March 20, is the UN International Day of Happiness. It's a day to be happy and to look more deeply at what makes you happy and plan how to be happier. Since 2013, the United Nations has celebrated the International Day of Happiness to recognise the importance of happiness in our lives.
The 2018 UN Happiness rankings published recently ranked Finland as the happiest country in the world. Ireland comes in 14th. 'Happiness is that feeling that comes over you when you know life is good' and 'you can't help but smile giving you a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment'.
The report produced by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network cites six significant factors: gross domestic product per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and corruption levels.
Although there are many momentary things that make us happy or perhaps at times merely distract us from unhappiness, a range of studies show there are fundamental patterns to what makes most people happy.
The Harvard study of adult development, the longest study on happiness and health has studied people for 75 years from teenage to old-age. Having good relationships was biggest contributor to life-long wellbeing in 3 major ways.
1. Good relationships keep us happier and healthier - Strong social connections are really good for us. Loneliness kills. People who are socially connected to family, friends and community are happier. Lonely people experience poorer health, brain function and live shorter lives.
2. Quality of close relationships - It is not about the quantity but the quality of those relationships. Conflict is very bad for health. People who were the most satisfied in relationships at 50 were the healthiest in their 80s.
3. Good relationships don't just protect our body but also protect our brains - Memories stay sharper longer when people feel they can rely on others. Good relationships don't have to be smooth but we need to be able to have people we can rely on in difficult times.
The message that good relationships are good for health and wellbeing is age-old. It is not a quick fix and cannot be bought with money, a click or a swipe. Relationships can be difficult and take life-long work and investment. Those who are shown to be happiest in retirement are those that invest in relationships after stopping work.
So what can we do to be happier? We can replace screen time with personal time. We can do our best to solve difficulties we are having with others? We can know that holding grudges take a very big toll on health.
Good relationships are the foundation of a long, healthy and happy life. A very wise person once told me: 'Life is all about relationships'. Your relationship with yourself is the foundation for all other relationships. How you resolve your difficulties with yourself influences how you relate with others. Have patience and kind attention with yourself. Solve problems. Let things go but don't sweep them under the carpet.
Happiness comes naturally when your head, heart and hands work together - when what you think, feel, say and do are all moving in the same direction. In a range of other studies, so many other things are cited as helping us be happier: thinking positively, gratitude, helping and caring for others, learning, growing old, living your purpose, exercise, enjoyment of culture and sports, having pets, volunteering, sex and not trying too hard to be happy. Money, work and fame are not on the list. Engaging positively and fully with people and life are.
Wishing you a very happy day on March 20 and week ahead - enjoy.