Several years ago, I just read books on happiness for my own personal pleasure. Little did I know that I would soon be looking at them through an entirely different lens. When my own child started to show signs of stress and then depression, I ached for a way to help. As the situation became more intense in school and at home, I didn’t know what to do, and it rocked me to the core. This was the beginning of my journey, a journey that resulted in founding Project Happiness.
In my attempts to find some answers, I discovered how many young people are dealing with similar issues. After speaking with experts. I was shocked to learn of the escalating rates of stress, depression, bullying and even suicides occurring nationwide. This is truly a silent epidemic that is infiltrating the lives of young people and communities everywhere. The World Health Organization predicts that by the year 2020, depression will be the second most debilitating disease after heart disease. This is for all countries, all backgrounds and all ages. By the year 2030, unless we do something now, it will be the number one health issue affecting people in the U.S. and worldwide.
- 3.22 million kids, ages 7-17 were treated for depression in the past 5 years. This is more than double the number from the previous 5 years.
- In American schools: 160,000 + children miss school every day, due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.
- In a survey of high school students, the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center found that almost 1 in 5 teens had thought about suicide, about 1 in 6 teens had made plans for suicide, and more than 1 in 12 teens had attempted suicide in the last year.
I believe that at the end of the day, what most people want for those they care about is happiness. When we evaluate our lives, it is not the money in the bank account, the degrees beside our names or the careers that are most memorable. It is the meaningful moments and love that we share with others that matter most. Yet, in a culture that often values materialism over meaning, it is our kids who are too often suffering. With stress on the rise, a message of hope and help is more urgent than ever. I felt compelled to do something.
Project Happiness began when an idea popped into my mind to make a film with students from 3 countries on a quest to find the secret of happiness. I deeply appreciate the generosity and warm-heartedness of George Lucas, Richard Gere, neuroscientist Richard Davidson, and the XIV Dalai Lama who all agreed to be interviewed by the kids.
Inspired by the film, I co-wrote the Project Happiness Handbook. With the goal of helping young people take charge of their own happiness, it combines the voices of the students with the top thought leaders in positive psychology, neuroscience and mindfulness. We can train our brains, harness the best within us and use that to create conditions where everyone thrives. This became the basis for the work of the non-profit, Project Happiness, whose mission is to provide the resources to inspire and empower people to create greater happiness within themselves and the world.
I’m amazed to see what’s happened in such a short time. Our curriculum is now in over 57 countries around the world. Happiness is a real advantage and to experience it fully, knowing about the inner life is just as important as math or history. Professor Richard Layard, of the London School of Economics says, “We will see a radical change in education in the next 20 years, as schools become as concerned with the development of character and the inner self as with academic testing and performance.”
The change starts in each individual. Once you have seen the film trailer take a look at the materials on the website, so you can start to create change in your home, classroom and community. Choosing happiness and cultivating well-being is not a selfish pursuit. On the contrary, research shows that happier people are more caring, more generous and more apt to create civil society.
Other benefits include:
- greater productivity
- higher test scores
- healthier bodies and minds
- finding greater meaning and purpose in life.
Did I mention connecting to one’s passions, making a difference and good old FUN?
Well-being, happiness and compassion can absolutely be taught…to people of any age. At Project Happiness, that is our commitment. The good news is that with some practice, these skills will provide a lasting advantage in every aspect of life.
Can we bring forth the best of our human nature and hence bring out the best in others for the benefit of all? Both the research, and what I have seen personally, prove that we CAN. My daughter is doing great. I deeply realize that happiness is truly contagious – the effects ripple out more than one may know.
The best is yet to come, and it’s easy to make an important difference. Let’s work together to help make that happen. For our selves and for future generations, it’s TIME!
Wishing you genuine happiness, and the wonderful feelings you’ll know when you share it with others,