If you are reading this, it is likely you are one of the thousands of people I’ve met walking around the country or perhaps you have rooted for me from the sidelines. Some of you have generously opened your homes to me, a few of you have selflessly walked by my side, and many of you have shared your smiles, tears, and stories that have touched me so profoundly. You know me as the Happiness Walker.
More than the walking
Having now walked 7,000 miles along the eastern, southern, and western borders of the US, with 3,000 more to travel, it is obvious that walking is central to this project. But what drives me to do what I do is not the walking. It’s so much more.
There is a book full of stories I could write about the beauty of this country and its people. The animals, plant-life, terrain, and weather have kept me company in all their magnificence, diversity, and surprises. And I have received an abundance of generosity and care everywhere I go. The walking itself has become a pilgrimage, always stepping into the unknown to experience the unknowable.
These are the tales of any intrepid traveler; whether on foot or otherwise. But, again, they are just background and not the walk’s purpose. It’s easy to get caught up in the adventure so its meaning often gets lost in how many dangers I’ve encountered or shoes I’ve worn out.
Sustainable happiness for all living beings and this planet
The true reason for this seven-year project, the one that really matters, is to develop a profound, sustainable happiness for all living beings and this planet. A huge order, I know! But what could be more important than what Aristotle affirmed: “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life”?
In order to achieve this lofty goal, a question is posed to those I meet on the Walk: “What matters most in life?” This pragmatic yet somewhat esoteric question allows people to reflect on the value of life itself: on that which ultimately contributes to a life worth living. A question, I’m sorry to say, many people tell me they have never before contemplated. “If you don’t know where you’re going,” said Yogi Berra, “you’ll end up somewhere else.” Best to know your destination so you can choose your route, I say! And when needed, use your GPS!
I have no visions of grandeur that a simple walk around the country will lead to such profound change. But, it does add to the current wave building strength and gathering momentum around the globe. And, with great practicality, it will ultimately lead to a set of policy recommendations to augment the (oft-misused) Gross Domestic Product with a broader set of holistic measures of happiness and well-being. Dave Ramsey, radio show host and businessman, puts it another way, “Measure wealth not by the things you have, but by the things for which you would not take money.”
What we care about is not reflected in our public policy
As indicated by the Walk research, what truly matters in life is astonishingly consistent around the country (if not the world, though I haven’t walked the entirety of it … yet). Not surprisingly, we value and care about one another, this planet and everything that lives and grows on it. What is surprising is how this is not entirely reflected in our public policy nor within the systems we’ve created. In fact, at times those systems and policies actually create obstacles to our well-being.
I don’t need to list the myriads of ways people perpetrate violence and injustices upon one another, nor the multiple transgressions our planet faces. Even within the ugliness, it is possible to put on a happy face and live a full life—but only if we are blind enough to the pervasive suffering around us. Science does not support such a view of dis-connectivity. Spirit certainly does not.
There is an urgent need to effect constructive change not just for humankind but for “planetkind.” There’s a hunger for answers, strategies, and positive action. In every crisis, it is said, there is opportunity. Together, we can embrace this opportune moment, unify around our common values, focus on what matters most, and act. With this broader view of inter-connectivity as a foundation, we are capable of implementing creative and positive solutions that build the root causes of happiness and well-being and cut to the root of untoward conditions.
Money has little connection to a thriving life
People everywhere, from all walks of life, understand from their own lived experience that relying on a GDP measure as the gold standard of well-being no longer reflects our values: money has little connection to a thriving life. In fact, one of the most common responses by interviewees is a declaration of what doesn’t matter: money. By contrast, Gross National Happiness resonates as a means of measuring our collective well-being and helps to shift how we define success and progress. GNH just makes good sense!
Divine data from the conversations
The most surprising thing I have learned from the thousands of conversations is this: divinity matters. This, of course, has many faces and names and is expressed in a myriad of ways, though is uniformly defined as something “bigger” and “higher” than ourselves. Perhaps this is not a revelation to many of you but when you consider just how much we extol spiritual living, it is curious that our society continues to focus on growth, competitiveness, and monetary wealth at the expense of people and our planet.
A new paradigm is needed
The time has come for a shift to spiritually-based systems: not in the religious ideology sense, but in a wisdom-filled and heart-centered way: infusing morality into our processes and raising up the basic tenets of the “Golden Rule” (which is so often mentioned). What do people consistently say matters? Love. Kindness. Oneness. Peace. Service to others. Making others happy. Nature. And, of course, puppies!
Imagine if we invested as much in nurturing these attributes as we’ve invested in a growth economy.
We are the change-agents, my friends. It is clear through this research that we have high agreement on the world in which we want to live and the legacy we want to leave our children and our children’s children. We all have roles to play and a purpose that calls to us. It may not require trekking around the country (probably not!), it may even be as simple as offering smiles to strangers, but with all of us grounded in common values—and spirit—we can shine light on the shadows of yesterday and create a brighter day today … and for all the tomorrows to come.
Let’s go on this adventure together – Take action now.