In 1997, right after their civil war, I came to Bosnia and Herzegovina as an International Observer with the OSCE/UN. Back then, I was a recent master’s graduate in Peace Studies with a newly written thesis about the need for the ‘Fulfillment of Our Identity to Solve Conflicts”.
So, there I was, at the core of the worst modern civil war in Europe, where neighbors killed each other, driven by the evil combination of fear and exacerbated hate. More than two million people were displaced or executed. I felt heartbroken when I saw the level of destruction, mass graves, and loneliness that war left behind.
One day I was walking down the street and saw a long line of people waiting to vote. An older woman caught my attention, so I decided to talk to her. Her name was Biljana, and she taught me a big lesson that I carry with me since then. She told me: I’ve lost all my family, my house, and most of my friends, but I have not lost my hope to live in peace and to be happy one day again.
Can you imagine? Through all the horror and pain, she hasn’t lost her hope to live in peace and be happy once again. That’s how I understand happytalism, as happy-talism: the process of growing from our shadows and suffering and overcoming the fear to be. I understood that there is a deeper conflict within most conflicts: Over-identification and disconnection with the self.
Today I want to talk about the three points of separation and the three reconnection points that can transform our world for good. By separation, I mean how we separate ourselves from ourselves, from each other, and nature. By reconnection, I mean the ways we can re-establish our bonds with our-self, with each other, and with nature.
When I came home from Bosnia and Herzegovina, I was a new person, determined to find the roots of suffering. I discovered that in order to dissolve suffering, we have to embrace it because happy people do not kill people. On the contrary, they create value and make the world inclusive and caring.
Since then, my life purpose has grown around creating access and education around happiness and wellbeing as preventive skills for conflicts. I founded and co-founded the World Happiness Foundation, the World Happiness Fest (world’s largest forum on happiness and wellbeing), World Happiness Summit, International Day of Happiness, celebrated every March 20th, programs such as Gross Global Happiness at the United Nations University for Peace, and new paradigms for human progress such as Happytalism.
Disconnection / (re) connection With the Self
I have spent many years at the corporate level and worked with many leaders. Some were inspiring visionaries, and others were incredibly toxic. When I learned that more than 80% of people are not happy at their work, I was shocked, and I decided to go deeper into understanding why. Do you know the first reason people leave their jobs? It’s because of their direct manager. Do you know why? Because those managers have lost self-connection:
- They live with a sense of constant stress;
- They feel overwhelmed by their emotions;
- They have a sense of emptiness inside;
- They feel out of touch with others;
- They feel a lack of meaning or purpose; and
- They consistently feel uncertain of themselves.
Disconnection / (re) connection with our communities
This journey of discovery and connection has allowed me to work with incredible individuals and communities. One of them is Erik Weihenmayer. Erik is the first blind person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. It took him more than two years of training, planning, and determination, but most importantly, it took a team to achieve the impossible.
In our society, we normally like to spotlight individuals and call them heroes, but if you look at the reality of human progress, it is all about community building and collaboration. The team was there to help Erik, but they also became the largest team in history to top Everest. They’ve created deep relationships and become a symbol of shared humanity that transcended the individual.
We are in the midst of the largest pandemic of loneliness in human history. Loneliness is the cancer of our relationships, it’s as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. In the USA alone, one out of four people report not having one single friend in their life.
What is the medicine for these devastating facts? Belonging and building meaningful relationships. When we help others, we multiply the chances of positive outcomes. We become what I love to call – happytalists.
Disconnection / (re)connection with nature
This picture is what I saw in Lagos, Nigeria, when I was working there to build a Worldwide community for one of the institutions that I worked for. This was a community living on the water but without access to drinking water. This made me think of when humanity moved to the current farming system and disconnected from nature. We focused on extracting resources and using nature instead of being part of it interdependently. We’ve pushed nature to its limits, and now we all are suffering. Just look at the signs: from COVID-19 to the tsunamis, all point out to the lack of consciousness towards how the system of life works.
Every time I talk to Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist, and a World Happiness Foundation board member, I’m reminded of this. The importance of (re)connecting with our food, nature, and being mindful about life’s essence couldn’t be clearer to me.
We need to acknowledge on the global level that because of nature, we can live in abundance. Only when we cherish and treat it as our most valuable friend can we become abundant both personally and globally.
From Collective Trauma to Collective Healing
Trauma is all around us. This is not Bosnia and Herzegovina, 24 years ago. It is Surfside, Miami – today. This building collapsed at 1:30 am with more than 150 people inside. When we look at this picture, we cannot, but wonder is it possible to talk about happiness when there is so much senseless suffering?
Yes, and we should talk about it as much as we can! Happiness is present only when we share it and help others heal, and when there is collective trauma, we need collective healing. Research shows that there is as much stress as growth after trauma. The key lies in our mindset.
Happytalism is a mindset. Based on Freedom, Consciousness, and Happiness for all. It is a limitless mindset that can change how the world works for the better. We only need to follow the three points of separation and reconnection:
- As the old woman from Bosnia taught me, we need to embrace our suffering and cultivate self-compassion. We start by moving from useless expectations to appreciating what we already have. This way, we bridge the gap between feeling unfulfilled and flourishing.
- We need to help others achieve their goals. When we make giving the key tool of our toolbox a weapon for good, we can experience incredible growth, both in their case and ours.
- We need to live interdependently with nature, understand its abundance and respect all living beings.
This is a path to becoming a happytalist and realizing a world with freedom, consciousness, and happiness for all. Let’s walk it together.
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