What does it really mean when the United Nations passes a resolution that proclaims on a particular day every year from the date of the proclamation that the world ought to celebrate and take action in some way on a particular theme?
Now, while Valentine’s day isn’t proclaimed by the United Nations (stay with me here), the commercial world certainly ‘pushes’ the idea that this special day in February is one where the world ought to celebrate love, and it is a day where each of us ought to proclaim our love in some way, a card, flowers, chocolates, gift basket, dinner for two, a return flight to Paris, a Pink Porsche with personalised number plates…
Liz and I choose not to celebrate Valentines Day – judge us if you will. We certainly don’t begrudge the commercialisation that is Valentines Day, nor do we negatively judge anyone who decides to celebrate it. After all, love is well worth celebrating.
However, we personally choose to openly express our love for each other more than just once a year, and don’t find the need on a particular day, to express it more than any other day.
Bah Humbug you might say… and fair enough.
But do we really need an international day of happiness?
If we accept, which I’m willing to do, that for many people stopping to express our love might need a gentle reminder at least once a year (and maybe on a birthday or an anniversary), do you also need to be reminded by the declaration of a special day, once a year to be Happy?
While I’m an advocate of living a happy, flourishing and prosperous life, I fear an International Day of Happiness will sadly cause a focus just on the emotion of ‘feeling’ happy, rather than on a more values-driven intentional life that focuses continually on not just the feeling of happiness, but on mindful and intentional actions that will help us to flourish and prosper – being grateful for our past, our present and the opportunities in future, and regardless of our level of income or personal situation.
I see a potential danger in an International Day of Happiness where the possibility for us to live more happy, flourishing and prosperous lives gets hijacked by the well-intentioned but sometimes narrowly-focused ‘happiness movement’ and we end up watching the news with cynicism as we’re subjected to reports on the need for laughter classes in the parks, or striving for ‘stillness in our minds’ through hours of meditation to discover inner-peace and happiness. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of these strategies, but without context of these types of strategies as only a small, a very small piece of a much bigger picture of what it means to live a happy, flourishing and prosperous life, it all seems, well, a bit of a joke and impractical or unappealing.
The resolution made by the UN General Assembly, is basically for all countries to “observe the International Day of Happiness in an appropriate manner, including through education and public awareness.”
What might we expect from an International Day of Happiness?
So what might we expect to gain from this international day of happiness, where ideally as a minimum, we get our schools and media to focus on happiness?
What I hope is we can expand the discussion by asking what do we mean by happiness and providing a broader definition away from merely the pursuit of feeling happy.
I firmly believe the purpose of life is to be happy – not to feel happy, but to be happy – which means living an intentional life, aligned with your values, and one that you have a sense of well-being, meaning, and one where you are flourishing and prospering as a person of character.
What I fear on the 21st of March each year, the next day after International Day of Happiness, is that most of us will return to living unintentional lives, leaving the potential to live more happy, flourishing and prosperous lives to chance. The problem with that is when we leave things to chance, the chances are we will just leave them.