A Good Vision For Fixing America’s Happiness Index, With Service (Part 1)

Group shot of people on a cleanup with green safety vests

(photo above taken at a MIC cleanup, provided by Barry Krebs)

By John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College

On National Public Radio, I listened to Allison Aubrey’s report about how America fell in The Gallup World Poll Happiness Index, from 15th to 23rd. What researchers noted was that the decline was felt most among younger Americans, but also in younger people in Britain, Canada, Australia, and West Europe.

There’s a solution, and it’s going to take work. But in the end, you can expect happier Americans and a better country. The secret is in service.

As a professor at LaGrange College, I’ve got students just as stressed as any collegians in America. And like those in Aubrey’s report, they worry about political polarization, climate change, and social inequalities. But despite these challenges, they just seem so…happy. What is their secret?

To know a LaGrange College student is to know that they serve the community a lot. It’s not necessarily some top-down requirements imposed by the administration (but encouraged by admin, yes). It’s something they seek out to help. From a Dance Marathon for Children’s Miracle Network to hair coloring and head shaving for Habitat for Humanity, our plaza and halls, and even our surrounding areas on weekends always have students engaged in fundraising and helping. They not only know to hit me up for donations but I’ve also been recruited for dunk tanks and being “pied.” They’ve learned from those like Ted Talk legend Emily Esfahani Smith about the importance of serving over an empty pursuit of happiness for its own sake.

To find out more about how this applies to Cobb County, I interviewed Barry Krebs, from Mableton, who has served with the South Cobb Lions Club for 10 years, covering Cobb and Paulding counties. The Lions Club is best known for their vision program, helping people with their eyesight, with the greater Atlanta area playing a big role in this. He’s also been on the Board for “Keep Cobb Beautiful” for 9 years, for the District 4 Commissioner. My questions are featured in italics.

What is the biggest challenge getting in people to serve?  “Undoubtedly, the hardest part about getting people to serve is to convince them that it is worth their valuable time.  Many civic organizations have seen a decline in volunteers over the years.  With the Lions Clubs, we try to emphasize the fun that we have as we serve.  We offer options that may appeal to different volunteer motivations and/or skill set.  For instance, our global causes include diabetes awareness, vision assistance, environmental conservation, hunger relief and childhood cancer projects.  Recently, more younger people are coming to the Lions Clubs who are motivated by our environmental efforts.  It is also important to be seen in the community doing positive activities.”

Do you find it is harder to get younger people, older people, or those in the middle (like me) to serve?  “Our goal is to get younger volunteers who can become long-term Lions.  However, many of them are focused on graduation, dating and starting their careers.  The middle-aged people for the most part have most of their time raising with their children.  So, most of our new volunteers are retirees.  We encourage retirees to keep their minds busy with volunteering or other social activities.  Everyone needs social interaction to keep your minds sharp.”

So there is a challenge in recruiting younger people to service because they have lots of responsibilities. But if college students can juggle their studies, sports, student government, and extracurricular activties, and have time for service, so can younger people. Our students have found ways to blend these; service becomes social activities creating bonds of friendship, not just doing something good for someone else.

In my next column, I’ll tell you about how service can change a life, as you’ll later “see.”

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. His views are his own. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.