10/03/2015 07:25 GMT | Updated 08/05/2015 06:59 BST

20 March 2015: Time to Take Happiness More Seriously

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.

Friday 20 March is World Happiness Day. This is the third time that the world is being asked to mark a day dedicated to the pursuit of happiness - World Happiness Day was celebrated for the first time in 2013, following a decision by the United Nations General Assembly in July 2011.

UN member states have agreed that happiness is a "fundamental human goal" and called for "a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes... happiness and well-being of all peoples". What this means, is that the UN members believe they should make the happiness of the people the main goal of their policies and that they are looking for ways to re-prioritise what really matters in politics.

Historically, government policies have tended to focus on economic growth. But as Bobby Kennedy famously pointed out in 1968, our key economic indicator, Gross Domestic Product, "measures everything, except that which is worthwhile."

"Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armoured cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programmes which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children."

So it is clear that "a better way must be found to measure the prosperity and progress of mankind". Or as the author of this article says, "if we don't globally reflect on what a good human life is, then we are in serious trouble. Surely a good human life does not have to be an intensive and materialistic life? That pathway - which is our current one - can only lead to a hellishly hot future, probably with massive structural inequalities (as the powerful control the increasingly limited environmental resources such as water and sources of energy) and not much human happiness."

And the good news is that new thinking is quickly gaining ground.


This year, UN member states are negotiating a new set of priorities for global decision-making, focusing not just on growth, but on values such as human dignity, global solidarity, and the inclusion of everyone. There is increasing recognition that wellbeing is a serious global issue and that we rapidly have to find a better way for the growing world population to live in harmony with each other and with the planet that sustains us.

But happiness is not just an abstract global issue; it is also a very real concern for people and communities around the world. Many communities have discovered that social discontent is a breeding ground for crime, conflict and insecurity, just like many businesses have found that unhappy workplaces are less productive: Happy workers have more energy, are more engaged in their jobs, are more confident, provide better customer service and are less likely to be absent due to sickness. More importantly, happy people live longer, have fewer ailments, are more altruistic, have more friends and make other people feel great too.

So it is high time that our policy makers turn their attention not just to the question of how to make us richer, but to how we can make sure all of us have a better life.

We have the motive, we have the evidence and we have the opportunity. So on 20 March let's start to take Happiness seriously, and to come up with the ideas for shaping our societies in such a way as to maximise human wellbeing.