Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Celebrating the very first International Day of Happiness: 20 March

Happiness Goes Global -- How Will You Celebrate International Day of Happiness? 

Randy Taran

How many times a year do you get an excuse to celebrate happiness? Why not right now? The UN has declared March 20, 2013 to be the first International Day of Happiness. Why happiness now? More and more, people are asking what is the definition of human "progress," and recognizing that it must include happiness and well-being, not just bottom line economic growth. The good news is that it that you don't need to go searching for the secret happiness sauce -- you already have everything you need to ignite happiness within yourself and influence those around you. Exercise your happiness; this is your day!

International Day of Happiness gained momentum after the Hon. Jigme Thinley of Bhutan, the country that pioneered the concept of Gross National Happiness, inspired the Assembly to introduce a UN Resolution to consider the greater happiness of a country's citizens. In an unforgettable conversation we shared at the Rio+ Conference, he spoke of his goal of countries coming together in a new vision for global happiness, which starts with each individual. Inspired by Bhutan's call to action, a UN conference on happiness and well-being was held, leading to 193 countries to unanimously sanction the equinox day of March 20 as the first International Day of Happiness. Now the world is on board and you can be too!

How to Get Involved?
While nations are gradually introducing happiness and well-being as an important part of sustainable development, it's exciting to see that individual citizens are mobilizing to take their happiness into their own hands too. Project Happiness, which teaches the skills for greater well-being to students around the world, is working with Action for Happiness, an organization based in the UK, that is bringing together a network of like-minded organizations and people to expand happiness everywhere. One of the quickest ways to get involved is to celebrate acts of generosity, kindness, enthusiasm and connection -- focused on bringing happiness to others. It's easier than one may think to ACT:
A: Affirm the pledge -- make a personal pledge to create more happiness in the world
C: Cheer Happy Heroes -- celebrate the people who bring happiness to you and others
T: Take part -- do something to mark the day and spread some happiness
Wherever you are in the world you can take part on the International Day of Happiness by:
Cheering your Happy Heroes or using the #happyheroes hashtag on Twitter
• Sharing what you're doing on the day using Cheers or the #happyday hashtag on Twitter.
Because your sense of well-being influences others more than you know, it makes sense that as you increase your happiness, it positively affects those around you. Why not make International Happiness Day the start of a year where you commit to well-being, positivity and gratitude? It will uplift your outlook and ripple out to those you care about too. You know about the benefits of exercise, sleep and food that give you energy. Here are a few other ideas to get started. The cost is nothing but your desire, and the pay offs are enormous:

5 Ways to Activate Your Happiness:

1. Kindness Counts: Research shows that people who did five acts of kindness per week over six weeks experienced increased happiness and other positive consequences. You don't have to practice this every day to discover that being kind to others makes you happier. When has this shown up for you?

2. Time for Happiness: Rather than linking money and happiness, we are better off examining the relationship between time and happiness in our lives. We can be happier by following these time-spending happiness rules: "1) spend time with the right people; 2) spend time on the right activities; 3) be aware that happiness changes over time." What times in your life have brought you unforgettable happiness?

3. Feel the Flow: When hours feel like minutes and you are totally absorbed in what you are doing, you are in a "flow" state. Athletes call it being "in the zone." Research shows that flow state happens when you have the right ratio of challenge to skill level, i.e., when you're challenged just enough to engage your skill set at the appropriate level. What makes you feel that way?

4. Mindset Matters: When something bad happens you can either choose to put yourself down and succumb to the "inner critic" or look into what there is to learn from the situation. If a presentation didn't go well, you can either say: "I'm always bad at this type of thing" (Dr. Carol Dweck calls this the fixed mindset) or: "It happens; next time I'll prepare and practice more," (the growth mindset). Which perspective will you choose?

5. Count Your Blessings: Practicing gratitude and visualizing your best positive self help increase and sustain positive emotion. Those making daily gratitude lists (even 1-3 things that you are grateful for) reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. Worth a shot?

Make International Day of Happiness your personal day to celebrate the happiness already in your life, expand on that and share it with others. Think of it as fuel for a better world. Research shows that happiness is contagious, and even small acts create big ripples of change. You are the change you've been waiting for.
What advice would you give someone who longs for a happier world?
For more by Randy Taran, click here.
For more on happiness, click here.
Why Happiness Should Be a Global Priority 

Richard Layard

This Wednesday sees the very first United Nations International Day of Happiness, which is being celebrated around the world on 20 March. This follows a recent resolution adopted by all members of the UN General Assembly calling for happiness to be given a greater priority. So why are people now taking happiness so seriously at national and global levels?

Happiness means the quality of life as each person experiences it. This is a key outcome in itself and is an important measure of success for any country, regardless of the level of economic development. It tells us whether people are leading lives they find satisfying and fulfilling. So information on the causes of happiness helps policy-makers to choose policy goals that serve the real needs of their people.

But, in addition, happiness is a major determinant of the other goals that policy-makers care about. Personal resilience predicts educational performance better than IQ does; and higher wellbeing improves work performance and workers' earnings. By contrast depression and anxiety account for 40% of underperformance at work, 40% of time off work and 40% of disability. Their overall cost amounts to some 10% of GDP. Greater happiness increases life expectancy; by contrast depression reduces life expectancy as much as smoking does. So happiness is a major contributor to many of our most important social goals.

As a result of 30 years of research, we now know a lot about what affects happiness. The main influences are economic, personal/social and environmental. On the economic front, income is important in every country, and poverty is a major source of unhappiness. But it is not the only thing that matters. In most countries income explains less than 2% of the overall variance in happiness (the other identifiable factors explain about 20%). Across countries, income differences explain about 6% of the differences in average happiness, while social factors explain a great deal more. Work is also vital for happiness and its importance goes well beyond the income which it provides. Education is also important, largely as a factor affecting productivity, income, employment and health.

Turning to personal/social determinants of happiness, the most important in developed countries is mental health. In these countries it accounts for 40% of all illness (weighted by severity) - more than heart disease, cancer, lung disease and diabetes all combined. It is also largely a disease of working age so that it has massive economic consequences, while physical illness is more concentrated in later life. In poorer countries by contrast physical illness has major impacts at every age but mental illness remains an equally important cause of low wellbeing.

Another crucial determinant of happiness is the quality of human relationships - above all in the family but also in the community and at work. Secure employment is vital for those who want to work and personal security against violence is vital for everyone. Good governance is essential too - wellbeing studies show the corrosive effect of corruption, and the crucial role of personal freedom and the rule of law.

Finally comes the environment. Research shows clearly the importance of today's environment for people who are alive today - including housing, urban design, transport systems, and green space. But the environment is also important in a quite different sense, since how we treat the planet today determines the world which future generations will inhabit. So when we are considering happiness and quality of life, we must take into account those future generations as well as our own.
The implications of all this evidence are far reaching. Here are six of the most important actions which are required if we want to create a happier society:
  • Mental Health. Evidence-based treatment should be as available for mental illness (including depression and anxiety disorders) as it is for physical illness.
  • Economic Policy. Employment is so important that no risks should be taken with economic stability, simply in order to increase economic growth.
  • Communities. Measures to promote economic growth should be accompanied by explicit policies to sustain social cohesion, stable family life, and personal security.
  • Equality. More equal incomes are desirable because extra money improves wellbeing more for the poor than the rich. Moreover a greater spirit of equality in a country increases mutual respect and trust, which are crucial for wellbeing.
  • Schools. Schools should aim explicitly at developing young people who are emotionally resilient and eager to contribute to the social good.
  • Families. Stable families are so important that every society needs its own system of support for couples in conflict.
Governments should make the happiness of the people the main outcome which they pursue. As Thomas Jefferson said "The care of human life and happiness... is the only legitimate object of good government". That is why there is now a growing demand to include subjective wellbeing in the new post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

But, perhaps most importantly of all, we need to encourage a more empathic and caring culture, where people care less about what they can get for themselves and more about the happiness of others.

This is why I'm supporting the Day of Happiness, when Action for Happiness is encouraging people everywhere to make a personal pledge to live in a way that contributes to the happiness of others. If more of us made that our central purpose in life we would have a far happier and more cohesive world.