Did you know? Every year in March, the 20th (which happens to be tomorrow) has been designated International Happiness Day by the United Nations! On 28th June 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution to designate such a day each year, saying...

"The General Assembly,[…] Conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal,[…] Recognizing also the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples, Decides to proclaim 20 March the International Day of Happiness, Invites all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system and other 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[…]"

So in the spirit of this noble resolution, I'm inviting you to Forget About Happiness tomorrow and concentrate on something else instead.

It's not all about happiness.

Happiness and Positive Emotions

I believe that many of us get caught up in the search for "happiness" as just another thing to add to our already over-full TO DO lists. We do this, because we know if we can add it to the list, it will have to get DONE. Unfortunately, this is a sure-fire way to experience the OPPOSITE of happiness. So tomorrow, I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be a lot of people seeking a 10-minute happiness booster. They will have a quick half-hearted laugh, and then get back to the rest of their busy day. Or even worse, feel guilty if they don't manage to tick it off the list! But this is missing the (surprisingly subtle) point of true happiness.

"Happiness" - the relaxed, laughing, best-version-of-ourselves moment that we all relentlessly pursue, is only one version of the true meaning of a full, meaningful, HAPPY life. We tend to have a fixed picture of happy.

Picture yourself the last time you were happy. For most of us, it is a picture involving leisure time, friends or close family, nice weather, a relaxed setting, even a treat, holiday, exotic location or favourite restaurant. Take a moment to remember yourself as happy right now - am I right? If you're anything like me, I am sure this emotion was just as impermanent as any of the other emotions you experience in life. It lasted a moment, an hour, or if you're lucky, a day. But I have a secret to share:

This is not actually the last time you experienced an emotion with the benefits of happiness (even though you think it is).

Happiness is in the sum total of our Positive Emotions

How about the last time you felt satisfied - about a great outcome, a job well done, a result you enjoyed achieving? Or the last time you felt serene - completely rested and at peace, just being "in the moment"? Perhaps you can recall the last time you felt a sense of deep connection with another person - a colleague, friend, loved one? Or perhaps it's easier to remember a feeling of intense curiosity about something. These are ALL positive emotions that share many of the health and emotional wellbeing benefits of the louder, more obvious emotion of happiness. Added up, the sum of a range of positive emotions are what actually lead to what we might call a "Happy Life". (See? You're happier than you think - yay!)

I was recently shocked to hear a respected researcher in the field, Dr Barbara Fredrickson, say, "If I could, I would BAN the use of the word happiness"! But on reflection, this makes real sense. The paradox of happiness is that we ignore the gentler, more common and more achievable positive emotions available in each day, as we chase happiness. In doing so, we often miss out on experiencing a broader range of everyday positive moments. We fail to build our overall happiness in life, by chasing only happiness!

True Happiness is made up of joy and laughter. But is is also built on hope, appreciation, love, serenity, meaningful activity, achievement, kindness, resilience and a range of other heart-warming experiences. They ALL contribute to our overall quality of life.

So don't be fooled into thinking that to really participate in International Happiness Day, you have to experience deep joy, loud laughter, spontaneous celebration, wild adventure or any of the other obvious positive emotions that we have fixed in our minds as the only truth.

So what CAN I do instead?

You can celebrate in the quiet appreciation of a beautiful cup of tea at your desk. You can enjoy stepping back to pause and reflect on a great achievement. Perhaps you can appreciate connecting in a moment of true affection and love with a partner or friend, or expressing gratitude to a coworker. You can put a lift in your step by anonymously shouting someone in your office their favourite coffee. Or perhaps you can enjoy helping a stranger with their heavy groceries on the bus. Maybe saying a warm and heartfelt thank you to the cleaner who services your office every day, will lift your mood. If you look at it, this is the true meaning of the United Nations' statement about happiness...that it is a deeply individual pursuit...and that we should all have the opportunity to experience it, in whichever way we choose.

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