Political discord getting you down? Here’s an idea: Host a delicious Happiness Dinner where friends and family can dish on what really matters in life. And in so doing, you just might help unify the nation.
At least that’s the hope of the leaders of Gross National Happiness USA (GNHUSA), an organization that wishes to measure success based on happiness instead of wealth. After seeing a surge in divisiveness and discord since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the group decided they wanted to do something about it. The third annual round of Happiness Dinners, to be held this month around the United Nations International Day of Happiness on March 20, seemed like the perfect occasion to get people together for real face-to-face conversation.
Engage in a real discussion
“When you step away from hot-button political issues and have a conversation from one person’s heart to another person’s heart, and you talk about what truly matters, people all want the same thing,” says Ginny Sassaman, co-founder and president of GNHUSA. (Ginny along with co-founder Paula Francis, also ventured on an earlier happiness walk across America to gather thousands of people’s thoughts about happiness and what matters most to them.)
“We listened,” says Ginny, who has a master’s in positive psychology from the Wholebeing Institute. “People’s answers are very much aligned. In Louisiana or Connecticut, what matters most to people are family, connection with others, other forms of love such as friendships, the need to be of service and to give to others, good health and religion—God and faith.”
The upcoming dinners offer another opportunity to hold conversations and, with GNHUSA guidelines, to listen to what other people have to say, not jump in and tell others what to think, according to Ginny.
GNHUSA provides guidelines to everyone who registers as a dinner host. Dinner can be whatever you like: individually prepared, takeout or potluck. One organizer even plans to hold sway at a soup kitchen.
The guidelines include questions such as “What matters most in life?” and “What is a compassionate response to people who express views different from your own?” There are no wrong answers, GNHUSA says. Afterward, your group emails a photo and conversation points to GNHUSA for sharing.
A growing phenomenon
In 2015 and 2016, GNHUSA estimates that about 25 Happiness Dinners a year were held each year in 17 states plus Canada, Costa Rica, England and Switzerland. Registration is still underway for 2017, and the group expects the number of dinners to grow this year.
“Happiness provides a unifying vision of how we could move together even on a policy level,” says Ginny. “We can change the framework on how we talk about these things and offer a holistic understanding of well-being and the government’s role in cultivating well-being.”
Jim Gold is a veteran editor and journalist based in Northern California.