Happiness is a Verb, not an Object

Leticia Reyes, Co-Founder of 109 World, a non-profit organization dedicated to enabling each person to make a change in the world by creating online movements, hosting global mission trips and raising awareness for the greatest social and environmental challenges of our time.

In 1966 Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. said prophetically, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.”

The same way Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. believed that the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief are going to write the history of a better world, I believe that numberless diverse acts of consciousness, and making the best of what we are capable of in our lives write our individual and global history of happiness. The model for happiness is not one-size-fits-all; it should be individualized per our own values, dreams and personalities.  So today, on International Happiness Day, let's not try to find a formula for happiness, even though there are social scientists that attribute happiness to three major sources: genes, events and values.  Let's try instead to BE happy in our own way, instead of FEEL happy in other people’s ‘formula’.

When I stopped looking for happiness ‘outside’, I automatically stopped adopting other people’s narratives of happiness and opened space to create my own; I found out that for me, happiness is not something connected to having, but doing. It is not a humor or a state of mind - no matter how exalted and long lasting - but it is the result of the choices and values which I decide to define my course in life.

I could never have imagined that I would find my “promise of happiness” by travelling to Ecuador with my organization, 109 World, to help survivors of a massive 7.8 earthquake that hit the country last year. In an instant, more than 600 people were killed and 27,000 were injured. What I witnessed upon arriving after this devastation was not what I expected: the emotional vitality, the human warmth, and the pure instinctive joy to be living that the victims exhibited in the most ordinary day-to-day actions. It hit me on a deep level. What I saw and felt was a difficult phenomenon to describe. It was a kind of involuntary happiness, a form of exuberance and a state of mind that seemed to emanate spontaneously from their blood and soul, which made the simple fact of existence feel like a blessing for everybody - independent of any logical reason or justification. My happiness references, and my economic theory had nothing to say about “it”. But this "it” was the most fundamental element in everything around me.

When I flew from Ecuador back to San Francisco, the contrast struck me like lightning. I did not have the proper terms and conceptual clarity to elaborate the experience. All I could do was wait for the taxi at the airport, walk the cold streets of San Francisco, and talk to friends that enabled me to express what I was feeling, which often was a bleak, "what a strange world!” The families in Ecuador that were left with nothing or almost nothing were working miracles and transforming little into much. And yet, us, with everything we have, can often transform so much into so little. It is as if we are carrying the burden of being, not the blessing of it.

I was not struck with idealizing the happiness of a community that lost everything in Ecuador, but I couldn't ignore this personal shift that followed. The contrast I was witnessing was telling me that happiness is not something connected to having, but doing. It told me that happiness will never be a final state that we can acquire and take possession of once and for all. It is an activity, something that is built and cultivated, always demanding commitment and love. Always demanding the energy to start over again as many times as needed.

In the service trips I run with 109 World, I've found it’s contrasts, tension, hope, joy, blessings and involuntary happiness to be the source of my numberless diverse acts that are going to write my history of happiness. A history related to the expansion of opportunities, in amplifying my limited power by empowering others and, above all, my ability to live up to my best potential, choosing my own destiny, finding satisfaction, joy and a growing sense of accomplishment in my existence. In short, by making the best of what I am capable of in my life in an increasingly conscious, empowering and joyful way, I am happy.

How are you going to write your history of happiness?

This International Happiness Day take the time to think about what it is that makes you happy and how you can spread this joy to make someone else's day! Whether it's big or small, an act of kindness goes further than you can imagine. What better way to do so than to help The Unmentionables provide dignity through hygiene to refugees, one pair of underwear at a time!