What started out as a movie night with friends, evolved into a social enterprise promoting well-being: The Institute for Happiness. Don’t let the academic-sounding name fool you, Malina Iordache’s organisation is about providing people with quality time that will help them feel good about themselves and their lives. inventures.eu met up with Malina to talk about the Institute and its ambitious long-term goals.
One year ago, American Randy Taran launched Project Happiness, a thought-provoking documentary aimed at unveiling what lies behind one of the fundamental universal human aspirations: the quest for lasting happiness. The film, which set the goal of helping young people take charge of their own happiness revealed an alarming statistic: in the US, 3,22 million kids of ages from 7 to 17 had been treated for depression in the past five years – twice as many as in the previous five.
On the other side of the world, in Bucharest, Romania, Malina Iordache (29) decided to host a screening of said documentary at a friend’s coffee house. She knew she’d strike a chord with the film as its theme and the unsettling statistics were relatable in the Romanian context, as well. What started out as a fun movie night would soon take an entrepreneurial turn. Buying the broadcasting rights to the film turned out to be a smart decision: “We advertised the event on Facebook and about 40 people confirmed. In the end, over 200 showed up. It was a bit overwhelming. After the screening, people thanked me teary-eyed. Some even wrote little thank you notes to us on the back of their tickets.”
The documentary Project Happiness inspired Malina and a friend to start their own happiness-focused social enterprise in 2011. Source: Malina IordacheTeam Work and Spreading Happiness
The positive reactions to the screening led Malina and her friend, Traian Ispasiu, to start their own happiness-focused social enterprise in 2012. With another friend, Andrei Chirea, joining in later, the team has been key to the Institute for Happiness’ progress:
“It’s all about the team. We work well together and we each have our own visions and ideas that we bring to the table. We share the same objectives and the same passion for personal development. And that’s also how we choose our collaborators. We don’t mind if they’re better than us. In fact we welcome it. It helps us grow bigger faster.”
Apart from co-founding The Institute for Happiness, Malina is a certified trainer, a facilitator for the United Nations’ integrated capacity-building program Empretec and, as she puts it, “an activist for happiness”. It’s no surprise that, when asked whether the road so far had been difficult, she simply dismisses the idea.
“I started working for the Institute for Happiness at a point at which I was truly happy and felt that I had something to give to those around me. I did learn a lot along the way. Apart from the entrepreneurial information that you learn as you go, you also learn a lot about people. And for me, this project has also underpinned my belief that people are fantastic, fragile and beautiful.”
Getting money isn’t easy
The NGO scene in Romania is quite crowded, with a large array of organisations focused on various issues, from human rights to health or media. But before the launch of the Institute for Happiness in February this year, there was none that dealt with promoting happiness among individuals. In fact, there are hardly any in the world today – only five, according to Malina. As groundbreaking as this makes her mission, it also forces her and her team to think outside of the proverbial box.
As with all NGOs, getting money isn’t easy. The Institute of Happiness doesn’t have any constant source of funding at the moment, so Malina and her team have made it their strategy to keep an open mind about any and all potential subsidy sources. Their current funds come from various places – grants, donations, memberships and selling their products.
But the prospects are bright, as there are big plans for the Institute in the near future. Some of them include screening The Happy Movie for thousands of people and inviting the film’s producer to Romania. There are also plans for becoming more involved at a community level, by taking Project Happiness to high schools across Romania next year.
Working with emotions
The Institute for Happiness is centered on organising various happiness-related events, followed by a few hours of mini workshops, so that people don’t leave with just an idea, but with an actual plan. You could see these events as a fun couple of hours that you can fit into your busy urban schedule or you could see them as personal development programs. Either way, there is something very alluring about an NGO that deals with something so ineffable and hard to define. After all, happiness means different things to different people. But it is exactly this edge that makes Malina’s work challenging and rewarding.
As she admits, it’s not about recipes and it’s not about force-feeding standard concepts to the masses. It’s more about getting to know the people, your ‘clients’, and making them feel safe with what you have to offer to the point where they open up and bare their souls. It’s not rare that after one of these events people burst into tears or have “aha” moments. So, more often than not, Malina’s job takes a very personal note, but this is inevitable when dealing with the fragile fabric of people’s emotions. As she puts it – ‘when you work with someone’s emotions, you have to be as careful as surgeon’.
The Institute for Happiness is centered on organising various happiness-related events and personal development programsMeasuring happiness
In a society that glorifies money and financial achievement, a lot of us may realise that our choices and priorities don’t make us happy. If anything, in fact, they seem to make us unhappy. That’s why, through the Institute’s projects, Malina has set a very ambitious goal for herself: increasing the Romanian population’s degree of happiness. Before you dismiss this as pretentious and unrealistic, you should know that happiness is in fact scalable: in July 2006, the New Economics Foundation introduced the Happy Planet Index measuring human well-being and environmental impact. And in April this year the United Nations released its own World Happiness Report, according to which the average income and GNP are closely linked to happiness. Even though a clear connection between economics and happiness is still mainly academic at this point there is a good chance that Malina’s goal may not be that far-off.