Wednesday, 1 February, 2023

Expectations on International Day of Happiness

A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman

International Day of Happiness is celebrated every year on 20 March across the world since 2013. The UN General Assembly adopted the resolution no. A/RES/66/281 in 2012 which was tabled by the South Asian country Bhutan. This day is observed to highlight the importance of happiness in the lives of people and at the same time, to place before the people the factors hindering happiness. The celebration of this day is an attempt to show the unhappy people the treasures and ways of happiness.

As International Happiness Day is a global event, the day is also celebrated in Bangladesh through various programmes. Government, civil society, educational institutions and non-governmental organisations organise conferences, public meetings, discussion meetings, etc. on this day to make people aware that being happy is a human right. The United Nations also organises various programmes to mark the day. However, due to the global COVID-19 epidemic, the day is more likely to be celebrated this time as it was last year, with fewer gatherings and a limited number of programmes.

The theme of this year’s Happiness Day is ‘Keep Calm, Stay Wise, Be Kind’. That is to say, the theme is going to focus three basic factors of attaining happiness. We can get maximum satisfaction and happiness if we can keep ourselves calm in any situation. When we keep calm, the atmosphere we live in remains peaceful. And we know peace is largely responsible for happiness. Taking any step wisely can lead us to success as we wish. Success gives a feeling of happiness by stimulating the hiding happiness in mind. Kindness is one of the best human qualities, and to be kind to others can give a person unparallel happiness. There is no comparison to the joy that is felt in the mind through the practice of kindness. These are very important for us in the current COVID-19 epidemic situation. In that context, I think the words of the theme have been rightly chosen. We have to be calm and take our steps wisely to overcome COVID-19 permanently.

Who in the world does not want to be happy? There is nothing more precious in the life of a human being than happiness. We are working so hard for our happiness. Life becomes meaningful only when one's life is illuminated by the light of happiness. Everything in the life of a happy person is beautiful, lively and dynamic. Life is meaningless to unhappy people; everything seems to be filled with emptiness. Even, birth itself became unbearable for them. It is a cursed life that never ends. That is why there is no end to human endeavours in search of happiness. Everyone is running after happiness, day after day, and happiness also runs on its own.

Happiness is considered as one of the most essential fundamental needs of all human beings. In view of that, it has become an obligation for the world leadership to provide necessary facilities so that their people can breathe in a happy environment. The people of the developed countries are much acquainted with happiness and its importance in their lives, but the people of the developing and under-developed countries have the least opportunities to enjoy happiness. Indeed, issues like poverty, inequality and global warming are hindering them from enjoying happiness. To overcome those hindrances, the United Nations in 2015, launched 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including reduction of poverty, minimising inequality and protecting the planet, and as such, the world community has been working relentlessly to achieve those goals by 2030. 

One person might be happy once he gets something of his choice, but another person might not be happy with the same thing. Source of happiness varies from person to person. Happiness is experienced in different ways by different people. But happiness does not mean that we can do whatever we like to do for being happy. The pursuit of happiness refers to the liberty to pursue one’s happiness without violating the rights of any other person. It can never be desirable that my happiness will ruin the happiness of others and cause sorrows.

Greed is a major obstacle to our happiness. Greed is the seed of all unhappiness. Happiness can never be attained if greed cannot be removed from our life. The light of happiness is shrouded in darkness if one cannot get out of the self-wailing mind which is filled with greed. Life becomes much easier and more beautiful when greed could be washed out. Thus, happiness comes and finds space in our minds. Happiness can flood our lives only if we are satisfied with what we possess. By holding this belief, anyone is able to make his/her life colourful with the genuine touch of happiness.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 300 million people are currently living with depression, while countless more are facing an undiagnosed lack of happiness in their lives.   

There are reasons, like the changing societal system, lessening family bonding, lack of job satisfaction and discrimination, which have serious effects on an individual for being depressed, frustrated and living an unhappy life. It is also said that happiness, being a mental issue, not only depends on a family’s economic condition, but social structure and family environment counts a lot.

What was the philosophy of Bhutan, being a small country of the South Asia region, to raise a resolution on happiness in the United Nations? In response, it needs to mention that no other country in the world but Bhutan considers ‘Gross National Happiness (GNH)’ as their development index. GNH is the pillar of Bhutan’s development ideology. As the Ambassador of Bangladesh, I had the opportunity to observe the lifestyle of the Bhutanese very closely. I would like to say a few words about the conception of happiness to the people of Bhutan, which might inspire us to follow the ways to be happy.

Bhutan had a unique approach of determining the country’s development index named ‘Gross National Happiness (GNH)’, which was finally introduced in 1972 as a philosophy of economic and social development. The government of Bhutan implements the policies through strict adherence to the four pillars of GNH, which include equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of Bhutan’s culture, conservation of environment and promotion of good governance. They are not much concerned about the country’s GDP. Their upbringing goes with GNH.

As followers and promoters of GNH, the Bhutanese believe that true development of human society is the outcome of the material and spiritual advancement. The door of happiness could be opened if economic achievement is harmonised with spiritual and emotional well-being of the people. A sustainable balance between the economic, social, emotional, spiritual and cultural needs can only provide a holistic development at both individual and society level. Moral and ethical frameworks are also important in strengthening institutions like family and community. These are actually practiced by the people of Bhutan in spite of various natural limitations in their livelihood. They are not so greedy like peoples of many countries across the world. That’s why they are happier than others. We, being the people of a country of South Asia, can learn a lot from the Bhutanese on how to bring happiness in our lives.

A recent survey found that countries where social relations play an important role in determining the level of happiness of the people are far behind the list of happy countries due to the coronavirus epidemic. However, the countries whose people consider mutual trust as the basis of happiness have moved up the list. According to the survey, as countries such as India, Latin America and Mexico rely on social interaction as a basis for happiness and these social activities have been disrupted by the epidemic, those countries have slipped from their earlier positions. On the other hand, in China, Japan or the Nordic countries, trust and confidence in law and order play a key role in determining the level of happiness, so those countries have become happier than before and have improved in the list of happy countries.

Celebrating International Happiness Day, at a time when the world is moving towards some relief from the coronavirus epidemic, bears a special significance to us. Coronavirus has taken happiness away from the lives of most people in the world. We must remain calm and take prudent and appropriate steps to permanently recover from the damage we have already suffered. We have to stand by the people who are living in the midst of immense misery and we have to put a smile of happiness on their faces. It is said, ‘Shared joy is double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow’. We wish the success of the celebration of International Happiness Day with the hope that humanity will be awakened in the minds of all of us.


The writer is a former Ambassador and