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Happiness Walk finds its merry way into Traer

August 23, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

Paula Francis of Vermont has seen plenty of walking, 8,200 miles since 2012 to be exact, for one main purpose: to see what makes people happy. Her journey brought her to Traer this weekend as she continues towards her goal of 10,000 on the Happiness Walk USA.

Happiness Walk USA is a project of Gross National Happiness USA, an organization with a goal of "shifting how we think about progress and success in this country." In Francis's eyes, there are many different conditions that "support our well-being", bringing up how our country has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to measure production in our nation.

"GDP doesn't say anything about the well-being of people at all and we don't have a national holistic measure that reflects how well-off people are," Francis said. "I'm out doing interviews by walking and talking to people about what really does matter in life. What should we be focusing on? What should we put into public policy? We want to be able to build up the conditions to support happiness."

Article Photos

Paula Francis walks up 63 North on the Happiness Walk. Photo submitted.

Francis, a former community organizer, interviews people she comes across during her travels armed with walking shoes and a digital recorder. As a co-founder of Gross National Happiness USA in 2009, she was inspired by the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan in South Asia, a country about the size of Vermont. According to Francis, Bhutan does not measure GDP, instead measuring how happy their people are. When she learned of that policy, Francis decided to see what can be done to bring a similar policy to the US.

"We can't reasonably just adopt another country's ideas of happiness," Francis said. "We need to make sure the measures we wish to promote make sense to people living here in the United States. What better way than to ask?"

Over her travels, Francis has talked with citizens of all walks of life in a different fashion than achieving this feat on a bike or in a car. While stopping in Traer on Sunday for a bite to eat at Sweets on Main, she felt she could see "the richness of the place" and find areas less represented. The interviews collected will be analyzed at the University of Vermont, where researchers will find popular answers and patterns. Francis and her colleagues will then concentrate on policies they feel align best with their data and present it to "decision and policy makers across the country."

"This wasn't my vision at all to start with," Francis said. "I walked with a partner down from Vermont to Washington DC, but the conversations were so rich that I felt it needed it to continue. I ended up continuing those steps, gave up my home, some possession and now I'm just walking."

Meeting those people around the country is the highlight for Francis on her journey as she listens and records their stories. Traer was no exception in her mind.

"It's a pleasure to hear people talking about what's really important to them," Francis said. "People here in Traer have been incredibly kind and generous. I love small, rural towns because everyone seems to know everyone and take care of each other. Those are the kind of conditions that help people thrive."

Francis would continue her walk up to Waterloo and then up to Wisconsin. Eventually, she will reach Boston and end the research part of her project. Gross National Happiness USA will analyze the interviews and present their findings. To learn more about Paula Francis and the mission of the Happiness Walk USA follow it on social media at Happiness Walk US on Facebook, @HappinessWalkUS on Twitter and happinesswalkus on Instagram.



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