By Gagan Leekha
Laura Hannant wears many hats – from small-scale market gardener, to community organizer, to Development Services Facilitator with Kootenay Employment Services… oh, and she’s also often referred to as “the happiness lady”.
Laura lives in Creston located in the Kootenays – a place that fuels her passion for working at the intersections of social issues and food, applying principals of permaculture to a community level. She sees her role as creating experiences, relationship, and conditions for self-care, care for each other, and care for the planet.
Laura uses the topic of happiness as an entry point to have meaningful conversations with her community. She basis this work on the gross national happiness index that came out Bhutan.
Laura collaborated with local government, first nations, community organizations, and citizens to interview nearly 1,000 people (5% of the entire Creston Valley population) from the ages of 11-94, using the 100 question Gross National Index Happiness survey. The results of their research was compiled in Creston’s Happiness Report Card.
"The survey affirmed what people love about where we live."
Reflecting on the process, Laura recalls that she was amazed at how intimate people wanted to get, and how process of engaging in meaningful dialogue created social connections among people.
“The happiness survey created a visceral buzz in the Creston Valley, a community that has had a negative local narrative because of economic conditions. The survey affirmed what people love about where we live”, says Hannant.
Factors related to social support, community vitality, and natural environment were high, seniors tended to be the happiest, but young people were the most unsatisfied. Laura articulated the importance of integrating this information, rather than only economic data, into policies and programs to support heath and well-being of the whole community.
Laura’s passion for community development started when she was a child. Throughout the ages of 10-19, Laura was in school part-time and on the road working on issues from child labour and the sexual exploitation of children to meaningful youth participation in civic life.
She traveled around the world connecting with youth-led well-being projects, worked as youth ambassador for Unicef Canada, and helped to found the World’s Children’s Prize, which has engaged more than 39 million children since 2000. She has learned through experience that by working with different sectors and collaborating with others, risks can be shared, creating more possibilities and success than when working alone.
At 18, Laura reached “retirement age” for many of the for-children, by-children campaigns that were such an integral part of her life. She took some time to pause to think about how to next best use her time and energy. The transition was challenging and through it Laura noticed how her own well-being affected those around her.
After some deep soul searching Laura made the connections between personal well-being, family well-being, and ultimately community and global well-being. These insights are what have led her to follow her passions: farming and community building. They are at the heart of what have made her an advocate for using dialogue about happiness to explore what it really means to pursue genuine well-being for all.