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Prioritising Happiness and Wellbeing on International Day of Happiness, and Every Day

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Beyond the smiley faces that today will bring, do you know what 20th March, the International Day of Happiness, is about?

Dr. Louise Lambert, Director of Happiness Programming & Policy at HappinessMatters, delves into the deeper significance of the International Day of Happiness (March 20th), highlighting the global efforts towards prioritising wellbeing and happiness in nations, institutions, workplaces, and in our individual lives.

Started by the United Nations in 2013, its goal was to first identify that happiness and wellbeing matter and second, to prioritise them as goals worth striving for by nations, institutions, workplaces, and individuals.

Often confused with happy faces, there is a tremendous amount of science behind it and there is a job for everyone to do to ensure happiness and wellbeing are a priority in your life.

At a national level, many countries have adopted frameworks that prioritise the wellbeing of people over a measure of progress that has historically focused on GPD alone. Nationally, governments regularly track wellbeing indicators and internationally, ranking systems like the World Happiness Report measures which countries are succeeding in putting people’s needs first and how.

Check and see what others are doing. Governments generally realise that without physical and mental health, social capital, the freedom, and skills to pursue one’s dreams, being able to trust in others, including one’s government, to protect, care and provide (among other factors that drive wellbeing), money alone does not make for a meaningful, worthwhile life. Who we vote for can drive many of these outcomes; thus, holding governments accountable to key promises is also part of this work.

What about institutions? Beyond their mandates, institutions are called upon to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, known as the SDGs.

Also set by the United Nations in 2015 and adopted by 193 member states, these 17 goals each have dozens of targets that tackle climate change, poverty reduction, peace and justice, decent work and economic growth, responsible consumption, and inequality, among others. SDG #3 has wellbeing as its main target, i.e., how to produce greater mental and physical health, as well as quality of life and life satisfaction for all. It also supports the other 16 goals. That is, as nations reach their 17 SDG targets, wellbeing levels also increase as individuals can live a good life that is healthy, socially connected and within planetary limits where resources remain and are equally shared. It’s worth asking what your favourite institutions are doing towards the SDGs; there are often volunteer opportunities in which you can get involved, which can boost your own wellbeing at the same time as others. Check this tracker. 

Workplaces are also involved in the pursuit of the SDGs and greater wellbeing in society overall. The expectations of workplaces have grown in recent years, beyond simply offering jobs, they are important drivers of wellbeing. By nurturing wellbeing in their employees and their families, many explicitly strive to build wellbeing in their customers and stakeholders through their communication efforts, products, and services, as well as their supply chain, which includes suppliers, vendors, and partners. By insisting that compliance with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices is done, including ensuring the wellbeing of people who work in those supply chains is protected and promoted, businesses can embed wellbeing through their business activities.

If you haven’t already, make today the day to ask what your workplace does to ensure people feel seen, heard, and cared for. Your manager is a good place to start, and your Human Capital team should also be able to answer these questions. If nothing is in place, you might consider initiating a wellbeing committee to see how you can improve the work experience.

Finally, if it seems like 20th March is for big entities only, it’s not. You can play a role in ensuring that wellbeing is possible not only for yourself but for those you encounter every day, like your colleagues, family members, neighbours, and your children’s teacher, or even your gym instructor.

The easiest thing? Say hello to people.

Here is one small thing you can start doing with very little effort. Say hello to people you do not know. We spend much of our public life trying to ignore people, with the consequence of people feeling unseen.

Acknowledging their presence (a simple good morning and a passing smile), making small talk in seemingly unimportant moments to signal openness and safety (“There is nothing better than fresh orange juice, isn’t there?” at the market), or taking four seconds to ask someone how their day is going (and use their name) before you make a request of service personnel, are very easy things we can do and provide wellbeing benefits for ourselves as well.

The day becomes more interesting, we can potentially meet new people, and we spend less time focusing on our own worries and thoughts. These small actions are the necessary glue to build stronger ties between one another. And that is something individuals – like you and I – can do today and well beyond 20th March, too.

World Wellbeing Week 2024

June 24 – June 30

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