On Sunday 20th March, the Museum of Happiness celebrated United Nations International Day of Happiness...for the first time!
For our venue, we were so pleased to have use of the Canvas Cafe - London’s first ‘Happy Cafe’. We are good friends with the owner, Ruth, and she was tremendously supportive of our venture.
After lots of emails and phone calls, we managed to get a list of kind and generous teachers willing to gift their time to make the world happier. I’d like to give a special thanks to Felipe Viveros for helping us.
Here’s the timetable we had for the day:
We started with some beautiful, calming yoga with Rosa. She has a lovely, relaxing voice and with a small group of us at 6am, we began the day. You can’t beat yoga at sunrise!
Next up was me teaching Kindfulness Meditation. That’s a combination of mindfulness meditation, but with an emphasis on being kind and friendly towards your body and mind. After a guided kindful body scan and short discussion, the group was feeling even more relaxed and happy.
And I’m glad I mentioned happy! As next up was Eva the laughter yoga teacher. Eva very skillfully transitioned us from feeling calm and happy, to lots of laughter and fun.
The group finished with a lovely laughter hug which was hilarious and relaxing at the same time!
Then it was time for a talk. Our very good friend Felipe Viveros gave a fascinating presentation on ‘Gross National Happiness’ (GNH) - a concept first coined and followed in Bhutan, but now beginning to spread worldwide.
Felipe emphasised the importance of peace and meditation as an important pillar for a happier life. And GNH has a much wider definition of happiness too.
Under the title of happiness in GNH comes a range of domains. Some happiness domains are traditional areas of social concern such as living standards, health, and education. Some are less traditional, such as time use, psychological well being, culture, community vitality, and environmental diversity. A fascinating, all-encompassing definition of happiness.
Chris Paradox was next up. He shared fascinating stories from his own life. Everything from how he sings in public on the bus and tube, to how losing his leg was seen as a positive life experience for him. Chris finished with a short written exercise so participants could think more deeply about their purpose in life.
The next playshop was brought to us by our friends at Antidote, who run playshops every week in London! They recommended Cleo Lane to run a singing class - and she was absolutely brilliant. The group was in an upbeat, positive mood to start with - but after that, they were positively buzzing!
At noon, another one of our longer term supporters, Andy of Focallocal, gave a talk about his work. He does everything from organising international pillow fights to getting 50,000 people all over the world blowing bubbles, and encourages monthly free hugs in Trafalgar square. All whilst living humbly in his little van in London.
Then came lunchtime. And this was by far the best lunch experience we’d ever had! Karma Kitchen, a ServiceSpace project, took over the basement and within 30 minutes, transformed it into a beautiful, candle-lit restaurant. They then welcomed the guests with a hug, seated them and shared them the philosophy of Karma Kitchen - to encourage people to ‘pay-it-forward’. Someone else had anonymously paid for their meal, and they were invited to pay for someone else, anonymously too. The participants loved it, and did give generously - go London!
During the experience, whilst having their meal, they were asked to also share on a piece of paper: "How can we create a happier world together?" Following that, they were also ‘tagged’ - given a gift, and invited to pass on a gift to someone else, in their own time. The volunteers were the stars of the experience - they gave much more than just their time, and we’re so grateful for that.
After the two Karma Kitchen sittings, the atmosphere was filled not just with happiness, but lots of love too! Big thanks to Trishna and Ani who also run a meditation and reflection group called Awakin Circles in London (which I highly, highly recommend), and of course thank you to the kitchen team at Canvas Cafe, and all the beautiful volunteers involved.
Next up, Vicky Johnson, our lovely co-founder, gave her first ever playshop on The Power of Gratitude. I’ve always felt that she’s naturally such a grateful person, and knew she’d be the perfect person to give such a talk and playshop. She shared from her heart how gratitude had changed her life, after listening to a talk by Spencer Heijnen at our first ever Museum of Happiness event on 15th February 2015.
Spencer is a specialist in taking happiness into the workplace. Vicky was very creative in her playshop, and got everyone creating their own Gratitude Tree, and we all finished up playing Gratitude Bingo!
As the afternoon went on, the place got busier and busier. Tiu de Haan was up next, and got us thinking about seeing our life challenges in different ways. She had us doing everything from behaving like a robot, to a fascinating discussion about Pronoia, the opposite of Paranoia.
Pronoia is having the sense that there is a conspiracy that exists to help the person. It is also used to describe a philosophy that the world is setup to secretly benefit people! What a lovely thought. Thank you Tiu.
Then at 5pm, two things happened. In the basement, we had our final playshop laughter yoga with Melanie Bloch - a holistic laughter yoga teacher in London. She had had the idea of laughter yoga on international day of happiness well before we had - and she kindly integrated into our day. Her session was absolutely brilliant.
And we also had a Happiness Flash Mob in the streets of London!
We actually called it a ‘Gift Mob’ and gave out daisies, lavender, little pieces of paper with smiles on them, free hugs, free high fives and free music for all to dance to. We were joined by Alex Nunn of Action for Happiness, folks from Morning Gloryville, Felipe from Gross National Happiness and nicely held together by Andy of Focallocal.
There was about 50 of us, joined additionally with random passers by, dancing to the beats and sharing our smiles and talking to people about the fact that it was officially UN International Day of Happiness.
Incredibly, the day was still not over! We headed back to the Canvas Cafe for a group panel discussion to explore what happiness means to us. The panel included Kieran, Vicky and Shamash of the Museum of Happiness, Felipe Viveros from Gross National Happiness Europe, Karen Liebenguth from Green Space Coaching and Charlie Claydon founder of My Mental Health. It was great to have members of the audience from Wake Up London too, who follow the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh - he’s a great meditation teacher!
We were really pleased with the way the day went, and the way we spread our smiles far and wide, not just in the cafe, but out on the streets too.
Happiness is deeply lacking in our world at the moment - anxiety and depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Here at the Museum of Happiness, we’re keen not to make our offering just another commodity. The Canvas Cafe gifted us the venue area, the teachers gifted us their time and the organisers gifted their time to put the whole event together. Karma Kitchen even gifted the lunch. Generosity was the flame that warmed people's hearts.
We believe in the philosophy of ‘pay-it-forward’.
This encourages us to not just think about how much money we're making or influence we’re having, but how much happiness we’re all spreading together!
Gifting such a day also encourages attendees to move from transaction to trust - to be generous and think of others. And generosity makes both the giver and receiver to feel happier!
My sincere gratitude to my co-founders Vicky and Kieran, to Ruth for her trust in us as we used her space, gratitude to all the teachers and volunteers without whom we’d have no event, and to you as a reader to get this far in the blog post!
You're all very welcome to join us to help spread a bit more happiness in our beautiful, precious world.