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Happiness: A New Mission of the United Nations

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A few weeks ago, the U.N. and member nations around the globe celebration International Week of Happiness. Read about it here.

Interest in high places in the promotion of happiness continues to expand. First, there was the nation of Bhutan, a small Himalayan kingdom where a decade ago Gross National Happiness was elevated to the same priority as Gross National Product. Now the United Nations has raised the happiness banner. Back in June of 2012, the UN general assembly agreed to proclaim an annual International Day of Happiness. Last week, the first such day was celebrated on March 20. From press accounts, the day was a grand success. (The date, incidentally, was selected for its significance - it was an equinox, when day and night are of equal length, thus giving weight to the day's message of stability and peace.)

Who would expect the U.N. to go all Bhutan-like by endorsing and promoting happiness?

The following statement endorsing happiness can be found at the U.N. website:   
General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution 66/281 of 12 July 2012 proclaimed 20 March the International Day of Happiness recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives.
The United Nations invites Member States,  international and regional organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations and individuals, to observe the International Day of Happiness in an appropriate manner, including through education and public awareness-raising activities.

Some suggested it is not such a big deal. After all, as the French newspaper Le Monde pointed out, the U.N. earmarks at least 120 such observances. Organizers, however, believe that IHD will not be just another date in a growing catalogue of global awareness days. They may be right - less than a year since the U.N. created this day, 193 U.N. member states pledged support, vowing to push forward efforts to promote happiness.

An interesting range of activities on the first International Day of Happiness (henceforth IDH) did in fact suggest an auspicious start for the project. While the initial happiness celebrations had little impact on a wide range of unhappy U.N. concerns such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, most observers as well as press reports viewed March 20 events as a good beginning.

Activities in the U.S. and around the world were reported in USA Today, the New York Times and other major media outlets. Among the celebrations:

  • In Washington, D.C., supporters stated a free hugs flash mob - a guaranteed happiness generator for all but the most uptight pedestrians caught in the moment.
  • In London, commuters were exposed to signs carrying happiness themes at the  Liverpool Street station.
  • Canada, France and Britain added measures of citizen happiness to their official national statistics.
  • Japan launched its first Quality of Life Survey that leads off with a sense of happiness.
  • Italy initiated online consultations with citizens in order to develop twelve domains for measuring well-being. including health, environment, along with specific
  • Australia convened an conference on the economics of happiness.

Social media is part of IHD, as well. A 12-month H(app)athonProject seeks to create digital tools to drive global contentment. Now that's a big ask - global contentment! This endeavors aims to find specific ways to promote happiness and apply data collected in the course of the project to provide an accurate picture of worldwide well-being. Happiness indicators under study include life satisfaction, health, community and civic engagement
Other organizations besides the U.N. and those listed above that are involved in promoting IHD are Action for Happiness and Cheers, Positive News, the Gross National Happiness Centre in Bhutan and the Mental Health Foundation.

The great, overarching goal of IHD is large - to inspire 100 million people around the world. Citizens of nations across the globe are encouraged to reflect on what really matters and to have fun doing so. I think that's a wonderful thing to ponder and a good way to go about it - that is, joyfully.

Pledges to create and spread happiness were gathered on IHD by the thousands. The official U.N. pledge is of particular interest: I will try to create more happiness in the world around me. Nice.  

In addition, there was praise on March 20 for individuals viewed as Happy Heroes. Heroes of happiness could be anyone - loved ones, generous colleagues, kind strangers, etc. Media accounts of participation in the first IHD estimate that at least half a million people from over 130 countries participated in some form of happiness celebrations and/or promotions.  

Though the focus was on celebrating IHD, plans to continue the project year-round are in place. Project leaders will employ a variety of digital tools for this purpose, including a free iPhone app to facilitate the spread of happiness across social networks, mainly by describing the virtues of Happy Heroes. Information gathered from IHD events will be used to to drive global contentment and build a new economy based on a more holistic sense of value. (See Kate Seamons, The International Day of Happiness, USA Today, March 20, 2013.)

The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, declared:  
We need a new economic paradigm that recognises the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic, and environmental wellbeing are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness. Creating a happier society requires action at all levels, from political leaders and institutions, but also from us as individual citizens too. When we do things to bring happiness to others, everyone benefits.

Robert Green Ingersoll, who famously stated that the time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here and the way to be happy is to make others so, would surely support Ki-moon's sentiments.

Be well, look on the bright side and consider adding the honorific title happy hero to your resume.  

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