A FEW years ago, Ernie Ross was sitting in his office on Gray Street, St Clair, mulling over his legacy. “I was talking to one of my friends and I said, I wonder if I’m leaving behind enough for Lael-Ann,” he told Newsday, referring to his 17-year-old daughter. Quite flippantly, one of his employees chimed in, “It’s not what you leave for her, it’s what you leave with her.”
That was his “moment of epiphany” as he describes it: the moment his consciousness shifted from material goals and ambitions to a more altruistic ideal. Ross was going to spread happiness and kindness to everyone with whom he interacted.
With Lael-Ann, he started encouraging “random acts of kindness,” talking to strangers in airports, and giving them money and other presents, listening, sharing and leaving them with only one request: Pass that feeling of kindness on.
His special mission for his adopted homeland, Trinidad (Ross is originally from Guyana), is to create a “shift in consciousness and conscience.”
He launched the ReThink Group — an off-shoot of his flagship Ross Advertising —to help, in his words, “change the way we see the world, because then we can begin to change the way we feel.” The consultancy, which seeks to help people find their happiness, opened its doors on March 20, 2013.
The date wasn’t co-incidental — March 20 also happens to be the UN-declared International Day of Happiness.
Is TT Still A Happy Nation?
The UN’s Happiness Index, which measures happiness taking into account, among other things, living conditions, satisfaction and general well-being.
This year’s report ranks TT as 38 out of 156 countries, and the happiest in the Caribbean, with an index of 6.192.
While this seems great, the index also considers how happiness has changed over the decade, from how the country improved (or faltered) in the period 2008-2010, compared to now. On that scale, the country ranks 122, with an average happiness drop of about 0.5 points.
Ross acknowledged there may be strife in society, but he wanted to share a message of hope. He called speaking with a friend from the US who studied conflict resolution.
“This man has studied ethnic conflict and tension all around the world. He was amazed by how well this society has integrated.
It was something he’s never seen anywhere else. What we might call tension is nothing compared to other places.
All he could see as an outsider and an observer was how well we got along together.”
That resilience, Ross said, was the secret to Trini’s happiness.
Sharing the Joy
Ross then, wants to celebrate that.
For the fifth year running, he and his employees will spread the love this World Day of Happiness, giving out free bake and shark (provided by Richard’s of Maracas), doubles and coffee to anyone who shows up to their office on the corner of Grey and Alcazar Streets in St Clair between 6 am and 10 am. “Before work, as you stand in that line, we want you to contemplate happiness,” he said.
Last year, the crowd ranged in the thousands. This year, they expect even more. There will also be a screening of Disney’s Moana in Adam Smith Square, starting at 6.30 pm. Last year, Ross and ReThink shouldered the majority of the cost, although for each bake and shark they bought, Richard’s matched it with a donation of one more. This year, ANSA McAL has made a major financial donation.
Ross is happy to inspire corporations to contribute to giving back, and hopes to encourage more people to make the event country-wide. As for patrons, with each free meal, they get a call card with a note to pass on the kindness. That’s the only price Ross asks.