If you were asked about your priorities in life, I expect happiness would come pretty close to – or be first place at – the top of your list. Happiness means different things to different people, yet most people agree that the pursuit of happiness is an essential part of life. In spite of this, many of us find it difficult to make time for happiness; that of our own and that of those around us. This is one reason why it is so important that in 2012 The General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed 20 March the International Day of Happiness.
The aim of Day is to “recognise the relevance of happiness and wellbeing as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world”. On 20th March 2015 people around the world will have the opportunity to come together to celebrate happiness for the third time. Taking the time out to engage in the Day’s activities can help remind us to treat happiness as a priority in our own lives. This post summarises why celebrating happiness is important, and shares details of the exciting ways in which NOW will be celebrating International Day of Happiness this year.
Why celebrate happiness?
Some people may fear that its selfish to place too much focus on our own happiness. However, happiness is about more than just taking care of your own needs at all costs. Here at NOW we see personal happiness as part of a larger picture of holistic wellbeing. A person’s overall wellbeing depends on the wellbeing of the community in which they live and work, while the wellbeing of their community depends on the wellbeing of society as a whole and the long-term health of the natural world on which we all depend. So actions to promote wellbeing cannot simply be those that make individuals happier. One person’s wellbeing must support, not come at the expense of, others’ or the planet.
Yet, personal happiness nonetheless has a central role to play here. If we are seeking to support holistic wellbeing, this is not about subsuming the individual’s needs to those of the collective; in fact, caring effectively for your personal happiness can be done in a way that further supports the community you are based in, the society you are a part of, and the natural world which sustains all of our lives. Adopting this understanding requires a re-evaluation of what happiness truly means.
Here at NOW, we believe that lasting happiness and wellbeing for individuals comes not from what you buy, but from what you do and the connections you make; individuals cannot achieve wellbeing alone by acting in isolation. Much evidence has shown, for example, that connecting with others is vital for our wellbeing. This can go beyond just our immediate loved ones; having empathy and connections with strangers also has a powerful role to play. Plus, there are also many studies which show that giving to others can have remarkable improvements on our happiness levels too.
Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that happier people can live more sustainably within the Earth’s limits too. For example, Teresa Benton, author of Happier People, Healthier Planet, argues that: “it has been shown that those aspects of experience which most benefit wellbeing – such as, meaningful relationships, exercising one's creativity and spending time in natural surroundings – have little or nothing to do with material consumption. It therefore seems logical to suggest that those people with relatively high wellbeing are likely to live in ways that prioritise the non-material.”
On a wider societal level, a clear focus on happiness and wellbeing help to demonstrate the weaknesses of the way we currently measure societal progress; which is primarily through economic growth, as measured through Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Many have questioned the correlation between people’s happiness and GDP. More and more studies show that, once people have reached a certain income, GDP increases do not make them any happier. Furthermore, relying on GDP can lead us to ignore many important issues, such as climate change and inequality. Based on this mounting evidence, leaders should be called on to re-consider their obsession with economic growth, and focus on promoting wellbeing instead.
Seeing happiness as a part of this bigger picture of holistic wellbeing helps us to see that this focus is actually far from selfish; it can help us to engage with the wider issues facing us today. As the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in 2012 when establishing International Day of Happiness, “social, economic and environmental wellbeing are indivisible.”
How to celebrate International Day of Happiness?
NOW will be celebrating International Day of Happiness with a special Community Potluck in Totnes. The Community Potluck is a shared meal in which people contribute a dish to create a collaborative feast; the result is an enriching evening for individuals and community. This time around, we have an exciting line-up of entertainment, including the excellent poet Matt Harvey, local musicians, and some optional participative activities for children and adults, including seasonal crafts and a wellbeing tree. If you live in or around Totnes, please do join us at the Community Potluck celebrations!
If you live outside Totnes, don’t worry – there are still plenty of ways to get involved! Here is a summary of ideas for inspiration:
- You could run your own Community Potluck. Check out our Community Potluck Guidelines and get in touch to let us know if we can help. Whether at a large or small event, coming together to share food with others in your community can be a powerfully positive experience.
- Check out the International Day of Happiness campaign website, dayofhappiness.net, which is being coordinated by Action for Happiness and shares lots of useful guidance on many ways to get involved, including running “positive message flash mobs”. (We will be holding a positive message flash mob in Totnes too, so please join us if you can!).
- Follow and share content via social media on the hash tag #internationaldayofhappiness.
Plus, throughout the week leading up to International Day of Happiness we will share videos and blog posts further exploring this vision of holistic wellbeing. This will include inspiring video interviews with both Satish Kumar and Buddhist nun Sister Jewel, a guest blog post from Action for Happiness, and a post from NOW’s Director, Roger Higman. So, keep an eye on our blog during next week beginning 16th March for inspiration on happiness and wellbeing!
As you can see there are plenty of reasons to get involved in International Day of Happiness, and plenty of ways for you to do so. Please keep an eye on NOW’s social media channels for updates (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram) and please tag us in any International Day of Happiness content you’d like us to share. We’d love to hear from you and see how you are celebrating!
Images used in this post: Image 1 shared courtesy of Action for Happiness, images 2 and 3 via the Network of Wellbeing.