Mark your calendars – tomorrow is the first International Day of Happiness!
“On this first International Day of Happiness, let us reinforce our commitment to inclusive and sustainable human development and renew our pledge to help others. When we contribute to the common good, we ourselves are enriched. Compassion promotes happiness and will help build the future we want.” – Ban Ki-Moon
In July last year, the General Assembly of the UN agreed to mark March 20th as a day for celebrating and spreading happiness, and educating ourselves and others about it. Three key pillars are recognised as being required for global happiness: economic, social, and environmental wellbeing.
This Huffington Post article by Randy Taran of Project Happiness provides a great overview of the day, with details of the story behind the UN resolution, suggestions for how to participate on the day, and ways to boost your own happiness. I encourage you to read the article and explore the numerous hyperlinks she has provided.
We tend to think about wellbeing often in the Social Brain Centre, because along with the critical external variables of economic stability, democracy and environmental sustainability, we believe that our internal habits, attention, and decisions influence our wellbeing as well.
Just yesterday, Emma wrote about achieving a state of ‘flow’ out on the slopes, and the deep satisfaction that comes with such a focus of attention. Also related to attention, research has shown that those who seek out the positive are more resilient to stress and anxiety, and interestingly, it seems that we can be trained to pay attention in various ways. Gratitude lists may also be a helpful tool in focusing on the positives in our lives.
In a blog post from earlier this year cheekily entitled The Key to Eternal Happiness, I reposition the want/should conflict and suggest that to help maintain or improve wellbeing, we should try to make things that are good for us in the long run also fun to do now. So if it is difficult to motivate yourself to work out at the gym, invite a friend to go with you and focus on the immediate reward of getting the chance to catch up with each other and share a laugh.
Elsewhere in the RSA, the Connected Communities team explores the impact of our social and community networks on our happiness and wellbeing; check out this video about the Social Mirror project to learn more about their important work. And last night the Whole Person Recovery team hosted an event in Tonbridge, where Andy Gibson of the Mindapples organisation spoke about getting our mental 5-a-day.
What will you do to celebrate the International Day of Happiness and help to spread happiness, joy and peace to others? The day’s website urges us all to ACT:
A- Affirm the pledge to bring happiness to others
C- Cheer ‘happy heroes’ and celebrate their good deeds
So start thinking about what you can do to improve the happiness and wellbeing of others around you, and don’t stop after tomorrow!
A year ago today(sigh) I was attending the launch of Action for Happiness! The movement has grown considerably in its first year, and I wish it well. Mark Williamson is the Director of Action for Happiness, which is affiliated to The Young Foundation, but the movement grew out of the vision and motivation of what Jules Evans aptly called The Three Wise Men.
Actually I am not sure Geoff Mulgan is really a Buddhist, at least not in the card-carrying sense, but it made a huge impression to learn that his weighty CV (now head of NESTA, but previously CEO of The Young Foundation, Director of Policy for the Blair government, author, Professor etc) is grounded(or so I like to think) by his experience of being a Buddhist monk in Sri-Lanka. I don’t know Geoff Mulgan personally, but it is hard not to be impressed by his track record.
A year ago, his idea of wellbeing seemed quite nuanced to me, and he recognised the importance of experiencing the full range of human emotion(not merely positive) for a life well-lived. I was particularly impressed by his comment that people working in government tend to dehumanise what really matters, for instance they talk of ‘social isolation’ but rarely of ‘lonliness’ and they speak of the importance of ‘social support’, but rarely of ‘friendship’ or ‘love’.
I am pretty sure that Lord Layard is a Benthamite, although he may not accept the term, and has called himself a ‘democrat’, which might be a less pejorative way of saying the same thing. He has done a great deal of good to promote wellbeing, so I hesitate to express reservations, but whenever I have heard him speak, I found his idea of happiness to be a very conventional and rather uninspiring form of utilitarianism. This is too big a question to explore here, now, but I think enduring wellbeing is much more complex than mere hedonic satisfaction in its various guises.
And I would say he is Benthamite rather than merely utilitarian(his world view is radically different from, say, Peter Singer, who describes himself as a preference utilitarian) if only because in answer to a question posed by Jules Evans at the RSA event Happiness: New Lessons he made it clear that he doesn’t distinguish, as John Stuart Mill famously did, between higher and lower pleasures e.g. the pleasure of writing a poem is no greater than the pleasure of smoking a fag. For Layard, as long as you are not harming others, it really is just a question of ‘whatever makes you happy’, in which happiness is a self-evident experience, captured by self-report measures. It is hard not to respect such an eminent figure, who does so much for the social good, but I don’t find his vision of happiness rings true for me- somehow there is a lack of depth, and no ‘shadow’.
Anthony Seldon is Headmaster of Wellington College, and also a biographer of John Major and Tony Blair (an old friend of mine, Daniel Collings, played a significant role in producing some of this work). He is clearly hugely industrious, but I find he makes me uncomfortable, perhaps because he always seems rather sure of himself. When I heard him speak at last year’s event, I felt he sounded more like a headmaster than a biographer- his pitch was more about telling and admonishing and less about discovering or revealing. At the time I even had the unworthy thought: “You can take the happiness out of the headmaster, but you can’t take the headmaster out of the happiness” and I think that line would sound more positive with respect to being a biographer.
His idea of happiness appears richer than Layard’s, and more spiritually grounded, but still sounds too much to me like an idea that can be encapsulated in the right kind of information and directly taught, rather than something multi-faceted grounded in a range or experiences, relationships and balances. That said, he has been a trailblazer for wellbeing in schools, and walks the talk in his own school, so on balance I am sure his contribution is a very positive one.
Despite some minor reservations about the founders, I am glad to see that the Action for Happiness movement is alive and well. I hope this is the first of many genuinely happy birthdays.