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“Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” – Dale Carnegie

Do you know what makes you happy? Is it your family and friends? Your new phone or your garden? Perhaps it’s pampering your pets, creating a culinary masterpiece or simply seeing the smile on someone else’s face when you go out of your way to do something special for them?

March 20th is the UN’s International Day of Happiness, when people all over the world will connect together to celebrate happiness and join the call for happiness to be given greater priority in organisations, countries and the world as a whole.

Since the dawn of the 21st century, it seems the world has faced crisis after crisis: 9/11, the war on terror, the financial crash, and most recently, a global pandemic affecting the lives of everyone on the planet. Some might say there is little to be happy about.

And yet in 2011, the United Nations 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 wellbeing of all peoples”. It recognised the part that we all play in promoting a happier world, and that injustice, inequality, and the pursuit of economic growth at the expense of human happiness, is neither desirable nor sustainable. The resolution was initiated by Bhutan, a country which has recognised the value of national happiness over national income since the early 1970s and has a formal measure for ‘Gross National Happiness’ which it has preferred over Gross National Product (GNP) for years.

International Happiness Day is promoted by the charity, Action for Happiness, and supported by many other partner organisations in the UK and around the world. This year, the focus for the day is on 3 simple steps which we can all take in these difficult times to increase our happiness and that of those around us. They are:

1. Keep calm – remember to breathe and focus on what really matters, not things that are out of your control

2. Stay wise – make positive choices which help others

3. Be kind – reach out to others at this time and stay connected however you can, especially to those who may be in greatest need

You can download a ‘Coping Calendar’ from their website which gives 30 simple, free ideas to help get everyone through the current crisis; from phoning a loved one, to having a tech-free day, and you can sign up to receive future calendars too.

So how happy are we?

In 2011, the UN also began measuring happiness in the World Happiness Report, an index based on several measures of wellbeing and quality of life including GDP, life expectancy, social support and people’s perception of their freedom to make life choices. Scandinavian countries fair well, with Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden all in the top 7! The bottom 5 countries, ranked by their citizens for their happiness, are the Central African Republic, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, South Sudan and Afghanistan.

Interestingly, and perhaps going somewhat against commonly-held current beliefs, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that the UK has improved in its measures of life satisfaction each year since 2011, and that these percentage changes over time are significant for all UK countries. This might not be how it ‘feels’ at the moment, especially with reports of increased numbers of calls to mental health charities during lockdown, but ‘officially’ we are getting happier.

How to be happier yourself

To help everyone raise their level of personal happiness, Action for Happiness are promoting their “Ten keys to happier living” and they have put these into the mnemonic Great Dream, which stands for:

Giving – do things for others

Relating – connect with people and communities

Exercising – take care of your body

Awareness – live mindfully

Trying out – keep learning new things

Direction – have goals to look forward to

Resilience – find ways to bounce back from adversity

Emotions – always look for the positives

Acceptance – be comfortable with who you are

Meaning – be part of something bigger than you

Most self-help groups and happiness gurus will agree that to change something in your life, you must either change your thoughts, or change your actions, which can lead to different, more positive results. On the website, you can sign up to a short, email-based course, and download some free resources to help introduce happiness topics to children.

How to promote happiness in your setting

Promoting wellbeing in your setting should be something that you are doing regularly, with both your pupils and your staff. After all, Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ states that we cannot be happy if our basic needs are not met. Action for Happiness have also created a ‘Keys to Happier Living Toolkit’ costing £80 for unlimited access for a year, which they describe as “an engaging, accessible and evidence-based programme to promote the emotional wellbeing and resilience of children aged 5–11”. There are two versions, aimed at KS1 and KS2, and although they are not aimed directly at nursery-aged children, there are a lot of ideas that can be adapted to suit the early years cohort.

Here are some ideas to promote happiness in your setting:

  • Celebrate on March 20th in person or virtually
  • Run a survey to find out what really makes your staff and children happy
  • Increase the physical activity within the setting even by 10 – 15 minutes a day
  • Practice more mindfulness – how about a staff yoga class?
  • Have a ‘wear something that makes you smile day’ – be prepared for onesies, jeans or shoulder pads!
  • Make a list of things to be grateful for
  • Encourage everyone in the setting to do something for someone else
  • Remember that connecting to something bigger gives people meaning – it could be with people in your room, your setting, your country or the world!

There are 51 actions to help you be happier on the Action for Happiness website, from ‘getting more sleep’ to ‘getting to know your neighbours better’ so there are plenty to choose from to get you started.

And whatever you do, have fun!

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