Forget Valentine’s Day, this month we shower ourselves with affection and celebrate the United Nation’s International Day of Happiness (20 March). But what is it and why is it being celebrated?
Coordinated by Action for Happiness (a non-profit movement of people from 160 countries with The Dalai Lama as its patron), the day recognises ‘happiness’ as a fundamental human goal, and prioritises happiness and wellbeing over growing the economy. In fact, research regularly suggests that an increase in people’s happiness has a direct impact on their longevity.
Each year the World Happiness Report includes a ranking of the happiest places to live. In 2018, New Zealand was ranked 7th with the Scandinavian countries of Finland, Denmark and Sweden topping the list. This ranking takes into account social support, life expectancy and freedom to make choices.
Most importantly, International Day of Happiness is all about inspiring people to make small changes in their own lives that can make them happier, as well as those around them. Follow the hashtag #InternationalDayOfHappiness to see what people are doing to make a happier world – there’s plenty to smile about!
Action for Happiness has also developed 10 practical steps to happier living, based on the latest scientific evidence. Under the acronym GREAT DREAM, the first 5 steps (GREAT) are all about how we interact with others and the second 5 steps (DREAM) are about attitude.
Giving: Do things for others - The beauty of giving is that it doesn’t just make others happy, it can make us happy too! Try 3 acts of kindness today, whether that be giving your spare change to someone less fortunate, baking some healthy snacks for the office, or donating some of your time to help your favourite charity.
Relating: Connect with people - People with strong relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. Your close relationships give you meaning, support and love, while your broader connections give you a sense of belonging. Try to make extra time for a loved one. Have a chat in your local coffee shop or ask your neighbour about their day.
Exercising: Take care of your body - There’s plenty of evidence that exercise can lift your mood. Being active doesn’t have to be strenuous and it can simply be part of having fun e.g. walking the dog, taking the kids to the park, or catching up with the girls for an end of day talk and walk.
Awareness: Live life mindfully – It literally is time to smell the roses. Stop and take time to notice the good things (no matter how small) about your everyday e.g. a blue sky day, the sound of your kids laughing, or even clean sheets on your bed.
Trying out: Keep learning new things – It’s a great way to boost your confidence and spark your curiosity. Set yourself a goal to try something new each week. It could be as simple as tackling a new recipe, trying a new food, starting a new hobby, or simply taking a different route to work.
Direction: Have goals to look forward to – Set a goal that’s challenging and motivating but also achievable. Then tell a few friends – it will keep you accountable and ensure you have a cheer squad.
Resilience: Find ways to bounce back - Life can throw curveballs when you least expect them, but it’s how you respond that can influence your happiness. Next time you’re feeling stressed or down, try boosting your endorphins by doing something you love. This could be switching off and cooking your favourite dinner or turning up the tunes and smashing out your favourite exercise.
Emotions: Look for what’s good – Positive emotions don’t just feel good, they’re also good for your health. Although there will be ups and downs, next time something goes wrong try to think with a “glass half full” attitude and find the positives.
Acceptance: Be comfortable with who you are – It’s increasingly challenging in this age of social media but it’s time to stop comparing and dwelling on your flaws. Be kinder to yourself. Focusing on your talents, strengths, and what you do have, can do wonders for your self-esteem and self-acceptance.
Meaning: Be part of something bigger – People with purpose are happier and are less likely to suffer stress, anxiety and depression. Purpose may come from your job or volunteering, your spiritual beliefs or your family. It varies for all of us but at the core, it’s all about connecting to something bigger.
If this seems a little overwhelming, remember that food = mood, so if you’re looking for easy ways to boost your happiness, try nourishing your body every day by choosing plenty of fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes and wholegrains.