While some may deem happiness the silly, featherweight dominion of pop songs and animated movies—grumps may even criticize the quest for it as selfish—joy and well-being are serious business.
“Happiness is not a frivolity or a luxury,” says Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general for the United Nations. Research has shown that happy people are healthier, live longer, give back more to their community, cultivate stronger family and social ties, and even make more money. The very stability and well-being of every family, school, neighborhod, town, state and country—indeed, nothing less than the future of humankind and our planet—depends on our personal happiness.
Life, Liberty and the…
The pursuit of happiness has been recognized as a right in the United States since the country’s inception, but in 2011, the United Nations acknowledged happiness as “a universal goal and aspiration,” one that should be encouraged and supported by the highest laws of every land. In 2012, all 193 member states of the U.N. General Assembly agreed to declare an International Day of Happiness, to be celebrated annually on March 20.
“[Happiness] is a deep-seated yearning shared by all members of the human family. It should be denied to no one and available to all,” Ki-moon wrote last year in his message for the day. The International Day of Happiness is a chance to remind the global community that the well-being of a people does not depend solely on the gross domestic product (GDP) of their nation (in fact, the opposite is true: The GDP of a nation is determined in large measures by the well-being of its inhabitants, say economic psychologists such as Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D.).
“In the West, we have more financial security and creature comforts than at any point in history, yet our overall life satisfaction has not increased, and our rates of depression continually rise,” says Vanessa King of ActionforHappiness.org, a nonprofit group and U.N. partner. “We need to think more broadly than materialistic growth and think about growth in other areas.”
The field of positive psychology, led by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., author of Learned Optimism, Authentic Happiness and Flourish, has evolved to do just that. By researching how our strengths can work for us (rather than how our weaknesses may work against us), positive psychologists have amassed a portfolio of evidence-based ways to increase what scientists call “subjective well-being” (SWB) and we call “happiness.”
Ways to Practice Happiness
Expressing gratitude, performing random acts of kindness, exercising, making time for friends… all intuitive feel-good activities that can make a measurable difference in your life. King, who studied with Seligman at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, synthesized the data into 10 simple steps—and a wonderful acronym, GREAT DREAM—that we can all take to create happiness in our lives and the lives of others.
So think of this March 20, the third annual International Day of Happiness, as kicking off not just 24 hours but a year—and a lifetime, hopefully—of positivity, meaning, satisfaction and joy. The changes you make in your own life will feel good, for sure, but they’ll also have a ripple effect that will influence your friends, your co-workers, your kids… and their friends, co-workers and kids. “This stuff is catching,” King says. “When you’re around people who are pessimistic, you start to get down, too.” Luckily, the reverse is also true. International happiness, now and in the future, depends on you. And it starts today.
The International Day of Happiness is March 20. Join the movement and find more ways to celebrate at happyacts.org.