20th March 2021 is the United Nations International Day of Happiness, a day introduced to the UN by the Kingdom of Bhutan. It is a reminder of the importance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world. The Kingdom of Bhutan puts the value of national happiness over national income and has done so since the early 1970s. Now the UN also recognises the importance of happiness and well-being in national public policy objectives.
What is the International Day of Happiness?
Well in the words of the United Nations, “It’s a day to be happy, of course!"
Since 2013, the UN has celebrated this day as a way to recognise the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world. In 2015, the UN launched the 17 Sustainable Development Goals which seek to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect our planet. These are three key aspects that lead to well-being and happiness. Each person, of any age, plus every classroom, business, and government is invited to join in and celebrate.
World Happiness Report 2021
Every year the United Nations publishes The World Happiness Report, which is a landmark survey of the state of global happiness, ranking 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be. This report, for the first time, ranked cities around the world by their subjective well-being, digging more deeply into how the social, urban and natural environments combine to affect our happiness. The 2021 report ranks the top ten happiest cities in the world on the basis of how positively their inhabitants currently evaluate their lives on average, and the happiest cities in the world are:
1. Helsinki (Finland)2. Aarhus (Denmark)3. Wellington (New Zealand)4. Zurich (Switzerland)5. Copenhagen (Denmark)6. Bergen (Norway)7. Oslo (Norway)8. Tel Aviv (Israel)9. Stockholm (Sweden)10. Brisbane (Australia)
International Day of Happiness 2021
The theme set for the Day of Happiness in 2021 by the UN is 'Keep Calm. Stay Wise. Be Kind'. This is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is an opportunity to find uplifting and positive ways to look after ourselves and one another.
Meditation and International Day of Happiness 2021
One way to keep calm, stay wise, and be kind is to practice meditation. There are many types of meditation and they are not all confined to sitting down with eyes closed. An insightful definition given in a Scientific American article called “Mind of the Meditator” explains, “Meditation explores the nature of mind, providing a way to study consciousness and subjective mental states from the first-person perspective of the meditator.” Meditation is a personal introspection, an examination of how the mind works.
So, how does this relate to the theme of International Day of Happiness 2021 of keep calm, stay wise and be kind? The same article describes different types of meditation and how they change the brain. Contrary to what the scientific community previously thought, it is now accepted that the adult brain can be deeply transformed through experience.
For example, when playing a musical instrument, the brain undergoes a change through a process called neuroplasticity in which neural networks can grow or change. As your experience of playing a guitar grows, there is a corresponding physiological change in the brain associated with playing the guitar. A similar process happens with meditation. Parts of the brain which are associated with what you do when you meditate also change or grow.
There are many types of meditation but three were studied in this article which were described as:
- Focused attention meditation e.g. awareness of breath
- Mindfulness meditation, otherwise known as open monitoring meditation
- Compassion, otherwise known as loving kindness
Each type of meditation affects the brain differently because they use different techniques and as such employ different parts of the brain.
In focused attention meditation, there are four steps employing different parts of the brain, which are:
- Bringing awareness to a focus which for example, can be on breath, and the mind wanders away from the focus
- When the mind wanders, there is recognition that the mind has wandered
- Re-orientation of awareness back to focus
- Sustaining focus
Those parts of the brain that are involved in these four steps are activated. This includes networks that regulate subjective feelings, which might lead to being distracted. When the mind orientates back to focus, this engages other parts of the brain that affect working memory, cognitive flexibility, planning, and abstract reasoning.
Mindfulness is about observing internal or external sensations without getting carried away by them. One stays aware of what is happening but does not get carried away with it. Studies show that activity in that part of the brain associated with anxiety diminished because one builds the capacity to be aware of unpleasant experiences whilst not becoming preoccupied by that experience.
In compassion and loving-kindness meditation, the meditator cultivates a feeling of benevolence towards other people, whether friends, family or those you do not know. This practice entails being aware of someone else’s needs and then experiencing a sincere and compassionate desire to help. This type of meditation is driven by an unselfish desire to help someone who is suffering. This type of practice was found to increase activity in those parts of the brain associated with compassion, positive emotions and maternal love.
Meditation can help activate that part of the brain that keeps you calm, stay wise and be kind. And being kind is what Sahoja does, as we are all about spreading kindness.
Try meditation, 'Keep Calm. Stay Wise. Be Kind', but remember, “It’s a day to be happy, of course!”
Note from the author: You can find some meditation courses and books on Sahoja’s ethical marketplace. Hope you enjoy them.
Rajesh Rai is a UK barrister, who qualified in 1993 and specializes in human rights law. In this time, he has been director of a number of human rights organisations including JCWI, director and treasurer of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, founded and acted as a director of Global Legal Technologies Ltd (“GLT”) pioneering LPO, which he exited in 2006 and in 2012, he was appointed to the Council of Experts of the Democratic Progress Institute. Between 2016-2019, he was treasurer and chair to the finance committee of his present Chambers and is now it’s joint deputy head of chambers.
As a social entrepreneur, Rajesh founded and acted as a director to Human Energy (Uganda) Ltd (HEU). HEU developed nursery plantations for renewable energy crops. HEU was taken over by RIBEC Plc. He is a founder director of HI Cameroon, an NGO based in NW Cameroon and he recently founded, in 2017, an NGO in Ivory Coast (HIIC). He was an exec director of an AIM listed Company, where he managed the company’s renewable energy portfolio. In 2013, with his family, he founded the first Indian vegetarian restaurant in Worcestershire, which was featured in the Nov 2013 edition of the Waitrose magazine.
Rajesh has taught meditation since 2012 and in 2015, he took over Poulstone Court Retreat Centre. In 2016, he founded and promotes his initiative; a global non-stop 7-day meditation for Unity.
Last but not least, he is the co-founder and President of Sahoja Inc, a platform for connection, supporting ethical brands and shopping and spreading kindness.