Today is First UN International Day of Happiness = Be Happy!

Today, March 20, is not only the spring equinox, it is also the first International Day of Happiness! The origins of this new, worldwide celebration can be traced back to the actions of Bhutan, a teeny, tiny country perched high in the Himalaya Mountains between China and India.

I first wrote about Bhutan and their approach to happiness in June of 2010. In 2008 Bhutan took a totally different approach to determining the well-being levels of the people of their nation when they developed and adopted the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH).

Because of their groundbreaking acceptance of the GNH instead of the worldwide standard of  Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which focuses on economic standards, Bhutan began tracking indicators such as:

Psychological wellbeing  Ecology Health
Education  Culture Living Standards
Time Use  Community Vitality Good Governance

I revisited the topic in my “Happy is as Happy Does” posts in 2011 and 2012. I was, and still am, fascinated and encouraged by Bhutan’s peaceful version of the “David and Goliath” story – a very small nation is changing the way the world looks at success. To learn more about how the first International Day of Happiness came to be, please read author’s Frances Moore Lappé’s Huffington Post’s article, which I have copied below in it’s entirety . . .

Got Happiness? First UN International Day of Happiness” by Frances Moore Lappé

Don’t laugh. It’s true, and it’s serious business. Today is the world’s first International Happiness Day, declared by the UN to signal the importance of going beyond Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of progress. We need, says the UN, better measures of society’s real wellbeing — including happiness.

GDP was never meant for the job. In 1934, Harvard economist and Nobel Laureate Simon Kuznets devised the measure to help the U.S. climb out of the Great Depression, but he was clear about GDP’s limits, warning congress that “the welfare of a nation can…scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income…”

How right he was. Since the 1960s, U.S. GDP per capita has doubled, but average happiness? It hasn’t budged.

Finally, people are starting to pay attention. Noting what a poor guide GDP has been, an international movement is underway to create metrics of progress that incorporate multi-faceted wellbeing. And, it could be game changer, if you consider this finding of the Gallup Millennium World Survey: Polling almost 60,000 people in 60 countries, Gallup ranked ten things that matter most to people. At the top were health, a happy family life, and a job, while “Standard of Living” — what the GDP supposedly captures — was one of the least important.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERALeading the movement to remake what we measure has been the tiny, mountainous Asian nation of Bhutan, population of 740,000. Its goal is “Gross National Happiness.” Six weeks ago, as a member of a UN-promoted International Expert Group for a New Development Paradigm, I traveled to Bhutan where, with a couple dozen others invited from around the world, I deliberated on how to measure wellbeing.

Why Bhutan?

In 2005, after the Fourth King relinquished the throne to his son and instituted a British-style parliamentary democracy, Bhutan began in earnest to build the world’s first Gross National Happiness Index — a comprehensive approach to measuring well-being that includes not only psychological well-being (life satisfaction, emotions, and spirituality) but also subjective assessments in eight other “domains” that include health, education, good governance, and ecological diversity and resilience. Five years later a Bhutan survey found 41 percent of its people happy, meaning they’d attained “sufficiency” in two-thirds of (weighted) indicators, such as work, literacy and housing. Only 10 percent were “unhappy.”

Then, in 2011, Bhutan took leadership on the world stage. In July it sponsored, with 68 co-sponsors, UN resolution 65/309, “Happiness: Towards a Holistic Approach to Development,” which flatly stated that GDP doesn’t reflect the goal of “happiness” and declares that a “more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach is needed…”

UN General Assembly adopted the resolution by consensus and invited member states to take action. So in New York City last spring Bhutan hosted a meeting on new wellbeing indicators, attracting 800 enthusiastic attendees and exceeding all expectations.

Already, a number of countries, including Canada, France and Britain “have added measures of citizen happiness to their official national statistics.” Just one year ago, Japan launched its first Quality of Life Survey that leads off with “a sense of happiness.” Italy is also a leader, in part using online consultations with citizens to develop twelve domains for measuring well-being, including health and the environment, along with specific indicators like “quality of urban air.”

Here in the U.S., two state governments, Maryland and Minnesota, have gotten serious about happiness — generating more realistic, comprehensive measures of progress. Maryland’s Genuine Progress Indicator both subtracts and adds about two dozen things that GDP doesn’t capture: from, on the negative side, the costs of lost leisure time (as much as $12.5 billion a year), pollution clean-up and crime to, on the positive side, the value of volunteer work.

And in 2011 the city of Somerville in Greater Boston became the first U.S. metropolitan to survey its residents on their happiness and wellbeing — finding, among many discoveries, that the city’s “beauty and physical setting” are “relatively important” in how residents value Somerville.

On the first International Day of Happiness, just knowing these initiatives are getting underway and taken seriously by the United Nations, makes me happy.

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Upcoming Wishful Thinking Works events you wont want to miss:

Patrice Koerper will be presenting two special Wishful Thinking Works workshops in Cleveland, Ohio: on Saturday, April 20 “Reenergize and Redirect Your Life” and April 27“Flourishing Together” for mother and daughters ages 9-12. On May 17-19, she will host a Wishful Thinking Works weekend retreat at the world renowned Safety Harbor Spa in Tampa, Florida. Plan to join us, if you want to discover new ways to create beginnings and balance in your life

For ways to develop more happiness in your life, follow Wishful Thinking Works or visit Wishful Thinking Works on Facebook. Later this week I’ll be sharing ways to create your personal happiness index!

For free Wishful Thinking Works Life Coaching information, click here.

Have a great day!

Happy is as happy does

Did you know there is a Happy Planet Index, (HPI)? It multiplies the subjective life satisfaction and the life expectancy of a country, and then divides it by the country’s ecological footprint. The first HPI was published, the second one in 2009.

In 2009 Costa Rica was #1 of the 143 countries reviewed. (It still is!) Their medium level of environmental impact, very high well-being and high life expectancy levels keep them at the top of the Happy Planet Index. (Their life expectancy is better than ours!)

Back in 2009, the US was #114. (Today it is 105 – that’s progress!); in 2009, Macedonia was 111. Unfortunately, their rank is dropping, it is now 127. (I lived in Macedonia for three years, have been back each year since 2009, and consider it one of my three homes.) I also lived in the Republic of Georgia for almost four months, and fell in love with folks there, and I’m thrilled to say their latest rank is rank is #55, and reflects “a relatively high life expectancy, low levels of experienced well-being, and a low ecological footprint.” Way to go Georgia! Happy is as happy does.

The HPI folks have set a target for nations to aspire to a score of 89 of 100 by 2050; “the highest HPI score is only 76.1, scored by Costa Rica.” (And, that was in 2009, it is lower now, but still higher than everyone else’s.)

Yup, we have a way to go, but I have no doubt we will get there both as a country and a planet because the topics of happiness and well-being are becoming mainstream and other positive indicators are getting attention throughout the world.

I’ve posted about Gross National Happiness (GNH) in the past. The King of Bhutan started that score rolling in 1972, when he decided that GNP, Gross National Product, a very commercial way of  looking at a country’s success, wasn’t the only way he wanted to assess his country’s viability. I like that. Here’s a new video that explains how Bhutan developed it’s GNH, and what happened after it did, including a 19 year increase in longevity and a 50% increase in literacy.

Did you know Australia, Britain, and China along with other major countries are developing new ways to assess their countries well-being? They, too, agree that GDP alone, is not the best indicator of how well their nations are doing. They’re putting time and money into well-being research, conferences and programs, which is good because even though household income for Americans has risen dramatically since the 1950’s, our happiness levels have remained relatively the same. Study after study shows that money is not the best indicator of happiness.

Would you like a free, quick and guaranteed way to raise your happiness level this week? Starting today, think about one thing you could do each day to make someone else happy, and then do it! Happy is as happy does.

Focusing your attention on finding ways to put a smile on the faces of your spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, children, neighbors, coworkers, friends and strangers will make you happier, too. We are social creatures and innately enjoy being connected to one another; by focusing your attention on others you can reinforce those bonds and bring depth and stability to your life and the lives of those around you. In fact, simply thinking about what you would like to do for someone or making yourself more aware of others and their feelings, can raise your happiness levels and mood because it takes your attention off yourself and your worries.

As you begin your happiness-raising week, remember it is the little things that count; no grand gestures necessary. And, don’t worry about being thanked in return; do it with an open heart and see what happens.

Let me know how it goes, and please share this post with your friends and family. If enough of us get involved, we just might raise the USA’s Happy Planet Index standing!  I’d like that.

Have a great week – be happy!



Gross National Happiness

Once upon a time in a place far, far, away there lived a wise king.  This particular monarch ascended to the throne of the small, secluded, Buddhist country, Bhutan, which is perched in the Himalaya Mountains between China and India, in 1972 at the young age of 17 when his father died.

Instead of the normal everyday activities of a teenager, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s life soon became filled with thoughts of country and culture, and how to help his people in protecting what they loved – their land and its rich traditions, while finding ways to modernize and prepare for their future.

Throughout his reign he explored the impact of happiness on his people and his country, and transformed his country from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy and then to a democracy.  In 2006 he abdicated his throne to his 28 year-old son.

In 2008 at the coronation of his son, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck the 5th King of Bhutan, the country of Bhutan adopted the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH) and became the first country in the world to include ways to count the “happiness” of their people as an indicator of how successful their country was.

Instead of looking at their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which focuses on economic standards to tell them how well their country was doing, they began counting things like:

Psychological wellbeing indicators Ecology indicators Health indicators
Education indicators Culture indicators Living Standards indicators
Time Use indicators Community Vitality indicators Good Governance indicators

In my last post, I introduced you to “Joie De Vivre” (Joy of Life) hotelier, speaker and author Chip Conley, and his TED talk about counting what matters.  Conley’s talk also introduced me to Bhutan’s concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH).

I found it intriguing that since Bhutan developed the GNH index, 40 other countries, including France, have begun studying their country’s GNH.  I liked that, and it got me thinking.  . .

What if each of us had a personal GNH index?

What if we used what we valued and counted to create our own GNH and then used it as a guide to create the life we want?

What if everyone in our big, beautiful country did that? What if we became the Shangri-La of the western world?  Could we?  Should we?

I do not have – nor do I believe Bhutan has – all the answers, but I do believe the questions are worth asking ourselves again and again . . .

What would my life look and feel like if I knew and counted only the things that really, really mattered to me? (Some of you might be thinking that “counting” anything is a bit mercenary and unnecessary, and you might be right, but I think since we already tend to do it, it may be a good tool to use to refocus our attention.)

How would I like to spend my time? What do I need to do to make that happen?

What am I interested in learning more about? How will I go about doing that?

What do I value in nature, and how do I recognize and honor that?

What am I doing to create happiness and fulfillment in my life or in the lives of the people I care about?

What am I doing to take care of my health? Do I do it consistently?

What does “community” mean to me? What are the moments of community I enjoyed as a child – or as an adult?  How did my community impact my environment, my education, my life?  Do I support those activities now?

Have I determined what living arrangements and what amount of “stuff” I need to be comfortable and happy? Do I have it? Have I reached a point of diminishing return?  Have I worked to adjust my life accordingly – up or down?

What is my family’s culture – my family of origin and the family I have created?  What do I want to preserve?  Change? Who and what do I value in life?  How do I show it?

I believe asking matters and that it defines who we are, and can help us create who we want to be.

I also believe it is a very brave thing to do.

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