In the week the world lost Robin Williams, some reflection on the theme of happiness is no harm. The day after his death I was given such an opportunity when I was invited to a free screening of the Project Happiness film at the Berkeley Impact Hub, which is located upstairs from my office at the Citizen Engagement Lab.
The film came about after Randy Taran discovered her teenage daughter was stressed, saying "I want to be happy, I just don't know how". Randy wanted to do something and so the Project Happiness film project was born.
It became a youth-led quest for answers by teens from the U.S, Nigeria and the Tibetan children's village in Dharamshala, culminating in a meeting with the Dalai Lama in India. Before heading off to India, the U.S students had the opportunity to interview George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars film series, and hear first hand how his spirituality and world view influences his creativity. They also met world-renowned neuroscientist Dr. Richard J. Davidson.
There was something inspiring about watching young minds open up to the bigger world, in all its forms. The teens were given the space to explore, discuss, debate and to dream in ways that modern life doesn't always facilitate in free and open ways.
The film has since given birth to an organisation, also called Project Happiness, that promotes youth health, resilience and empowerment in over 80 countries worldwide. They have a small staff but are growing rapidly, and have over 255,000 Facebook fans.
I know from my work with SpunOut.ie, Gaisce, Soar and various other youth orgs, that young people are crying out for meaningful engagement. Often their cries come in the form of alcohol and drug abuse, unhealthy sexual or so called anti-social behaviour, or silent suffering like self-harm, eating disorders, or depression. The remit of spiritual and emotional development has traditionally belonged to parents, educators, psychologists and the religious, but the world is changing fast and we need new, more open source, forms of engagement and support. In creating time and space for young people to grow, we all grow. Likewise, building a fairer, justice and inclusive society will benefit everyone.
Just minutes after the screening I got chatting to a guy about the same age as myself and he somehow ended up telling me about his own battles with alcohol and how he is now sober and living a richer life as result. There was something about us both making time to see the film that opened up space to reflect and to share, and this in turn led to a more meaningful conversation, beyond just the usual chat of work, weather or 'whatever'.
I intend looking into the work of Project Happiness further and seeing what lessons might be applied back home in Ireland, and how in particular it relates to the amazing work being done by Soar. As it happens, Soar is inspired by Joseph Campbell's concept of 'the heroes' journey', which was instrumental in inspiring the work of George Lucas. The idea is that we are all on a heroes journey, or at least we can be. We are called to act, to find courage and conquer demons, and it's up to each of us to rise to our own unique challenges.
Some of Robin Williams' movies took on these themes, especially Dead Poets Society, which documented the journey in helping young people free their minds. It was clear from Robbins' life that he was a man who battled with demons, but also became a magificant hero in his own journey, and in turn he inspired and helped millions. His death is a tragedy and a call to attention when it comes to the need to look out for each other.
For me, I know that I need to up my own game when it comes to my personal happiness project. I've slipped 'off the wagon' recently when it comes to meditation and self-care and it's time to re-focus on that as a way of being clearer and more effective at work and in all aspects of life. A big part of that means getting offline more, into the wild, and worrying less about money, and things that might never happen.
Remember, look after yourself, and as they say in Star Wars, 'may the force be with you'.
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Check out Project Happiness here, and their promo video below:
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