By Dr. Mark Williamson via The Huffington Post
This Monday is the International Day of Happiness, but who cares?
If there’s one thing that potentially unites us all as human beings, it’s our universal desire to be happy - and for our loved ones to be happy too.
By saying this, I don’t mean we all want to live in a permanent state of bliss or relaxation. In a world full of challenges and uncertainty, that is neither practical nor desirable.
But, given the choice, we all prefer to experience lives that are enjoyable and meaningful - and which avoid unnecessary suffering or misery where possible.
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” ~ Aristotle
For decades, most countries have been chasing economic growth as the best proxy for increasing human happiness. When the economy grows, incomes rise and we all have a better quality of life... or so the story goes.
But the reality is that economic growth doesn’t always lead to happier lives - and our obsession with consuming more and more stuff has left many of us more stressed and isolated than ever before.
“We are being persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that won’t last, on people we don’t care about” ~ Tim Jackson
Although the quest for growth has brought fantastic benefits to a small minority at the top, it has also fuelled societies that are increasingly divided and unequal. The recent rise in populism has arguably been triggered by millions of people feeling they’ve been left behind by an economic system that is stacked against them.
But is there a better alternative?
According to a growing body of influential thinkers, experts and change-makers from all around the world, the answer is that we need to prioritise happiness.
“Our top priority should be people’s overall happiness” ~ Prof. Richard Layard
This message was central to the recent World Government Summit in Dubai, where leaders heard the latest ideas for how to measure and enhance wellbeing - and the wider benefits of doing so. For example, happy children do better at school, happy companies are more productive and happy communities have less crime.
Another vital contribution comes from the World Happiness Report, the latest edition of which is published this week. This shows how happiness varies between countries and what factors make the biggest difference.
Although money plays a role, the variations in happiness depend greatly on factors like harmonious social relationships and levels of trust and generosity. So if a country wants to climb the table of happiest nations, it may need to rethink many of its political and economic priorities.
“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government” ~ Thomas Jefferson
But this is only part of the story, as a genuinely happier society also needs a culture of values and behaviours that underpin mental wellbeing, good relationships and caring communities.
This cultural change is also now underway, with events like this week’s World Happiness Summit attracting huge public audiences and movements like Action for Happiness bringing together millions of like-minded people from all around the world.
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions” ~ The Dalai Lama
By focusing more on the factors that genuinely enhance human happiness, we might just discover how to improve our politics, re-unite our divided communities and live more happily together.
Join the global movement for a happier world at www.dayofhappiness.net and share what you’re doing to make a difference via the #InternationalDayOfHappiness hashtag.