What does International Day of Happiness mean to you?

Here we are again – another year, another day, another International Day of Happiness. Great, sounds important, but is it? I wonder what it means to you?

When we talk about happiness are we talking about the same thing? It’s a powerful attention grabbing word but can easily get dismissed as being a bit woolly and therefore irrelevant for serious debate. See my “What is Happiness” blog post

Perhaps it helps you stop and think about whether your happy or not. Perhaps from the abundance of information shared on social media about happiness you learn something you didn’t know before that is an important contributor to happiness. Perhaps it inspires you to refocus how you live your life. Or perhaps it’s not even about you and I, but a reminder to them, those that govern our countries, to enact policies that are happiness maximising (for everyone) rather than economy maximising.

However, perhaps you feel miserable at the idea of an International Day of Happiness? Perhaps an International Day of Happiness appears trite to you? Or even laughable – is it after all just a reminder to be happy?

Often International Day of Happiness is the time of year where people who have been immersed in creating a happiness policy agenda over the years give happiness a big push on social media, and maybe use it as an opportunity to launch specific happiness projects. Happiness will be in the news more than usual.

World happiness report
Each year the World Happiness Report is released on International Day of Happiness. This years report focuses on migration.

Normally I might share something small. I sort of feel a sense of obligation to participate given all the work I’ve done both professionally and personally around happiness. I’ve sometimes felt quite excited by the buzz that is created around the day, only to feel more than a bit frustrated the next day when I realise it’s pretty much back to business, quite literally, in the days that follow.

I’ve not previously written something on my blog specifically with a focus on World Day of Happiness before because I’ve never been sure what I would say. Actually I’ve felt too confused to say anything meaningful about International Day of Happiness. All those suggestions I made earlier about what it might mean to you are all points of views that I hold to some degree myself – a mix of hopefulness and scepticism.

Do people need to be reminded to be happy?

Happiness seems so self-evidently important. If you are not convinced, then I’m sure a conversation with nearly anyone should reveal just how important happiness is. I feel some sadness that I live in a society where there seems to be a need to remind one another of something so important. I don’t feel this sadness because it is so obvious and therefore doesn’t need mentioning, but rather because despite the importance of happiness we make choices and create environments for ourselves and each other that do not seem to be conducive for greater happiness. Thus in the sense that we are often so far away from happiness then happiness does need mentioning, and I certainly feel sad about that.

The first International Day of Happiness was brought into being by the United Nations in 2013 with the intention of advancing the global happiness movement and is recognised by all member. states each year on the 20th March – the equinox. This years International Day of Happiness marks 50 years (and two days) on from the day that Robert Kennedy said something profound, yet seemingly quite obvious, about how we gauge the success of our societies. Implicit within his speech was a critique of the obsession around income growth and in particular Gross National Product.

GDP speech

I’d like to think that 50 years on the obsession has lessened, but it doesn’t appear to me to have, and some might even say we are collectively more obsessed with income growth than ever. Yet over the last 50 years there has been plenty of research backing up Robert’s words, including research showing that income growth does not necessarily go hand in hand with happiness. Even if there is a clear link, as some have argued there is, then the effects are actually so small as to be largely irrelevant to happiness when compared to other factors. Factors, such as the quality of our relationships, mental and physical health, personality, and job stability, which may themselves be eroded in the pursuit of ever higher incomes.

Thus International Day of Happiness is about reminding ourselves, and perhaps in particular those making policy decisions that affect our day-to day lives, that perhaps we should try other ways. But it is just a day and happiness – the deep grounded sort rather than the fleeting temporary sort – is a lifetimes work, and having a day devoted to “happiness”, which to me does sound a little trite, isn’t probably going to change that much. In fact, it may just be enough to appease those trying to give a strong voice to something that is actually very important.

I’m not actually sure, I’m still confused, but I would really like to hear what it means for others – whatever that might be. So, what does International Day of Happiness mean to you?

I wrote this whilst in Cali, Colombia. I’m currently on a cycling pilgrimage to Bhutan as I became frustrated with all the talk around happiness but limited action – perhaps most acutely in my own life and so I left my role as an academic researcher into happiness. I’m trying to find other ways of expressing ideas about happiness and well-being. I invite you to like, share, or comment on this post, or follow my journey through signing up for future posts, or following me on Twitter or Facebook.



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