THE BLOG

The True Meaning of Happiness

01/17/2013 02:46 pm ET | Updated Mar 19, 2013

It is unlikely for the words "suicide" and "happy" to be used in the same sentence.

One is almost always mentioned with descriptions that include the words "tragic," "unexpected" and "sad." Whereas the other represents something we all desire and are in pursuit of achieving. Nonetheless, the connection between the two words exists. The true essence of happiness comes from feeling connected, understood and heard -- feelings that are also the building blocks of suicide prevention.

Creating that connection was the design behind Samaritans' new Happier Boston campaign. We want to promote the benefits of befriending, which is at the core of our services -- outside of our 24/7 crisis phone room, and outside of our active suicide interventions. Everyone deserves to be happy, including those who struggle, and everyone benefits from an increase in human connection, not just those who are suicidal. Through a series of acts of kindness and different "social experiments," we intend to invite a smile and remind the community that Samaritans is always there, 24 hours a day, to listen to those in need.

We targeted one of our first social experiments toward the toughest group of Bostonians we could think of: the morning MBTA commuter, in the winter. Recently a group of Samaritans volunteers stood at North Station in bright colored shirts with signs, welcoming passengers as they arrived to the platform. To be honest, we were unsure of the response that we were going to receive from this demographic. Ok, in truth, we were afraid we'd be met with frowns, if not entirely ignored. But to our surprise, we started to get high-fives from strangers, some taking pictures and others shouting,"Thank you -- you should be here every day." Not only did this event make a positive impact on the commuters, but it also affected our group positively as well. We felt energized and filled with gratitude to do this work. We couldn't help but grin from ear to ear and that energy was contagious.

It is these connections that we strive to make every day at Samaritans. We answer more than 10,000 crisis line calls each month. What we hear is the pain of people struggling because of the economy, estranged from families, suffering from the end of a relationship or from the loss of a loved one -- sometimes to suicide. But rather than being saddened or burned out by the sadness we encounter, Samaritans staff and volunteers are empowered by the hope that is created each time a human connection is made. Each day we are blessed by the ability to provide help that might be needed to save a life. Each time a school calls and lets us know that a student self-identified as "being at risk" because of our outreach, we know that we are doing important work.

The Happier Boston campaign aims to create the gift of compassion and hope with every encounter and make these qualities a part of our community's larger conversation. You never know when you may run into one of our pop-up social experiments. If you work or live in Boston, a surprise sing-a-long A cappella performance during an elevator ride, a blues concert where you'd least expect it or the offering of a sunny sweet orange on the street is likely in your future.

At Samaritans, our vision is for a community in which fewer people die by suicide. All of our programs are working toward that end, but we need to do more. Simple acts of kindness alone won't save lives, but talking about issues of happiness and suicide in a frank and open way makes our community a healthier and happier place to live.

In my experience, any time someone is doing what they can to prevent a suicide, comforting those impacted by such a loss, or educating others on what to know about this important issue, they are working towards the true meaning of happiness.

Samaritans is a suicide prevention and support organization that serves the greater Boston and MetroWest communities, happierboston.org.