PUTNEY -- America has a lot of issues to face.
Unemployment. Global warming. Reliance on fossil fuels. Poverty and hunger.
Linda Wheatley and Paula Francis know there is no shortage of causes to get behind, but before any of the more weighty issues can be addressed the two Central Vermont women think this country needs to start thinking about one of its most important and undervalued resources: Happiness.
It's right there in the Declaration of Independence, "The pursuit of happiness," the two explained as they stopped in Putney this weekend during the start of their 44-day, 593 mile walk to Washington to bring attention to their call for a new set of progress indicators for this country.
"Our way of measuring progress is unsustainable," Wheatley said as the two old friends took a break at the Putney Co-op Saturday afternoon. "We measure wealth and productivity but that doesn't enhance the level of happiness. That's what we should be working toward."
The two left Stowe on Saturday, Aug. 25, and plan to walk to the nation's capital, arriving on Oct. 8, to help gather support for their nonprofit organization, Gross National Happiness USA.
They say many of the country's problems stem back to its obsession of measuring progress by the Gross National Product.
As GDP goes up, so does carbon emissions and the gap between the wealthy and everyone else; that gap seems to grow anytime the economy does well.
Wheatley and Francis believe that just as the government presently measures the GDP, which drives other factors, a new focus on measuring how happy the people are will force the government to develop policies that contribute to happiness.
"We want people to start having this conversation," Wheatley said. "If we put all of the energy into happiness that we now put into consumption and productivity, it would be pretty incredible."
The two are walking about 15 to 20 miles each day, staying with friends and supporters along the way.
They are relying on the kindness of strangers, occasionally, such as this past Friday night when they walked in to Saxtons River without a plan.
They met Saxtons River Inn owner Bob Thomson who listened to their story and then offered them a room at the Inn.
Thomson even drove into Brattleboro to pick up some blister-care supplies for their tired feet.
Along with bringing attention to their cause, Wheatley and Francis say they are taking time during their walk to stop and talk with people, and gather information on how Americans feel about happiness.
They are keeping a blog, and recording and filming some of their interactions.
"When you engage people they want to talk about this," said Wheatley. "We haven't met anyone yet who doesn't want to be happy."
The idea of measuring a country's well-being based on its population's happiness grew out of the nation of Bhutan, which promoted the concept as it was opening itself up to modernization in the 1970s.
Groups around the world have embraced the idea and earlier this year the United Nations declared March 20 as The International Day of Happiness.
"This is an idea that has found its time," Francis said. "People around the world are talking about happiness as if happiness really mattered."
Both woman know the U.S. has a long way to go in refocusing its well-being indicators, but they are hopeful about the future.
They say the next generation will be forced to reconsider its desires as resources dwindle and the economy shifts.
And Francis said that while it will take more than a 600 mile walk to change things, it seems like as good a place to start as any.
"We are hoping to walk and talk to people and start the conversation. And then the real work will start," Francis said. "We can stay at home and be frightened and hope it gets better, but I'd rather put my energy into something positive. Everything you do matters."
For more information on the walk, and to follow the two as they make their way to Washington, visit www.happinesswalk.com.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279. Follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.