The UN have declared this Wednesday 20 March the International Day of Happiness. Many people might find this faintly ridiculous and I am sure there will be plenty of jokes about unhappiness as well complaints about the UN having better things to do such as sorting out Syria or North Korea. I am not going to argue that the UN should stop doing their urgent political and humanitarian work but I do think it is rather important for us all to stop and think about happiness.
After all who does not want to lead a happy fulfilled life? Who does not want their children, their families and their loved ones to be happy? The human life is not just about surviving. It is also about thriving and leading a full life.
Not a laughing matter
Indeed it can be very problematic when we ignore this. Communities that are filled with unhappy unfulfilled people become a breeding ground for social discontent.The resultant cycle of conflict, crime and insecurity quickly spreads the misery around. Unhappy workplaces can get into similar downward spirals characterised by low productivity, sickness absence and ultimately poor customer service or low quality products.
I would even argue that happiness is also a serious global issue. We live in a world that will soon have nine billion people. How are we all going to live in harmony with each other and the one planet we share? Can we create a world that we all want rather than one characterised by some living in material affluence and the majority just surviving day to day? It seems to me that if we don't globally reflect on what a good human life is, then we are in serious trouble. We need to find an alternative pathway to human happiness than the materialistic materially intensive one we are sold everyday.
So we need to talk about happiness. We need to talk about happiness in our families, our schools, our communities, our organizations and indeed politically. I have spent most of my working life thinking I was a statistician trying to measure quality of life and progress in novel useful ways. However I slowly realised that my real job is to start conversations - I just happen to use measurement tools to act as catalysts to do this.
One example of such a tool is the Happy Planet Index which at face value is the first global measure of sustainable well-being. It shows all sorts of exciting things - such as how Costa Rica is the most sustainable happy nation in the world. However its real value has to be that it naturally starts conversations about creating a happy healthy and sustainable future.
Happiness at work
The latest set of tools I am working on is how to encourage conversations about happiness in the business world. Indeed there is a certain irony about the first Day of Happiness falling on a Wednesday as research has shown that Wednesdays are the unhappiest day of the week for most people. No doubt this is because Wednesdays are the furthest we are away from a weekend, which clearly illustrates that most people are not especially happy at work. I think this is actually a big wasted opportunity for businesses. So my logic is that if they have the courage to start a conversation with their employees about how happy they are, then they can potentially reap massive benefits associated with a more engaged workforce. To help seed these conversations we have created a set of happiness at work tools that gather data on happy people are and feeds that information back to everyone in the organisation. This makes happiness a valid topic of conversation both informally at the water cooler and formally in team meetings and appraisals.
Clearly measurement is not the only way to start conversations and the Day of Happiness campaign has been launched to this end. The 20 March has become a date in the annual diary for these conversations to take place across the world. The UN, I think, have done us all a service - by starting to take human happiness seriously.