To the people who know her well, the fact that Ginny Sassaman’s first published book is about happiness probably isn’t a surprise. Sassaman, of Calais, co-founder of Gross National Happiness USA, has spent most of her life tying to figure out what makes people happy. Her new book, “Preaching Happiness — Creating a Just and Joyful World,” has been published by Rootstock Publishing of Montpelier.
The book is based on a series of secular sermons originally delivered at the First Universalist Church and Society of Barnard, Vermont. It highlights the interconnected nature of both personal and collective happiness and well-being. The book relies on spirituality, history, economics, and conflict resolution theory to show that personal transformation is valuable both for its own sake, as well as to help create new systems of well-being.
“I wrote this book because I knew I had a unique and valuable perspective to share. Almost all happiness books are focused on cultivating personal happiness. A very few are focused on economics and policy making. However, I came into the happiness movement through the systems change angle,” Sassaman said.
She got immersed in trying to understanding happiness after reading about Bhutan’s system of Gross National Happiness and wanted to start something similar here.
“I learned about positive psychology and the science of happiness as we were forming Gross National Happiness USA and planning the first conference ever in the United States on this topic, in 2010. Since then I have been studying and advocating for a gross national happiness approach while also studying and teaching personal happiness. In all these years, I have run into very few people who are in both happiness camps — it’s usually one or the other. To me, collective and personal happiness are interdependent, and I wanted to share that perspective, and encourage readers to consider the importance of both,” she said.
In 2009, Sassaman joined with several others Vermonters (Tom Barefoot, Paula Francis and Linda Wheatley) to co-found Gross National Happiness USA, the first grassroots organization in the United States focused on building a movement for a thriving and sustainable future based on a holistic framework of defining individual and collective success. She served as president for a year and is on the GNHUSA advisory board. She is also on the advisory board of the Happiness Alliance, a Seattle-based group which collects and analyzes happiness data.
“In many ways, the movement still feels very young to me. Another reason I wanted to publish this book, to help publicize the gross nation happiness concept and build more momentum,” she said.
“I am a strong believer in the power of positive psychology and the science of happiness to transform our lives so that we can thrive, be our best, be more joyful, and be more effective in contributing to the world around us, however each of us chooses to do that. My goal with the book is to reach as many people as possible to deepen understanding and awareness of the happiness choices we all can make, and the reasons why we should make those choices,” she said.
Sassaman credits Tal Ben-Shahar, as her most important happiness teacher.
“I had heard of Ben-Shahar’s wildly popular positive psychology course at Harvard, and wished I could somehow take it. When I learned that he and his colleagues Maria Sirois and Meghan McDonough, of the Wholebeing Institute, were offering a yearlong Certificate in Positive Psychology program, I signed up immediately,” she said.
To pay for the course she had to take money out of her retirement fund. “A decision I will never regret,” she said.
Tal Ben-Shahar, an American and Israeli teacher and writer in the areas of positive psychology and leadership, has praised Sassaman’s book.
“Ginny Sassaman’s down-to-earth wisdom both elevates and elates ... an important voice in our quest for a more just and joyful world. When I hear the word ‘sermon,’ I think of serious, solemn words. But Ginny Sassaman’s sermons are nothing of the sort: they are entertaining, and easily draw you into the subject, which she has studied in depth. They tell us something we probably do not know about the one experience we all long for, the Holy Grail of Holy Grails: happiness,” he said.
In this country and worldwide, there are various efforts at bringing GNH into the policy realm according to Sassaman. “Politicians don’t often use the words ‘gross national happiness.’ They talk about alternative indicators, or a well being budget, language like that,” she said.
“One development that I’m really pleased about is President-elect Biden’s choice of Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy. When Murthy served as Surgeon General under President Obama, he wrote and spoke about the importance of happiness to living a long healthy life. I am hoping that, when the COVID crisis is settled down, we can approach General Murthy with our GNH ideas. Perhaps we will have an advocate in the new administration,” she said.
Sassaman has a master’s in Mediation and Applied Conflict Studies from Woodbury College, and a Certificate in Positive Psychology from studying with Tal Ben-Shahar, an American and Israeli teacher and writer who specializes in positive psychology and leadership.
She worked at Common Cause in Washington from 1981 through 1987, and the Women’s Legal Defense Fund from 1989 to 1992.
“Preaching Happiness — Creating a Just and Joyful World” is available at most local bookstores and can be purchased on-line. More information is available at https://happinessparadigm.com/preaching-happiness-new-book-coming-soon/