Living a Big Idea

By many measures, American society is fragmented and discontented.

According to the U.N.’s World Happiness Report, the USA is “a story of reduced happiness,” slipping 16 spots in nine years, despite economic gains.

And that might not change any time soon, given that our largest living generation—millennials—is described as the “most stressed demographic” by the American Psychological Association. While creating a new culture of communication, technology has also created insatiable needs for short-term gratification, and discouraged cohesion through traditional community institutions.

The result?

As a recent Observer headline put it, “In Western World, Fragmentation is the New Normal.

For more than 30 years, working as educator in a classroom learning environment as well as community settings, I have seen the problem of disconnection grow more and more acute.

So, what can help to change the paradigm for individuals and communities?

Recombination is a start, and leading social thinkers have begun introducing initiatives along these lines:

Schools like Harvard, Stanford and Notre Dame are welcoming Baby Boomers back to the classroom, mingling ages and outlooks to offer new perspectives and support.

Non-profits like Dinner for Twelve Strangers and One Table are bringing people together around mealtime, in new configurations to meet new people.

Companies from Morgan Stanley to Hitachi are pursuing “double-bottom line” or “impact investing” strategies, to care for social good as well as individual profit, fostering a new sense of purpose among their employees and investors.

But I think we need more.

That’s what Craig Saloner, a visionary innovator in San Diego, said when he approached me about his new project, a holistic, immersive experiment in which we live where we learn and learn where we live.

It’s called “Campus of Life,” and offers residences together with extraordinary cultural and learning options for ever-growing minds.

I signed on as Dean immediately, and have spent the last months developing a curriculum and environment for the whole person and whole community to thrive.

At the Campus of Life, you’ll be able to walk out of your front door and cross the yard to a yoga class in the middle of the forest.

You will join your neighbors for a cooking class and bring the food home for dinner still hot.

You will enroll in “The Art of Conversation,” and practice with resident-students of all ages.

It is a departure from traditional notions of education. It’s more like a wellness retreat, a foodie convention, an academic conference, a creative expo, and a civic action project all rolled into one. It’s a way to LIVE a big idea.

San Diego is the perfect place to pilot this new vision.

After all, it’s already on the list of happiest places in the U.S., according to National Geographic, for possessing the factors that Campus of Life seeks to foster: frequent smiles and laughter, easy socializing, green spaces, and purposeful progress towards life goals.

It’s a fertile place to start to seed a national movement that embraces a new way of life—that combines personal freedom and social support to rediscover happiness, connection, and fulfillment.

About the Author
Ilana De Laney has spent her entire career—more than 20 years—teaching and creating educational programs that meet community needs. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Tel Aviv University, her Master’s from the University of Judaism, and PhD from Nova Southwestern University. Her focus is always on the building the whole person, and fostering a collaborative growth environment.
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