What is the International Day of Happiness?

It’s a day to be happy, of course!

Easier said than done at a time when we are all faced with the personal, professional and community challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. This unique global situation has potential to seriously undermine not only our physical health but also our mental health, social support and, for many of us, our livelihoods.

The International Day of Happiness is not a new concept

Every 20 March since 2013 the International Day of Happiness has set out to recognise the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world.

As former UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon said in 2013: “Happiness for the entire human family is one of the main goals of the United Nations. Let us dedicate our efforts to filling our world with happiness.”

Originating in 2006 as part of the United Nations New World Order project, the International Day of Happiness promotes ‘happytalism’. At its core this new economic system, theory and philosophy aims to  recognise happiness as a human right and promotes developments in theory and practice that can advance the happiness, well-being and freedom of all life on earth.

Why is a new economic system of ‘happytalism’ important?

In recognising the importance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations of human beings the world over ‘happytalism’ emphasises the need for these to be recognised in public policy. It promotes a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that prioritises happiness and well-being alongside sustainable development and eradication of poverty. In doing so, such changes in public policy will have a significant impact on how we manage everyday challenges as well as the challenges brought about through global crises.

Which factors contribute to greater happiness?

As part of the resolution to promote world happiness, the UN mark the International Day of Happiness with the release of an annual World Happiness Report on the state of global happiness. In 2019, the report focused on three key factors deemed to be important in influencing happiness by changing the ways communities and individuals interact with each other highlighting

  • Links between government and happiness
  • The power of prosocial behaviour
  • Changes in information technology

Can the International Day of Happiness act as an antidote to the current crisis?

This year the International Day of Happiness falls at a time of immense personal and social challenge, as many people struggle to manage the impact of the global pandemic.

It is likely that for many of us happiness will have dropped off our priority list. However, we know from research in positive psychology that experiencing positive emotions calms our threat emotions, enables us to think more clearly and problem-solve, and explore creative or novel ways of managing during difficult times.

So if we want to experience more positive emotions as we navigate our way through these challenging times, to improve our well-being and the well-being of those around us, what can we do?

Prosocial behaviour is the key

Prosocial behaviours are behaviours that are aimed at benefitting others – whether that is other individuals or society as a whole – and includes activities such as helping, sharing, donating, co-operating and volunteering.

Giving time through volunteering, giving money in the form of pro-social spending, or providing assistance in various ways lead to positive emotions both in the giver and the receiver. Examples of small but meaningful ways we can give to others include simple acts of kindness, such as holding the door open for a stranger, paying someone a compliment or feeding a neighbour’s cat.

Our ability to impact happiness and well-being in our communities, whether these are the communities where we live or where we work, relies on our willingness to engage in prosocial behaviours. This is enhanced when:

  • we feel free to choose whether or how to help
  • when we feel connected to the people we are helping
  • when we can see how our help is making a difference

Prosocial Behaviour and Covid-19

As increasing numbers of people are advised to self-isolate due to the spread of COVID-19, we may see our opportunities for prosocial behaviours reducing. But if we think creatively about novel ways that we can connect with and support the people around us, whether this is electronically through the internet, or by offering help with shopping or dog-walking, we might find we have even greater opportunity to spread happiness in our communities.

Prosocial behaviour and positive emotions

When we are feeling good or positive, when we experience happiness, joy or awe we are more likely to feel motivated to engage in prosocial behaviours.

Research shows that positive emotional states are enhanced by being in nature as well as spending time with people we care about and who care about us.

Both these activities will be harder to engage in if we are self-isolating. But finding novel ways to engage with some of the things we love doing, contacting friends and family, taking time to savour and share positive experiences and noticing good things will help us feel better in ourselves and ready us to help and support those around us.

This is why it more important than ever to experience and spread happiness on this year’s  International Day of Happiness despite the challenging times we are facing.

So, what small thing can you do today to enhance your own happiness? And how can you share some of that happiness and well-being with those around you? We’d love to know what you are doing.