Celebrating Happiness

It was highly debatable why on earth March 8, only one day, was given to women for it assumed the rest of 364/5 are men’s day.  It was now extended to celebrating women for one month, dedicating the month of March to acknowledge the milestone achieved to reach towards gender equality as well as women’s achievements and contributions.  Hopefully and ultimately, both men and women create a system whereby each day is celebrated for equal existence, rights, opportunities, access to resources and contributions to humanity.

Similarly, today is March 20 and it is celebrated as International Happiness Day.  When all people strive to be happy daily, why assign one day to “Happiness”?  In preparation to leading a discussion on the pursuit of happiness at AWiB, I found World Happiness Report 2015.  I thought happiness was a personal thing but now I found it is used as a construct to measure social progress and a goal of public policy.  According to this report, “Sustainable development is a normative concept calling for all societies to balance economic, social, and environmental objectives in a holistic manner. When countries pursue GDP in a lopsided manner, forgetting about social and environmental objectives, the results can be adverse for human well-being.”

In the past four to five decades explosions of researches have been conducted on anger, anxiety and depression than joy, happiness and life satisfaction, which show that the focus of attention is on how to eliminate dysfunctional life than capitalizing on what works.  According to Positive Psychologist, Martin Seligman, happiness is determined by our genetic predisposition + thoughts and actions + our life circumstances.

In leading the roundtable discussions, I asked each discussant to write their formula of happiness.  Since happiness has subjective element, each one determines what happiness means to her, so we resorted to thinking our personal formula; H=f(x, y, z,…)

I acknowledge that we may be genetically predisposed to feel in certain ways.  However, I want to discuss on what is on our disposal to control and choose to do.  Neurological studies show that new neurons and paths are created in the brain by our repeated actions.

Let me summarize the elements we discussed that determine our happiness; which goes beyond the feeling of ecstasy to life fulfillment.

  1. Positive self-image: Developing positive attitude towards self, accepting oneself and having self-respect, is quite essential to feel happy.  Happiness starts with our inward self-esteem.
  2. Gratitude: This is a big element whereby we do not have a sense of entitlement about life; rather are grateful that all necessary things in life are free of charge.  Nature: the sun, the air, our body, and so forth are all given to us and we need to be grateful about them.  We can use our natural resources and add multitude things to focus on functional side of life.  Taking inventory of what we have contributes to our choice of happiness.  Lowering our expectations and counting our blessings lead to gratitude.
  3. Balance: Positive Psychotherapy teaches us balance is a key determinant of healthy life.  Life at times is skewed towards work, or relationship or body or spiritual practices at the expense of other parts of our being.  Happy people are balanced people who take good care of their body; have work that engages them to positively contribute to self and others’ development; have relationship or contact with significant people; and have hope whereby we can connect to our future.
  4. Having a goal: After people fulfill their survival needs, they focus on the meaning of their existence.   Having clear goal based on one’s personality, interest and effort to pursue their dreams enhances satisfaction in life.
  5. Sharing: The long adage of “Happy is the one who gives than who receives,” says it all.  Scientifically, neurological studies also confirm that people’s happiness increase when they share what they have with others.  To increase our happiness, we reach out to others for their sake and our reward will be the immeasurable inward joy.
  6. Engagement: Finding oneself in meaningful activities, in something that engages our mind/body and time that contribute to the wellbeing of others increases life satisfaction.

Our emotions affect our health, productivity, how we handle adversity, and our social resources.  Talking about happiness, I am not only limiting it to a feeling but also to perception, judgment, purpose and action that are highly involved in our pursuit of happiness for we reap the effects in multiple ways.

The International Day of Happiness theme for 2016 is ‘Creating Happiest World Together.’  I believe happiness is a journey of 365/6 days and each one of us needs to contribute to that. Would you like to pursue it all the days of the year instead of celebrating it only today?

Seble Hailu

March 20, 2015