Happiness Is A Choice, And We All Have A Part To Play

By Drew Bonfiglio – Emzingo

As one of the co-founders of Emzingo, I often get asked to share my story and how Emzingo came to be. I’d like to share a little bit of that story with you today.

The single most profound shift in my mindset – one that would ultimately lead me to Emzingo – came during a volunteer trip to Honduras with the South Orlando Rotary Club in 2008. I was in the middle of B-school applications, had been very involved other community initiatives in Florida where I was living, and worked on a several environmental initiatives at my day job at Lockheed Martin. All this to say that mind was open and yearning for something profound and meaningful in my life. Some people are blindsided. Some are born with it. Some are seeking a change – like me. So this trip came at the perfect time.

The group I went with supported a dental clinic in one of the poorest areas near San Pedro Sula. There were a few US dentists who actually knew what they were doing and could train the staff and serve those in need. The rest were volunteers. We helped hand out eyeglasses the Lions Club had donated, clean up the area around the clinic, set up office and dental supplies indoors and entertain young kids while their parents were getting dental check-ups. It was making people happy and impacting a handful of people greatly (imagine being 60+ years old and seeing well for the first time in decades or getting a painful tooth removed that had been nagging for weeks or months). Emzingo’s work tends to be more strategic and skills-based, but for me at that time, exposure was all I needed to set me on a path that would lead to my arrival in South Africa just two years later.

Happiness - Line for Dental Clinic

The line at the dental clinic in Honduras


Reflecting on this experience over 6+ years out, I think the reason this volunteer experience had such a powerful impact was because I came to believe one truth about two things: happiness and making a difference are a choice and 100% up to me (or anyone for that matter). As Shawn Achor said in his TED talk, “Scientifically, happiness is a choice.” And I saw a ton of people who had a lot less than I did who were incredibly positive and happy. And secondly, it became so obvious to me that everyone has a part to play in making the world a better place and it is up to each individual, every day to do that. You can dedicate your life to social work, perform a random act of kindness, join Emzingo, volunteer in your community, or become the version of Bill Gates that founded and runs the Gates Foundation. I returned from this trip thinking: “Stop making excuses and go do something!”

Fast-forward 6-8 months to Madrid. With that final thought in the back of my mind, I was vocal to my classmates at IE Business School about my interest in people development and social impact. A classmate told me I should connect with Ramon. About 15 minutes into a conversation over a beer at lunch, Ramon mentioned the notion of combining leadership development with cultural immersion. I wouldn’t let any other part of the conversation continue (although you can ask Ramon about his online sneaker exchange that I passed on for Emzingo). We spent the next year refining the idea and a few months after graduation I was in South Africa to get Emzingo off the ground.

In closing, I challenge you to think about how your attitude and outlook can help you be happier and contribute to making the world around you better for others… after all, it is a choice.

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