A Michael Caine moment; a moment to say, “not a lot of people know that.” Well, more accurately, neither I, nor anyone else in the room knew, today is the International Day of Happiness. It was the Facebook page of the 1970s BBC children’s television programme The Clangers’ that brought this information into our house (The Clangers have been a firm favourite since the 1970s; their 1974 general election special was an extraordinary piece of insight into the difference between democratic politics and consensus politics).
Lest the International Day of Happiness be thought an invention of those cuddly extra-terrestrials, a Google search reveals it to be an initiative of nothing less than the United Nations. The United Nations is using the idea of a day of happiness as a vehicle for sharing ideas that are more prosaic, but of significance for hundreds of millions of people. The UN website says,
Since 2013, the United Nations has celebrated the International Day of Happiness as a way to recognise the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world. In 2015 the UN launched 17 Sustainable Development Goals that seek to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect our planet – three key aspects that lead to well-being and happiness.
Of course, the problem with the UN statement is the implication that people whose living conditions fall short of the development goals may not have made the progress that will “lead to well-being and happiness.” Anyone who has visited Africa will know there are countless communities where many things regarded as necessary are lacking, but where there is a buoyant sense of well-being and happiness. Conversely, the UN implies that the fulfilment of the goals is progress that will “lead to well-being and happiness” when there are millions of people living affluent lives in highly developed countries who are miserable, whose lives seem almost entirely devoid of happiness.
The International Day of Happiness is focused on material goals, on measurable goals; happiness does not come through goods and statistics. Happiness is about a state of mind, rather than about a state of body. Happiness is not something that can be delivered through programmes, no matter how ambitious those programmes might be; happiness comes from within.
The Clangers understand what happiness requires, posting on their Facebook page, “It’s all very well trying to be something we aren’t. But true happiness is being something we are.” It is often the people who live farthest from the development goals who, by being what they are, know true happiness.