It's International Happiness Day - Seriously!
Get out your diary because today has been designated the first ever International Day of Happiness. Yes, the United Nations has settled on March 20 to remind the world that the pursuit of happiness is universal. This morning, over my toast and coffee, I watched a bleary-eyed news reporter inform people of the fact on their way to work. Almost without exception they laughed! What a bunch of cynics.
Here on HealthCentral we like happiness. We know that happy adolescents are often healthier and we know that happy people are more likely to try new things. Just recently I posted the latest revelation that a source of happiness might be a peptide called hypocretin. We’ve written on myths about happiness, how we can sabotage happiness, and how money and fame don’t bring happiness and a whole lot more. You might say we take happiness very seriously!
Anyway, back to the UN and the idea for a day of happiness. It comes, they say, from the country of Bhutan who use a measure of national and societal prosperity called the Gross National Happiness Index. Bhutan’s citizens are considered some of the happiest people on the planet and one reason for this could be that they reject the notion of economic and material wealth as the sole indicator of development, preferring to embrace a more spiritual and holistic outlook. Which suggests that other people take happiness seriously too.
So what makes happiness something to be taken seriously? For a start it’s something we all aspire to and that makes it a global issue. Without happiness we become discontent and the more discontent a community or a society gets the more problems it encounters. Crime and conflict, for example, do not stem from happy places. Neither for that matter do absent days from work, truancy from school or a host of other things I’m sure could easily be added to the list.
If we can get passed the urge to scoff at the idea of a national happiness day there’s the potential to start a dialogue about where we are and where we want to be. Certainly from a mental health perspective if things stay as they are – that is to say if they continue on this path – things are going to get worse. Is this what we’re looking for? Is this really the best we can achieve as a society?
It seems to me that the good people of Butan are ahead of the curve on this one. They dumped the notion of GDP as a measure of progress in the 1970s and haven’t looked back. This little Buddhist state has increasingly become the focus of attention as over the past 20 years it has doubled life expectancy, put environmental conservation and sustainability center stage and shifted from urgency to tranquility. Bhutan may be one of the poorest countries in the world but Gross National Happiness shows that the prosperity of nation doesn’t need to be measured in purely financial terms.