When I first met Mario several years ago in Boston, he’d always have a stack of Post-Its and a Sharpie with him. He wasn’t trying to keep up with his to-do list, he was using these simple tools to spread happiness. “What makes you happy?” is the question he’d ask friends, coworkers and even total strangers. He’d document the responses – now nearing 100,000 – and in his spare time arrange displays of these “Happy Posts” in offices and public spaces, as well as museums as art installations.
A native of Pasto, Colombia, Mario came to Boston by himself 10 years ago with only three months of savings – not knowing a word of English – to “change the world.” After earning his master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and spending several years in the corporate world, today he leads Make it Happy, an organization he founded with nine employees and offices in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Bogota, Colombia. As “chief happiness officer,” he oversees grassroots campaigns – such as A Million Ways to a Happier World, Cambridge Happy Streets and International Day of Happiness – to inspire a network of “optimistic rebels” to bring positive change to communities worldwide. He estimates Make it Happy initiatives have touched the lives of 95,000 people and generated 60 million media impressions throughout 30 countries.
Embracing the spirit of his “Tourist Attitude” campaign, Mario walked unannounced into the offices of LeadDog Marketing Group, a New York-based marketing agency, in December 2011 and shared his idea for creating an organization dedicated to generating social change through happiness. Impressed with his ambitious vision, LeadDog agreed to incubate his work and partner with him to create a happiness revolution, with the ultimate goal of building stronger families, more effective workplaces and more engaged citizens. Soon after, Make it Happy was born.
Having succeeded in transferring his passion into a full-time, paying career while still in his early 30s, Mario continually finds new ways to challenge himself – from taking a photo each day and sharing the accompanying story to participating in the Live Below the Line challenge, raising money for anti-poverty organizations while abstaining from spending any money for seven days. He also is planning a 10-city “happiness tour” across the U.S. this summer, scheduled to kick off July 4.
Mario’s challenge for the rest of us, however, is simple – think of happiness for just one minute every day for 30 days. Call your mom, buy a stranger a cup of coffee, or just ask yourself, “What makes me happy?”
The 10 questions
IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE?
Just one word: Happiness. Very predictable, right?
HOW HAS YOUR WORK CHANGED YOU?
I changed my life, and my work was part of my life. I created my own job on my own terms. I asked myself, “What makes you happy? What is your gift? How are you using your gift to make the world a better place?” and the work came naturally from there.
WHO IS YOUR LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE?
I am a fan of humankind. I truly believe in people, so it’s hard to pick just one. (Contributor note: I made him pick just one.) Vik Muni is a Brazilian artist doing beautiful work; he’s also the subject of the documentary film Waste Land. I would ask him, “How does he see the world in 2034?”
WHAT IS A BELIEF THAT IS CORE TO YOUR BEING?
I believe in people. I believe that everyone is unique and has unique talents and gifts. It is our responsibility to search for these talents within ourselves and share these gifts with others to create positivity in the world around us. When those gifts are shared, amazing things can happen.
WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY BE?
Being Happy Takes Balls. Let me explain. Being happy is like exercising. You need to keep doing it. It’s hard, and you have to work at it, just like eating right and getting enough sleep. You need to take your happiness seriously.
TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC?
I love “me” time. I have one afternoon each week of only me time. I wander around, and I get lost. And even I get grumpy sometimes.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CHANGE AGENTS?
Conventional wisdom says that achieving success allows you to be generous, and that being generous makes you happy. However, I encourage people to flip that. I believe generosity makes you happy, and being happy will make you successful.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR THOSE STRUGGLING TO BE HAPPY?
Eat well, sleep well and exercise. Do five minutes of daily meditation, and surround yourself with positive people. Do something that scares you.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INSPIRATIONAL SAYING?
“The meaning of life is to find your gift, and the purpose of life is to give it away.” – Pablo Picasso
WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE YOU “EXPIRE?”
I’d like to see a global holiday to celebrate happiness – a real holiday when you don’t have to go to work and can focus on being happy with your friends and family. I also want to go to the moon and get a dog (an Akita).