Accessibility links

March 20 Marks International Day of Happiness

  • Faiza Elmasry

File photo taken in Battambang province, Cambodia. (Courtesy

File photo taken in Battambang province, Cambodia. (Courtesy

In the Kingdom of Bhutan, the measure of the quality of life is expressed as the GNH: the gross national happiness. In 2012, the tiny Himalayan nation persuaded the U.N. General Assembly to establish the International Day of Happiness. It is a formal opportunity to consider what makes us happy.

The emotion is so important to our well-being that America's founding fathers considered the pursuit of happiness to be a God-given right.

What is happiness? We know it when we feel it, but there is no simple way to define it, says Joseph Panetta, spokesman for Live Happy magazine. However, he adds, there are certain components to happiness.

“Those things include positive relationships, a positive outlook," he said. "They include engagement, being engaged in your community and the things that are going on around you...Meaning is probably the most important thing. When someone feels that what they’re doing has a real meaning behind it, that’s greater than themselves, they gain a much more positive feeling from doing it.”

Being happy, he says, is essential for our health.

“We know from a scientific perspective that human beings are hardwired to perform their best when happy," he said. "People with positive and optimistic mindset earn higher incomes, they set and achieve more aggressive goals, have less stress. They are more energetic. They also recover from illnesses faster and, interestingly, they live longer.”

Filmmaker Adam Shell considers himself a happy person.

“I’ve always had a high baseline for happiness and my default goes back to happy and content," Shell said. "I like to laugh a lot and for me that’s one of my priorities in life.”

Shell has traveled across America, searching for genuinely happy people for his documentary, Pursuing Happiness.

“What we did is just reached out to everybody we knew along that route and said, ‘Who’s the happiest person you know?' And we got amazing responses," he said.

They found more than 360 happy people.

“We’ve interviewed people like in their 90s; we actually have a woman who is 104. We’ve also interviewed people who are two, barely able to talk but they have a perspective on happiness, and everything in between.”

Shell says those people didn’t let life’s challenges take away their happiness.

“There is this one gentleman who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio," Shell said. "He lost both his hands from elbow down in an electrical accident almost 25 years ago. Then, he lost his wife to cancer and had to raise his daughter on his own. This is a guy who it seems like everything that could go wrong in his life was going wrong. The entire time he was going through this, he maintained such high standards of attitude and emotion. He was always happy. He was always cracking jokes and seeing the lighter side of life.”

People, he says, are not happy because they are successful; they succeed because they are happy.

“Life is difficult in any way you slice it, no matter where you live, how you live," Shell said. "And I think it’s all about attitude. It’s how you look at the world. And when something bad happens, yeah you have to go through that; the negative emotions, the fear, the loss and the pain. None of the people we’ve interviewed has denied those emotions, but it's how you turn those around and saying, 'OK, I went through that, that happened, now want to get back to me. Now I get back to the way I want to be in life.'”

Shell will screen segments from his documentary in New York on March 20, the International Day of Happiness, to encourage people to focus on what makes them happy.

That is also the goal behind the “Acts of Happiness" campaign by Live Happy magazine, says Joseph Panetta.

“The Acts of Happiness campaign will actually bring walls of happiness to major metropolitan cities all across the country. And these walls of happiness are meant for people to go there and write on them their acts of happiness, what they do to share and spread happiness in the world," Panetta said. "Happiness grows when you share it, when you spread it. If it’s not a city where there is a wall located, they can go to the website;, there is a virtual wall and they can share and celebrate their acts of happiness.”

After all, he says, happiness is contagious, and you can celebrate it every day of the year.