The Happiness Idea World

What does our soft launch have to do with a Mongolian circus girl?

Do you know how very easy it is to help someone create their own happy? In 2012, it was just a matter of a circus costume. A bit of our backstory…

Wellington, NEW ZEALAND — After two years, one month, sixteen days, and four and a bit hours, The Happiness Idea has finally been born! It was a long and difficult labor. Like all labors, it wasn’t without its good moments (err?). Ultimately, we here at The Happiness Idea are very glad indeed to be alive, shaking digital hands with all of you out there with whom we’ve been waiting to officially make acquaintance.

What got all this started anyway? Well, by now, most of you will know this story. If you do, skip ahead a few paragraphs to the part where we tell you how you can get involved with us in global happy.

Urangoo & Patricia Sexton at The Kennedy Center
Patricia meets Urangoo for the first time for her circus performance at The John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in 2012

Ten years ago, in 2009, Patricia traveled from her then-home in New York City to Mongolia to attend the country’s Ice Festival. The festival celebrates the Mongolian New Year — Tsagaan Sar. On top of the frozen-solid depths of Lake Khovsgol in northern Mongolia, elaborate ice sculptures are on display. Visitors compete with nomads in reindeer sledding races. A shaman performs an unusual fire-dance ceremony. Up here in Siberia near the Russian border, it’s cold: minus 40F/C even during the daytime. Occasionally, the Reindeer People stop by to visit the annual Lake Khovsgol Ice Festival.

The Reindeer People are members of some of the world’s last nomadic reindeer herders. In this part of the world in Mongolia’s border with Russia, there are supposedly as few as 60 families left. The families live entirely off their herds of reindeer. Reindeer meat and hide are their food, shelter, and clothing. Briefly, Patricia got a chance to meet with the patriarch of one the reindeer herder families. She sat in his reindeer-hide teepee and, through a translator, talked shop to him about happiness. (Sidebar: it was minus 35 degrees that day and he wore a short-sleeve t-shirt.) Anyway, it was a pretty special occasion, getting a chance to meet one of the reindeer herders.

Years later, Patricia had the opportunity to repay her debt of gratitude. In 2012, she received an email from Ed Nef, a storied old filmmaker who’d also had a chance to spend time with the Reindeer People. In his email, Ed explained that one of the reindeer-herding families had suffered a terrible tragedy. One of the children, Urangoo, then six years old, had told her parents she dreamed of working in the circus. At first, her parents simply said no. Reindeer People don’t “follow dreams;” they herd reindeer. Ultimately, after many weeks of lobbying by showing her parents her self-taught circus moves, Urangoo managed to get her parents to agree to take her to Mongolia’s capital to pursue her dream.

Urangoo’s father gave away all their reindeer, save one. On the last remaining reindeer, Urangoo’s parents packed all their belongings and walked to Mörön, 100 kilometers away. In tow, they had three children, one of whom was disabled. From Mörön, they hopped a bus to Ulanbaatar. Young Urangoo had already been accepted into circus school in the capital. She needed only a costume to begin attending lessons. Neither of her Urangoo’s parents could afford the approximately US$65 their daughter needed for a costume. And they didn’t have jobs.

One thing led to another, and Urangoo’s father, desperate, traveled to one of the local mines to steal. There, he reportedly took just what he needed to pay for his daughter’s circus costume, and left the mines. Unfortunately, he didn’t get away with his small crime. Someone found him, robbed him of what he’d just stolen, and murdered him. Urangoo’s father died for a sixty-five dollar circus costume.

This story, and what happened next (stay tuned for the rest of the story), was part of the inspiration for The Happiness Idea. Although we can’t create happiness for anyone, we can support them in their own efforts to create happiness for themselves. If only, Patricia thought when she learned of Urangoo’s family’s situation, if only there had been a way to share a story and find a solution. If only there had been a medium for someone to tel their story and to ask for a simple resource — a circus costume — so that they could go about pursuing a dream, personal happiness, happiness in their community, a better world.

As The Happiness Idea grows, we’ll be sharing more of this story and many others that are dedicated to the cause of helping make our world a happier, more contented place. Join us in helping happiness along by sharing these posts on social media. Just copy the link and share it on your social media platform of choice! You can also hear from us on email by using the “Join Us” box on this page.

EPILOGUE: Ed Nef and Patricia collaborated with the Mongolian Mission to the United Nations to raise money for Urangoo’s family. In 2012, Urangoo flew to Washington, D.C. where she performed at The Kennedy Center to thunderous applause and many tears. She’s now a teenager and is a decorated (like, with medals!) circus contortionist!

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