International Day of Happiness In April last year, the United Nations held its first conference on happiness and wellbeing in New York City. The conference introduced the concept of “Gross National Happiness” which I have to say made me very...
There are two reasons I've drawn a huge circle around March 20 on my calendar. The third Thursday of the third month is the first day of spring -- my favorite season. And, more importantly, March 20 is International Day of Happiness, a holiday commissioned by the General Assembly of the United Nations to raise awareness that well-being and happiness are fundamental to human life.
Both events celebrate new beginnings. Spring brings new life. International Day of Happiness brings new understanding.
When we inhale the heady perfume of baby grass and spring's first flowers, we feel a lift -- we're happy for the experience. When we decide to make gratitude or forgiveness or generosity a priority, we also feel happiness. Are the two linked? I think so.
Both the advent of spring and International Day of Happiness have basis in natural science. One is caused by the tilting and orbit of our planet. The other, while a man-made invention, underscores the fact that we are hardwired for happiness. Mother Nature has endowed us with a body that's capable of positive emotions, actions and expressions. When people respond to life's inevitable challenges with grace, perseverance and even joy, they inspire us. They show us that sad, painful or disappointing events can have good outcomes or unexpected silver linings. Science is showing us why some of these profoundly human characteristics are demonstrated even in difficult situations. It turns out that we can choose happiness -- for ourselves and for our world.
International Day of Happiness isn't about drawing smiley faces on sticky notes (which I don't do) or putting a good face on bad news (which I do sometimes), it's about hitting the "pause" button sometime during March 20 and thinking about how happiness is an essential element of a basic life.
It is wonderfully freeing to simply write those words: "Happiness is essential." While it is different for each of us, happiness is something we all need and deserve.
I saw happiness on the faces of men and women who had little in American terms, but were rich in community while on a family trip to Morocco. As our guide walked ahead of us along the clogged streets of Marrakesh, he would sometimes pause to acknowledge someone with a nod or to touch a hand. After a bit, I realized he was also dispersing some of the coins we'd paid him into those hands. This wasn't just commerce; it was also a social network. He gathered happiness from those around him and likewise, passed it back to them.
Happiness is not the result of wealth, health or education. Rather, it is an indicator of those things. That makes happiness a powerful tool in improving worldwide economics and the health and well-being of people all around the globe.
I'm going to be at the United Nations on International Day of Happiness, taking part in both formal proceedings and the free-form celebrations we've planned at public locations. Active, loud and personal endorsement of happiness is important to raise awareness of its potential positive impact on everyday life. I expect to see, hear and report on people who "vote for happiness," and I'll share those stories in our next issue. Will it be your story that I share? Mark March 20 on your calendar and go toactsofhappiness.org to learn how to get involved.
"Nations are ranked according to growth, income, competitiveness and happiness. Cities are compared for their liveability, innovation and cost of living. But what about fun?
Wealth, longevity and education have traditionally been used to measure quality of life. But having money, well-equipped hospitals and good schools is no guarantee that you're having fun.
As assassinated US presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy once said, gross domestic product measures everything ''except that which makes life worthwhile''.
With this in mind, World Bank economist Branko Milanovic has proposed an international measure of ''funness.'' ''There are all kinds of international indexes now,'' he says. ''So I think we should have one that explores fun. ''You may have a very high quality of life but still prefer to be in a place where you have more fun.'' So how can funness be measured? Milanovic suggests 10 indicators:
1. Generally wealthy, low poverty
2. Low inequality and small differences in social status
3. Nice weather
4. All kinds of tolerance and no discrimination
5. Frequent changes in government
6. Frequent intellectual scandals
7. Lots of restaurants and good nightlife (theatre, movies)
8. Very good broadband internet
9. Accessible alcohol, mild drugs and other light vices
10. Sight decadence floating in the air.
Milanovic is known internationally for his research on economic inequality and globalisation. His funness index ''started as a joke'' but it raises some interesting issues. You can have all the right statistics but still be very boring.
''There are places in the world that are very pleasant and opulent, but each day you basically sit in your car and drive to work, sit at your desk, go home, watch a movie and go to bed,'' says Milanovic. ''That's not my definition of fun.''
Some countries that perform poorly in traditional economic rankings probably have a much higher ranking on the funness index. ''I think many countries in Africa would do better on this index than they normally do on more serious indexes,'' Milanovic says.''A city like Lagos in Nigeria can be hard to live in but it has wonderful music, a great night life and things are going on 24/7.
''A city like Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, would probably not be ranked very highly, despite its wealth, fast broadband and so on. 'It's not really a place you associate with having much fun.''
Wealth tops Milanovic's funness index. While money isn't everything, life is tough without it. But he thinks a relatively equal distribution of wealth also helps make a society more fun.
''I don't think you want huge inequality,'' he says. ''If you come out of a restaurant after a great meal and there are 20 people asking you for money, that would spoil your fun.''
Tolerance is another prerequisite for fun. Entrenched social hierarchies and prejudices have the opposite effect. ''I think people treat each other better in societies that do not have very rigid social divisions and distinctions,'' he says. ''You have more fun in places where people treat each other well.''
But that doesn't mean the absence of political conflict. Spirited politics boosts national fun, Milanovic says.’ When you have a political life that is relatively exciting - without leading to violence or terror - I think it's more fun because there are more topics to talk about.
''If you have a political life where very little happens, I think it becomes stale.' Frequent intellectual scandals also make a nation more fun because ''you need interesting ideas and interesting topics not to get bored''.
So which countries come up trumps on a global fun index? Milanovic thinks Italy, France and Spain are all contenders for top spot on his measures.”
What better way to follow the doom and gloom of George Osborne’s Budget than International Day of Happiness? And what better way to put a smile on everyone’s faces than a list of the best gags known to humanity (possibly)? Let's kick off with one about the Chancellor himself. And if you, dear reader, have got any favourites, stick them in the comments below. Enjoy…
March 20, 2013, marks the first ever International Day of Happiness. This was decreed last year by the United Nations following a meeting on well-being attended by government officials, economists, scholars, and business and spiritual leaders from around the world. It was hosted by Bhutan, a small but visionary country which famously uses Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to index its progress.
The King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar, has described GNH as "the bridge between the fundamental values of kindness, equality and humanity and the necessary pursuit of economic growth." He's talking, of course, about the well-documented connection between well-being and productivity — an interplay that should interest business leaders as much as it does political ones. As this issue of HBR makes clear, happy, engaged employees are good for the organization. Research shows they have better health, are more creative, produce better results, and are willing to go the extra mile. What's more, happiness is contagious; it creates a virtuous spiral that leads to further engagement.
So how can leaders create happier organizations?
Perhaps the first step is to clarify what we mean by "happy". Psychologists typically identify happiness by three distinct pathways. The first is the pleasant life, which involves positive experiences including contentment, hope, and sensory enjoyment. This kind of well-being is often referred to as hedonia, based on the Greek term for pleasure. The second is the engaged life, oreudaimonia. The ancient Greeks believed in a "daimon", or guardian spirit, that would guide you toward your destiny; the word also means genius.
The engaged life thus refers to a person's ability to deploy his personal genius — to use his unique strengths and talents in a way that engages and absorbs him. The third pathway is the meaningful life, which relates to the desire to be part of something bigger than oneself — to belong and contribute to an institution that has purpose.
All three of these pathways — pleasure, engagement, and meaning — are important. And business leaders can use this knowledge to ask some important questions about their organizations:
Do my employees enjoy their relationships and their environment at work?
Do they laugh?Are my people in the right roles — ones that fit their skill sets and offer appropriate challenge?
Do they get to use their genius?
Do they understand the purpose of the organization?
Do they feel they're a part of something that matters?
On this first International Day of Happiness, it's worth pausing to consider what contributes to happiness in your organization — your own happiness, as well as that of the people around you. I hope you will share what you discover.
Friday marks the third annual International Day of Happiness. It's a global initiative started by the United Nations that focuses on happiness as a sign of progress in countries in addition to economic growth.
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