Thursday, March 29, 2012

St. Bonaventure professor to present at U.N. Monday on happiness as a new economic model

Dr. Charles Walker will get to do something Monday most people will never have the opportunity to do — present at the United Nations in New York City. 

Walker, a professor of psychology at St. Bonaventure University, was chosen to take part in the U.N.’s discussion titled “Happiness & Wellbeing: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.” 

Well known for his research in measuring happiness in students and teaching happiness literacy, Walker said he received the opportunity via email. At first, the email, coming from the prime minister of Bhutan, didn’t seem legitimate to Walker. He thought it might be a friend pranking him or, more menacingly, a computer virus.

But when he opened it, he knew at once he wasn’t being fooled.

“(There was) a very serious letter that addressed me personally,” Walker said. “I had to begin to take it seriously.” 

From then on, Walker began exchanging emails with Bhutan’s embassy in New York City. Walker believes he was called to do the presentation because of his website,

“I think they found me because of the website,” Walker said. “It’s a website on psychological being and wellbeing. It’s being used by people all over the world.”

Walker said he tracks his website’s progress using Google analytics to see what pages are being frequented and by what areas of the world.

“I noticed a while ago there were people from Bhutan using my website regularly,” Walker said. “They probably liked what they saw and it helped out with what they were doing.”

And what they are doing in Bhutan, according to Walker, is generating a focus on balance, revolution and “radical socialism.”

“What they are importing to the world now is nothing short of cultural revolution,” Walker said. “And that’s going to be their export to the world.”

Walker said that any big decisions Bhutan has to make, they will be in reference to the nation’s happiness — how it will affect them positively and negatively. They hope the rest of the world will catch on with their revolution.

“They’re hoping they’re going to plant the seeds of change,” Walker said.

“Scholars, economists, heads of state will meet on April 2 … translate it into an idea, to a policy, and to propose variations of it so a year from now, countries can take parts of it (to use).”

Walker believes that his role in this discussion will be to share his research and tools he has utilized to measure others’ happiness.

“(I’m) trying to create a higher level of literacy … about what happiness is and how they can assess it and know whether or not they’re achieving it,” Walker said. “My focus is mostly going to be on educational environments.”

Walker summed up his emotion about the chance to speak at the U.N. with a simple question: “Can there be anything better than feeling like you contributed to improving the world?” 

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