing and provides information for government policymaking. In general, gross national happiness measures 9 areas: psychological well-being, time use, community vitality, cultural diversity and resilience, health, education, ecological diversity and resilience, living standard, and good governance.

World Happiness Report 2013

World Happiness Report 2013 was published in preparation for the United Nations 68th General Assembly which opened on September 17, 2013. The report is intended to provide information and influence sustainable development policies.1, 2

World Happiness Report 2013 - United NationsThe 156-page report slices and dices data collected from 130 countries. It presents information on happiness levels, trends, and reasons for changes from the previous report. Data tables compare six variables: GDP per capita, social support, years of healthy life expectancy, perceptions of corruption, the prevalence of generosity, and freedom to make life choices.

The media reported on country rankings and mostly skipped over important findings. For instance, mental illness, which affects 10% of the world’s population, is perhaps the most important cause of unhappiness but is largely ignored by policymakers. Or that many government programs focus on care versus prevention which could help people be healthier, happy, and productive members of society.

To learn more, read World Happiness Report 2013. It is long but fascinating.

Gross National Happiness around the World

Following are three examples of gross national happiness related initiatives occurring in the U.S. and around the world. Check out the resources section below for other examples, organizations, and more information.


Maryland WetlandsMaryland hosted a summit for state leaders in June 2013.3, 4 During the conference, Governor O’Malley shared how Maryland is using the genuine progress indicator (GPI) model to measure the value of natural resources and services such as family care, volunteerism, and public investments in education, health, scientific research, and infrastructure


In 2013, a commission of German members of parliament and scientists wrapped up a 2-year project which determined the gross domestic product is an insufficient measure of a country’s prosperity. The panel came up with ten indicators including income distribution, education levels, health care, and environmental degradation, that will be used to measure the well-being of the German people on an annual basis.5, 6

The Global Wellbeing and GNH Lab

Kindergarten Kids with GlobeAn international initiative, the Global Wellbeing & Gross National Happiness Lab, was launched in Brazil in April 2013. The Lab’s intent is to build on Bhutan’s gross national happiness model and develop alternative metrics that measure not only financial but also social and ecological well-being. 7, 8, 9

Beyond Gross National Product

The modern market economy probably contributed to enabling a large portion of the population to achieve improved nutrition, health, education, and material comforts. However, perhaps the pendulum has swung too far. We are using up natural resources at an unsustainable clip and damaging our planet, possibly beyond repair.

Rolled Bills and Piles of CoinsGross domestic product (GDP) measures the monetary value of finished goods and services, in other words, outputs not outcomes. For instance, GDP includes the value of building roads to oil fields, oil drilling equipment, barrels of oil, transporting oil, and services provided by people in the oil industry. It also includes equipment, supplies, and services for cleaning up oil spills while ignoring the value of people’s lost livelihoods and the cost of illnesses and environmental degradation.

We need a new way of measuring prosperity that includes not only economic factors but also the wellbeing of people and the planet. The gross national happiness model is a good start.

In the video below, MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer Otto Scharmer describes why we need to move beyond gross domestic product and address global issues like our current footprint of 1.5 planets 10 and that 2.5 billion people live below the poverty line 11. It’s worth 5 minutes of your time.

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  1. United Nations Development Solutions Network – World Happiness Report 2013
  2. United Nations News Centre – General Assembly opens its 68th session with long-term development a prime goal
  3. Maryland Department of Natural Resources – Governor O’Malley Hosts GPI Summit
  4. Demos – Governor O’Malley Leads in the Fast-Rising Movement Around Measurement Issues
  5. Deutsche Welle – Gauging the happiness of Germans, by Martin Koch, January 29, 2013
  6. Deutsche Welle – Germany seeks formula for happiness, by Richard A. Fuchs, September 6, 2013
  7. MIT Sloan – Innovating Beyond GDP, by Otto Scharmer, April 3, 2013
  8. Presencing Institute – Global Wellbeing and GNH Lab
  9. The Bhutanese – Global Wellbeing And GNH Lab – Bhutan Learning Journey
  10. Global Footprint Network – World Footprint
  11. The World Bank – Poverty