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Employee Spotlight

Happiness and the Good Life

Whether he is coursing down river rapids in a raft, hiking through the majestic red rocks of Southern Utah, or zipping through the mountains on his mountain bike, Mark Widmer loves being outdoors. Now, as a professor of experience design and management at the BYU Marriott School of Business, he finds ways to combine his love of wilderness exploration with the principles of experience design.

 Mark Widmer
Mark Widmer

Many of Widmer’s favorite memories involve his wilderness trips with BYU undergraduate students and at-risk youth. Even at a young age, Widmer knew he wanted to help troubled teenagers. “I grew up in a small town in the mountains of Northern California. As a teenager, I noticed several kids were yearning to be accepted and fit in,” he says. “Many of them made poor decisions that led to bad outcomes. I frequently wondered, ‘How can I help kids like that find a better path?’ I've always been interested in happiness and what leads to a good life.”

Years later as he began his career, Widmer found a way to help troubled youth by utilizing his knowledge and experience with outdoor activities. “In 2005, I helped Mathew Duerden, a fellow ExDM professor who was a graduate student at the time, and some of our colleagues at BYU develop a program called Camp WILD,” he says. “The program was sponsored by a BYU mentoring grant and an anonymous donor, and ran for four years, from 2004 to 2008. Each year, we recruited about twenty BYU students, trained them, and took them to Idaho to help us run the program. We brought in teenagers from Utah Valley who struggled academically and designed several outdoor activities for them, such as whitewater rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, and plant identification.”

The experiences at Camp WILD led Widmer and Duerden to start a new company with the help of other BYU Marriott professors. Their company, Beta Experiences, teaches motivating and positive principles to individuals, families, and companies through outdoor adventures. “We aim to help companies learn how to lead strategic change, become more resilient, and build company culture. We also teach individuals how they can obtain greater self-reliance and personal happiness.” he says. “We've designed and hosted programs in Utah, California, New York, and North Carolina, as well as Turkey, Spain, and Canada.”

Widmer currently teaches Razor’s Edge, a class in BYU Marriott’s MBA and EMBA programs that helps students better understand motivation, apply positive psychology, and create a happy life. “I try to teach my students that if they're thoughtful and intentional, they can create a fulfilling and meaningful life for themselves, their families, and their employees,” he says.

Widmer family
Widmer and his family.
Photo courtesy of Mark Widmer.

For Widmer, one of the most memorable experiences he’s had related to Razor’s Edge was on the three-hour bus ride to Southern Utah. “Our students are incredibly successful in life, but we noticed that many of them aren’t comfortable facilitating connections with other people,” Widmer says. “We take a trip to Moab every year, and during the ride there, we encourage the students to open up and talk to one another. One thing we want them to take away from the class is that initiating, developing, and maintaining relationships is key to happiness in your career.

“A few years ago, on one of these bus rides, we asked the students to talk about one of their biggest challenges in life,” says Widmer. “One student said that he struggled in high school because his parents got divorced. Luckily, his friend’s family took him under their wings. They were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and eventually their influence led him to join the church and attend BYU.

“The student added that he was from Eugene, Oregon, and I have some nephews who live there, so I asked if he knew them,” Widmer continues. “We were both surprised to discover that my nephews were the kids who took him into their home, which was such a cool connection. I never would’ve found that out if we hadn’t started a genuine conversation, and that’s exactly what we want the students to learn how to do.”

 Mark Widmer rockclimbing
Widmer enjoys all types of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, and rock climbing.
Photo courtesy of Mark Widmer.

In addition to learning how to make these connections, Widmer hopes his students leave his class knowing how to intentionally create a happy life. “People often ask, ‘Where am I going to find happiness? Where am I going to find meaning?’ The reality is, most of us don't go and find happiness; we create it,” he says. “At the end of the day, we find happiness in the way that the scriptures teach—by recognizing that there can be joy during misery and in hard times, as there should be. We just have to strive to create our happiness, even when things are rough.”


Writer: Sarah Calvert