By Don Campbell
Politics and city management can boil anyone’s tea kettle over. For Mosier mayor Arlene Burns, it’s more about creating an environment in which you truly want to live.
Burns is into her second term as mayor of the tiny burg between Hood River and The Dalles, after serving on the city council. She participated in last year’s inaugural Gorge Happiness Month, capturing various participants and activities on video for event coordinator Emily Reed. She was struck by how multifaceted it was, permeating five counties in two states. “Everywhere it brought smiles to people,” she said. “At one restaurant Cascade Locks, they gave away hugs.”
She feels strongly that the month-long celebration “permeates many cultural groups within the community,” she said. “It was a tremendous effort.”
This year, she has been an active participant in the event, utilizing the smartphone app to log her endeavors within the Daily Three. In the gorge, she said, “We’re blessed with a multitude of options, often more than can possibly be achieved. Some of the things we’re offering to the community get lost in the wash because everybody is so busy in their individual lives.”
Burns said the entire city council decided to participate in the Happiness month. “So at every city council meeting during the month of October,” she said, “we went around the room and ask everyone attending the meeting what their gratitudes were, including the guys from ODOT [Oregon Department of Transportation] who happened to be doing a presentation, the councilors, and even including the sheriff.” Not what you’d normally expect in a governmental meeting.
“The business of leading and running of our town,” she said, “can be done and can also be fun.” She believes that happier communities are healthier communities. “We in the gorge are innately happy,” she offered, “because we are part of a wonderful and diverse community and live in such a beautiful place.”
There is much change and growth afoot in Mosier, and Burns took the October program to practice the Daily Three in the interest of wanting to be the change and to essentially create a template of happiness and of how to be a sustainable community.
She practiced her gratitudes almost daily, dictating them conveniently into her phone app. “It made me more aware of my daily habits,” she said, and reinforced her innate philosophy of “doing what you can, when you can, how you can,” she said.
As well she recorded her acts of kindness. Part of the daily tasks were to get in touch with people to whom she hadn’t reached out recently, “Just to let them know I was thinking about them,” she said. “That’s been nice, a little external projection.”
And unless she doesn’t leave her house, it’s not hard to come up with daily acts of kindness. “It’s not hard to be kind out in the world in whatever we do,” she said. “I’m already engaged with people around me, and not living in a bubble.”
She finds solace and silence at the end of her day, alone in her hot tub, where she practices meditation and gentle yoga. “It’s where I say goodbye to the day,” she said. “It’s OK to be angry, but don’t let your anger go down with the sun. Whatever has happened in the day, wash it off before you sleep. I do that every night, so it’s not that hard to do. I have a couple of different times in the day where I take a moment and just reflect.”
The month helped Burns affirm what she’s already doing toward her own happiness. But, true to her egalitarian nature and activism, she cites what’s been done in Wasco County, where county government adopted a “100 Percent Love” philosophy that has been recognized by the National Association of Counties for its culture initiative adopted last year.
The gist is to “aid in healing among sometimes divisive factions of employees by using 100 percent love as a guiding principle, both internally and how staffers interacted with the general public,” according to an article in The Dalles Chronicle.
It fits with how Burns views city government’s role in Mosier. “The only change we can manifest is at a grassroots level,” she said. “It feels to me that you get so much more out of love than you do with fear or obligation.”
With a little happiness mixed in.