By Laura Musikanski
For the last two years, I have dedicating my life to a project called the Happiness Initiative. Last week I was invited to participate in a meeting at the United Nations about this work. Here is a short synopsis.
April marks the launch of a Global Well-being and Happiness movement. It all happened at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. “Happiness?” You say, “in New York City? At the United Nations? You must be kidding. April Fools, right?”
It’s no April Fools. On April 2, 2012, over 650 political, academic and civic leaders convened at a High Level Meeting called Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.
The meeting was brought to order and the movement called into being by Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley of Bhutan and Secretary-General Ki-moon of the United Nations. Both spoke of the dire need for the replacement of a money-based system, and the dawning of the age of happiness, compassion and well-being.
Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley warned of the destruction of our natural environment and society. The Secretary General cited Buddha and Aristotle. “Social, economic and environmental wellbeing are indivisible” he said.
Costa Rican President Shares The Secrets To Happiness
President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, giving the keynote speech, spoke truth to his words. Costa Rica is celebrated as the most environmental and one of the happiest nations in the world. President Chinchilla told us of Costa Rica’s road to environmental health and happiness. It began with primary education for all; next came abolishing the death penalty; then a strong social security program (which attracted investments in production).
Later, the abolishment of the army; “using ballots not bullets” the President said, was followed by the networking of national parks so that 30 percent of the land is protected.
She was followed by a Lord from the U.K., Speaker of Parliament from Finland, and Ministers of the Environment from Israel and India as well as high level officials from Thailand, Japan, and a plethora of other nations.
After so many high level officials cast their ballot for the movement, the scientists weighed in. Vandana Shiva, Robert Costanza and Martin Seligman were just a few on four panels.
World Happiness Report Released
But all were trumped by the John Helliwell, Lord Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sacks who gave us the facts about happiness from their World Happiness Report first published at the meeting. Happiness can be measured – and should be with subjective and objective measures. While money – up to a certain point - will make you happier, friends, work you love, trust in others and health care, make you even happier. And even more than that, compassion and altruism bring happiness and both can be taught.
Planning A Global Happiness and Well-being movement
And this was just the first day. The next two days were spent in working groups. Over 200 people stayed and broke into four working groups: scientists, communications, planning and civic. They were tasked to plan a Global Happiness and Well-being movement. A fool’s task, one would think. But “never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people,” as Margaret Mead said.
Key pieces to the working group plans included methods to include others, efforts to communicate to different audiences, collaborative evolution of the science, and more official efforts: a UN happiness commission and the inclusion of happiness and well-being in the UN millennium development goals.
Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley closed the meeting with a few words: “Happiness can be learned.”
He spoke about how individuals can learn compassion and altruism. He spoke about how governments can learn to measure, and manage, happiness. He spoke about how this movement is emerging, and how we all need to do the work together to create a future of happiness and well-being.
Is a Global Happiness and the Well-being movement a fool’s quest?
The fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear warned the king over and over of the dangers before him, and once understood, was lauded, but too late. We have all the warning signs for our environment and civic society before us. Let us take heed of the “fools” this April, and let do something to transform our society from a money-based one to that that really brings about the well-being of all.