The Happiness Institute in San Francisco

image courtesy Happiness Institute

I met Leah Pearlman at Wednesdays, a meditation sangha, that meets (you guessed it!) every Wednesday in Santa Clara, California.

During one of our shares, or maybe even after dinner conversations, I learned that she co-created a space in San Francisco called the Happiness Institute.  Six months after Leah began to develop the idea, Jordan Grader came on board.  Together, they found a way to physically set up a space based on the gift economy–a place that people could come to realize their own individual gifts, their own individual happiness. Less than 3 months old, this is a brand new organization that indulges our childlike creativity, feeds our spiritual sustenance, and is exploring the logistical sustainability to make our dreams a reality.

Here’s my interview with Leah:

Prachi for transform: How did you come up with the idea?

Leah Pearlman: It was born out of a personal craving. I saw what makes us happy. With my own friends and people I knew, I would talk about the social functions of happiness, and then we would go on our own paths.  People didn’t know always know why or how to manifest these ideas.  I started wishing there was space for people in exploration mode to try something out together.  I started looking for a space where individuals could explore their own [ideas] in community and free of charge, and I couldn’t find it. Then, I had a yoga teacher ask the class, “What is your deepest craving?” She paused while we reflected and then said, “Now you know your work.  Stop craving, and create.” There, I decided to switch looking for it, and decided that it was my own personal calling to build it.

P: So, Leah, I know you used to work at Facebook.  How has that experience informed your work with the Happiness Institute?

LP: Being at Facebook made me recognize that every individual’s contribution and voice are what hang together to create a vibrant world full of different perspectives and information… Facebook [is an online network] where people upload and connect to people they know…The Happiness Institute recognizes that everything is more fun and more likely to succeed when it is done in the context of community and friends.

Through Facebook, people can give online encouragement and support.  The Happiness Institute is taking it one step further (or one step back), giving real–time interaction and vibrational support of being in the same room as another person.

P: How do you do this?

LP: We try to eliminate barriers to people trying new things (e.g., finding space to hold it, getting help from other people, etc.). We try to simplify things by taking care of logistical things so people can be bring their creative things to life.

P: What’s your biggest success?

LP: Simply resonance. This felt just like a hair-brained idea, but then the number of people that have already joined and started to host events have made it a success.  It has become clear that there is a need the Happiness Institute may be able to serve.

P: How is the Happiness Institute sustainable?

LP: The Happiness Institute is an experiment to find how we can create a sustainable system in a way in which people share their gifts, rather than their paychecks.  People contribute to the model in different ways: sometimes through teaching, sometimes through money, and sometimes through physical goods. First, we need to be valuable and serving the community. We believe that if it’s valuable enough, people will support it.  Right now, we have enough donations so we can operate for a while focusing exclusively on the needs of the community. In that, we are starting to see that people are contributing in different ways. Financial stability will take longer. We are trying to find a sustainable model.  If we can figure that out, then others may be able to start similar projects in their communities without needing the same degree of start-up cash we had. If there is a bar on every corner where people lose themselves, then why can’t there be a place on every street corner where people can go to find themselves?  Nothing against bars, I just think we need more balance.

P: What’s your biggest challenge?

The place is meant to allow someone to follow whatever it is that makes them happy. For me and Jordan, my co-creator, that means we are creating the space for our own sakes, because that makes us happy. We are balancing that with serving a community. We want to be open to people, doing what makes us happy, serving our own truths while serving the community.  So far, that means if we want to go to a yoga class and have to close up, even if the community would prefer more consistent hours, we’re going to yoga—but perhaps figure out how to reduce the inconvenience on others.  Since we are trying to serve individual happiness, then our lives must reflect that.

P: And, your hopes for the future?

LP: The Happiness Institute will be more successful the more collaboration we have. We want to build a group of people that want to volunteer their gifts so we can do this collaboratively, not just the two of us.

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