Happiness Gets Its Day

There are two reasons I've drawn a huge circle around March 20 on my calendar. The third Thursday of the third month is the first day of spring -- my favorite season. And, more importantly, March 20 is International Day of Happiness, a holiday commissioned by the General Assembly of the United Nations to raise awareness that well-being and happiness are fundamental to human life.

Both events celebrate new beginnings. Spring brings new life. International Day of Happiness brings new understanding.

When we inhale the heady perfume of baby grass and spring's first flowers, we feel a lift -- we're happy for the experience. When we decide to make gratitude or forgiveness or generosity a priority, we also feel happiness. Are the two linked? I think so.

Both the advent of spring and International Day of Happiness have basis in natural science. One is caused by the tilting and orbit of our planet. The other, while a man-made invention, underscores the fact that we are hardwired for happiness. Mother Nature has endowed us with a body that's capable of positive emotions, actions and expressions. When people respond to life's inevitable challenges with grace, perseverance and even joy, they inspire us. They show us that sad, painful or disappointing events can have good outcomes or unexpected silver linings. Science is showing us why some of these profoundly human characteristics are demonstrated even in difficult situations. It turns out that we can choose happiness -- for ourselves and for our world.

International Day of Happiness isn't about drawing smiley faces on sticky notes (which I don't do) or putting a good face on bad news (which I do sometimes), it's about hitting the "pause" button sometime during March 20 and thinking about how happiness is an essential element of a basic life.

It is wonderfully freeing to simply write those words: "Happiness is essential." While it is different for each of us, happiness is something we all need and deserve.

I saw happiness on the faces of men and women who had little in American terms, but were rich in community while on a family trip to Morocco. As our guide walked ahead of us along the clogged streets of Marrakesh, he would sometimes pause to acknowledge someone with a nod or to touch a hand. After a bit, I realized he was also dispersing some of the coins we'd paid him into those hands. This wasn't just commerce; it was also a social network. He gathered happiness from those around him and likewise, passed it back to them.

Happiness is not the result of wealth, health or education. Rather, it is an indicator of those things. That makes happiness a powerful tool in improving worldwide economics and the health and well-being of people all around the globe.

I'm going to be at the United Nations on International Day of Happiness, taking part in both formal proceedings and the free-form celebrations we've planned at public locations. Active, loud and personal endorsement of happiness is important to raise awareness of its potential positive impact on everyday life. I expect to see, hear and report on people who "vote for happiness," and I'll share those stories in our next issue. Will it be your story that I share? Mark March 20 on your calendar and go to actsofhappiness.org to learn how to get involved.