For the International Day of Happiness 2015 we’re inviting everyone to focus on their connections with others.
This campaign is a global celebration to mark the United Nations International Day of Happiness. It is coordinated by Action for Happiness, a non-profit movement of people from 160 countries, supported by a partnership of like-minded organisations.
A profound shift in attitudes is underway all over the world. People are now recognising that ‘progress’ should be about increasing human happiness and wellbeing, not just growing the economy.
March 20 has been established as the annual International Day of Happiness and all 193 United Nations member states have adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater priority.
In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which recognised happiness as a “fundamental human goal” and called for “a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes the happiness and well-being of all peoples”.
In 2012 the first ever UN conference on Happiness took place and the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which decreed that the International Day of Happiness would be observed every year on 20 March. It was celebrated for the first time in 2013.
For the very first International Day of Happiness in 2013, events took place all over the world and we celebrated hundreds of “Happy Heroes” – those people in our communities who do so much to bring happiness to others.
The 2014 Day of Happiness campaign asked people to share authentic images of what makes them happy to “Reclaim Happiness” back from the fake commercial images of happiness that we are so often bombarded with. Many tens of thousands of people shared images and the social reach was estimated to be over 13 million people globally.
“Once you start listening to music, you’ll feel happiness deep down your heart.”
Video portraits from Italy, India, South Africa, Algeria, Cambodia, Chad, and the USA to mark the International Day of Happiness.
On selected international days the United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC), in partnership with the Good Planet Foundation, shares clips from the ‘7 billion Others’ project to communicate the dreams, hopes, and fears of citizens from all over world.
Have you ever thought about what truly makes you happy?
Research by executive search company Korn Ferry has found that happy employees are good for business: happy staff generate more sales and are better at taking on challenges than those who are miserable in their jobs.
Michelle Moss, director of assessments at Korn Ferry’s alliance partner Talent Africa, said of the research: “Traditionally, staff members worked seriously hard on the job and had fun after hours, at the weekend or in retirement. Today, you are encouraged to be happy in your work and have fun making your workaday contribution.”
Moss has the following advice:
To increase their staff members’ happiness, some big companies provide on-site gyms, hair salons and other services. “The aim is higher staff retention, but the essential building block is employee happiness at the workplace,” she said;
Give staff “happiness injections” to motivate them when the job threatens to overwhelm them. These may take the form of support services, perks or efforts to make work more satisfying;
This process can sound manipulative, but it benefits the workers and the company: people feel good about themselves because they feel valued by their employer;
Celebrating wins, no matter how small, can help raise team spirit and lift morale;
Companies with happy employees are likely to be rewarded with increased productivity, lower absentee rates, contained recruitment costs and an easy flow of ideas.
What is happiness? The United Nations is teaming up with pop stars to create a playlist that asks, in musical form, that eternal question.
A campaign launched Monday is asking listeners around the world to post through social media the songs that make them happy, with the playlist to be revealed Friday on the UN-declared International Day of Happiness.
The curators who will assess the responses and determine the playlist include the British singer-songwriters Ed Sheeran and James Blunt, US singer-songwriter John Legend, French DJ David Guetta and the Portuguese pop star David Carreira.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is not generally known for his rock star persona, announced the initiative in an MTV-style video in which he offered his vote for Stevie Wonder’s 1970 hit “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”
Ban said that the song – also known to be a favorite of US President Barack Obama – represented his hopes for a successful agreement on climate change at a UN-led conference in Paris later this year.
The United Nations in 2012 declared an International Day of Happiness – which coincides with the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere – after an initiative by Bhutan, the Himalayan land that measures a “Gross National Happiness” instead of a standard economic indicator.
“On this day we are using the universal language of music to show solidarity with the millions of people around the world suffering from poverty, human rights abuses, humanitarian crises and the effects of environmental degradation and climate change,” Ban said.
Last year, the International Day of Happiness invited music fans around the world to dance to Pharrell Williams’ hit “Happy,” creating a viral sensation.
The campaign, which did not specify restrictions on genre, asked music fans to post songs on social media with the hashtag #HappySoundsLike. The playlist will be released by streaming service MixRadio.
You might use music to distract yourself from painful or stressful situations, too. Or perhaps you’ve listened to music while studying or working out, hoping to up your performance. Though you may sense that music helps you feel better somehow, only recently has science begun to figure out why that is.
Neuroscientists have discovered that listening to music heightens positive emotion through the reward centres of our brain, stimulating hits of dopamine that can make us feel good, or even elated. Listening to music also lights up other areas of the brain — in fact, almost no brain centre is left untouched — suggesting more widespread effects and potential uses for music.
Music’s neurological reach, and its historic role in healing and cultural rituals, has led researchers to consider ways music may improve our health and wellbeing. In particular, researchers have looked for applications in health-care — for example, helping patients during post-surgery recovery or improving outcomes for people with Alzheimer’s. In some cases, music’s positive impacts on health have been more powerful than medication.
Here are five ways that music seems to impact our health and wellbeing.
Music reduces stress and anxiety
Research has shown that listening to music — at least music with a slow tempo and low pitch, without lyrics or loud instrumentation — can calm people down, even during highly stressful or painful events.
Music can prevent anxiety-induced increases in heart rate and systolic blood pressure, and decrease cortisol levels—all biological markers of stress. In one study, researchers found that patients receiving surgery for hernia repair who listened to music after surgery experienced decreased plasma cortisol levels and required significantly less morphine to manage their pain. In another study involving surgery patients, the stress reducing effects of music were more powerful than the effect of an orally-administered anxiolytic drug.
Performing music, versus listening to music, may also have a calming effect. In studies with adult choir singers, singing the same piece of music tended to synch up their breathing and heart rates, producing a group-wide calming effect. In a recent study, 272 premature babies were exposed to different kinds of music—either lullabies sung by parents or instruments played by a music therapist—three times a week while recovering in a neonatal ICU. Though all the musical forms improved the babies’ functioning, the parental singing had the greatest impact and also reduced the stress of the parents who sang.
Though it’s sometimes hard in studies like this to separate out the effects of music versus other factors, like the positive impacts of simple social contact, at least one recent study found that music had a unique contribution to make in reducing anxiety and stress in a children’s hospital, above and beyond social contributions.
Music decreases pain
Music has a unique ability to help with pain management. In a 2013 study, sixty people diagnosed with fibromyalgia — a disease characterised by severe musculoskeletal pain — were randomly assigned to listen to music once a day over a four-week period. In comparison to a control group, the group that listened to music experienced significant pain reduction and fewer depressive symptoms.
In another recent study, patients undergoing spine surgery were instructed to listen to self-selected music on the evening before their surgery and until the second day after their surgery. When measured on pain levels post surgery, the group had significantly less pain than a control group who didn’t listen to music.
It’s not clear why music may reduce pain, though music’s impact on dopamine release may play a role. Of course, stress and pain are also closely linked; so music’s impact on stress reduction may also partly explain the effects.
However, it’s unlikely that music’s impact is due to a simple placebo effect. In a 2014 randomised control trial involving healthy subjects exposed to painful stimuli, researchers failed to find a link between expectation and music’s effects on pain. The researchers concluded that music is a robust analgesic whose properties are not due simply to expectation factors.
Music may improve immune functioning
Can listening to music actually help prevent disease? Some researchers think so.
Wilkes University researchers looked at how music affects levels of IgA — an important antibody for our immune system’s first line of defence against disease. Undergraduate students had their salivary IgA levels measured before and after 30 minutes of exposure to one of four conditions — listening to a tone click, a radio broadcast, a tape of soothing music, or silence. Those students exposed to the soothing music had significantly greater increases in IgA than any of the other conditions, suggesting that exposure to music (and not other sounds) might improve innate immunity.
Another study from Massachusetts General Hospital found that listening to Mozart’s piano sonatas helped relax critically ill patients by lowering stress hormone levels, but the music also decreased blood levels of interleukin-6 — a protein that has been implicated in higher mortality rates, diabetes, and heart problems.
According to a 2013 meta-analysis, authors Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel Levitin concluded that music has the potential to augment immune response systems, but that the findings to date are preliminary. Still, as Levitin notes in one article on the study, “I think the promise of music as medicine is that it’s natural and it’s cheap and it doesn’t have the unwanted side effects that many pharmaceutical products do.”
Music may aid memory
My now-teenage son always listens to music while he studies. Far from being a distraction to him, he claims it helps him remember better when it comes to test time. Now research may prove him right—and provide an insight that could help people suffering from dementia.
Music enjoyment elicits dopamine release, and dopamine release has been tied to motivation, which in turn is implicated in learning and memory. In a study published last year, adult students studying Hungarian were asked to speak, or speak in a rhythmic fashion, or sing phrases in the unfamiliar language. Afterwards, when asked to recall the foreign phrases, the singing group fared significantly better than the other two groups in recall accuracy.
Evidence that music helps with memory has led researchers to study the impact of music on special populations, such as those who suffer memory loss due to illness. In a 2008 experiment, stroke patients who were going through rehab were randomly assigned to listen daily either to self-selected music, to an audio book, or to nothing (in addition to receiving their usual care). The patients were then tested on mood, quality of life, and several cognitive measures at one week, three months, and 6 months post-stroke. Results showed that those in the music group improved significantly more on verbal memory and focused attention than those in the other groups, and they were less depressed and confused than controls at each measuring point.
In a more recent study, caregivers and patients with dementia were randomly given 10 weeks of singing coaching, 10 weeks of music listening coaching, or neither. Afterwards, testing showed that singing and music listening improved mood, orientation, and memory and, to a lesser extent, attention and executive functioning, as well as providing other benefits. Studies like these have encouraged a movement to incorporate music into patient care for dementia patients, in part promoted by organisations like Music and Memory.
Music helps us exercise
How many of us listen to rock and roll or other upbeat music while working out? It turns out that research supports what we instinctively feel: music helps us get a more bang for our exercise buck.
Researchers in the United Kingdom recruited thirty participants to listen to motivational synchronised music, non-motivational synchronised music, or no music while they walked on a treadmill until they reached exhaustion levels. Measurements showed that both music conditions increased the length of time participants worked out (though motivational music increased it significantly more) when compared to controls. The participants who listened to motivational music also said they felt better during their work out than those in the other two conditions.
In another study, oxygen consumption levels were measured while people listened to different tempos of music during their exercise on a stationary bike. Results showed that when exercisers listened to music with a beat that was faster and synchronous with their movement, their bodies used up oxygen more efficiently than when the music played at a slower, unsynchronised tempo.
According to sports researchers Peter Terry and Costas Karageorghis, “Music has the capacity to capture attention, lift spirits, generate emotion, change or regulate mood, evoke memories, increase work output, reduce inhibitions, and encourage rhythmic movement – all of which have potential applications in sport and exercise.”
Singer Pharrell Williams urges kids to seek happiness during the United Nation’s program for the International Day of Happiness.
by Dr Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness
This Friday is not just the first day of spring, it is also the International Day of Happiness – a day to celebrate the things that contribute to human wellbeing and a flourishing society.
One of the strongest findings from all the research about wellbeing is the vital importance of our relationships. We are a deeply social species and we thrive when we’re closely connected to others. But modern society is undermining rather than enhancing these connections.
Our cities and public spaces are increasingly crowded, but more of us are living alone and fewer of us know our neighbours. The digital age promises endless connectivity, but we have fewer face-to-face interactions and often find ourselves paying more attention to the smartphone in our hand than the people we’re with.
The effects of this are devastating. Loneliness has been shown to be twice as deadly as obesity and is now becoming an epidemic among young adults as well as older people. Social isolation is as likely to cause early death as smoking.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways we can start to put this right. In particular, we need to give much greater priority to helping people at risk of loneliness and isolation and supporting the many excellent initiatives that address these issues, includingcampaigns, befriending services, social prescribing, helplines and more.
But this is also about how we treat the people around us in our daily lives. We can each play our own small but meaningful part in helping to create a happier, more connected world.
The theme for this year’s International Day of Happiness is “Your happiness is part of something bigger” – highlighting the importance of these small, everyday connections with others. The aim is to encourage people, wherever they are in the world, to reach out and make more positive connections with the people around them.
This can include simple everyday actions – like chatting to a neighbour, reconnecting with an old friend or sharing a few friendly words with a stranger in the supermarket.
Or it could be something more unusual. For example, Action for Happiness activists (or ‘Happtivists’ as they like to call themselves) are planning Positive Flash Mobs in various major cities, including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bucharest, Kiev, London, Milan, Perth and Washington DC. The aim is to transform places where we normally ignore each other – like busy streets or train stations – into places of friendliness and connection.
And in the online world, many thousands more people will be supporting the day by sharing inspiring personal messages and images using the#InternationalDayOfHappiness hashtag. Our online relationships will never be quite as valuable as those we have in person, but the internet can still be a great tool for creating more positive connections.
Of course, just one day focused on spreading happiness is not enough by itself; it needs to be the trigger for wider and more sustained changes. That’s why Action for Happiness, the non-profit movement behind this campaign, is also working to encourage on-going action across society, through initiatives like Happy Cafés and theAction for Happiness course.
So if you’d like to help transform our disconnected society into a friendlier, happier and more connected place, visit www.dayofhappiness.net and download your free Happiness Pack which has lots of suggestions for how to get involved.
The International Day of Happiness will be more than just a fun celebration, it will also help to remind us all that the world is a better place when we connect with and care about the people around us.
As Mark Twain once said: “The best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer someone else up”.
There are two different sides to human nature. Both are important, but the balance between them has huge implications for our wellbeing, culture and future.
One side of our nature is self-interested. This is our in-built instinct to do whatever we can to survive and thrive, often at the expense of others. The other side is co-operative and leads us to help others even when there is no direct benefit for ourselves.
Although Charles Darwin is normally associated with the “survival of the fittest” theory, he also believed that our natural instinct was to care for others. In The Descent of Man he wrote that the communities most likely to flourish were “those with the most sympathetic members”, an observation backed up by research that we are wired to care about each other.
But we have such a strong cultural narrative about the selfish side of humanity that we adopt systems and behaviours that undermine our natural co-operative tendencies. This starts in schools, where the relentless focus on exams and attainment instills in young people the idea that success is about doing better than others. It continues in our marketing culture, which encourages conspicuous displays of consumption and rivalry.
It’s found at the heart of our workplaces, where employees compete with each other for performance-related rewards. It’s behind the self-interested behaviour that makes it so hard to overcome major societal challenges such as climate change.
This “get ahead or lose out” ethos not only fails to promote the better side of our nature, it’s also deeply flawed. In schools, helping young people to develop social and emotional skills doesn’t just enhance their wellbeing, it’s also been shown to boost their performance.
In workplaces, research from Adam Grant, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School shows that “givers” – people who help others without seeking anything in return – are more successful in the long term than “takers” – who try to maximise benefits for themselves, rather than others.
For society as a whole, the World Happiness Report 2013, a major global study, found that two of the strongest explanatory factors for national wellbeing are levels of social support and generosity. Our success as a society directly depends on the extent to which we see each other as a source of support rather than a source of threat.
Today is the International Day of Happiness and this year’s theme is “your happiness is part of something bigger”, focusing on the importance of connecting with and caring about the people around us. This matters for sustainability for three significant reasons.
Firstly, it is a timely reminder of the importance of collaboration and the need for systems thinking, both within and across organisations. This is the only way we can solve the major challenges in our increasingly complex and interconnected world.
Secondly, it links to the growing body of evidence including a recent paper from the University of Warwick that shows when people feel happier and more connected they are more productive at work. Dr Teresa Belton, researcher and visiting fellow at the University of East Anglia, has also shown it leads people tobehave in more environmentally sustainable ways.
Thirdly, the deeper message behind the International Day of Happiness is the need for a radical shift in the way we measure progress. This moves us away from chasing GDP growth at all costs and towards a more holistic view of wellbeing as the ultimate goal, taking future generations into account too.
This doesn’t just matter for business leaders and policy makers, it relates to the way that we each behave as individuals and how we treat others in our communities and working lives.
Today people all around the world are taking small actions to create more positive connections with others around them, whether at the office, in the shops, on the train or in their neighbourhood. These tiny moments of friendliness and co-operation aren’t trivial and meaningless; they are the vital lifeblood of a good society.
Bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society. Taken from a lecture given by Jeremy Rifkin as part of the RSA’s free public events programme.
You can find all of these articles and many more in our latest collection here