International Day of Happiness

Next Wednesday, 20 March 2024

The International Day of Happiness is celebrated around the world every year on March 20. As a global initiative, Its purpose is to highlight the importance of happiness, freedom, and well-being.

The day was created in 2012 by The United Nations. According to the UN, it should be the goal of every country to encourage happiness (as well as freedom and well-being) among its population. International Day of Happiness is not a national holiday, and so businesses and schools remain open.

A young lady with a large smile against a yellow background. She is wearing a denim jacket and orange teeshirt.

History of International Day of Happiness

There are two threads in the story of the creation of the International Day of Happiness. Partly the origins are found in the the work of businessman Jayme Illien, but also in the philosophy and governance of the Country of Bhutan.:

Jayme Illien - Campaigner for Happiness

In 2011, Jayme Illien, the CEO of Illien Global Public Benefit Corporation, approached the UN with the idea of a new celebration. He aimed to encourage global economic stability and by doing this promote happiness. 

This brand new global day also had the purpose of celebrating the importance of happiness for people around the world. 

On June 28, 2012, resolution 66/281, authored by Illien, was accepted and adopted by all United Nations member states. The first International Day of Happiness was celebrated on the next year on March 20, 2013.

Bhutan's Way: Gross National Happiness

Also sometimes known as Gross Domestic Happiness, The Gross National Happiness was a reaction to the obsession many countries have with the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). In 1972 the 4th King of Bhutan coined the term as he wanted to think about the country's potential differently. He wanted to instill values of well-being into the country that prioritized the happiness of its citizens.

He wanted Bhutan to focus on:

  • being a free society,
  • having economic development
  • sustainability
  • good governance. 

The approach interested the international community and in 2012 the Prime Minister of Bhutan met with Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the UN, to discuss the philosophy and how it could be incorporated into an international effort to promote happiness. Later the same year International Day of Happiness was announced. 

Happiness in Bhutan vs America

As mentioned above, Bhutan measures its national prosperity not by using the Gross National Product index, but rather the Gross National Happiness index. Leaders of the country believe happiness is part of a holistic approach to the nation's development and economic growth. They believe that their country can only prosper if its citizens are happy with their lives and accomplishments. 

As a result Bhutan supposedly has the happiest citizens in the world.

In 2009, the United States, inspired by Bhutan's GNH, adopted the Gallup Well-Being Index to conduct a happiness survey of their citizens. In that research 47.4% of adults answered that they experienced happiness and enjoyment without stress and worry. A concerning 11.7% of people answered that they experienced stress and worry without happiness and enjoyment

Why do we celebrate the International Day of Happiness?

While the main catalyst for the creation of the International Day of Happiness was economic improvement, that is not the main reason why the day is celebrated across the globe today. People celebrate it for many reasons.:

  • Mental and emotional well-being. It can open discussions about the importance of mental and emotional health, and happiness, it also reduces the stigma associated with seeking help and support.
  • Community Building: It's a great chance to get to know your neighbors! close-knit communities are happy communities! Events provide opportunities for people to come together, have fun, share positive experiences, and develop their sense of community.
  • To have fun and make friends. 

International Happiness Day Themes 

Every year, the institution Action for Happiness coordinates events for the International Day of Happiness around the world. There is also a yearly theme for the day, Here are the themes from 2022-2024:

Year Theme
2021 Happiness For All, Forever. - Promoting lasting happiness and well-being for all.
2022 Build Back Happier. - Focused on global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
2023 Be Mindful. Be Grateful. Be Kind. - Encouraging mindfulness, gratitude, and kindness.

The theme for 2024 has yet to be announced. 

How to Celebrate 

There are many ways to participate, you could:

  • Spend time reflecting on what makes you happy, and on how you could change the world around you.
  • Bring happiness to others, choose to donate to a charity, or even help by volunteering. 
  • Take part in some activities that bring you joy, such as dancing, hiking, or playing sports.
  • Spend quality time with family and friends, and invest effort in the relationships that make you happy.
  • Start a new habit, such as a gratitude journal, or mindfulness workshop.

There may be official events and activities taking place in your community, or place of work, if not, get the ball rolling and organize something that will make you and others happy. 

For more dates that will make you happy, check out:

International Day of Happiness
International Day of Happiness

International Day of Happiness - Next years

Thursday, 20 March 2025

Friday, 20 March 2026

Saturday, 20 March 2027

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