March 20th marks International Day of Happiness 

There is no way to escape Pharrell Williams and his “Happy” song lately. And why should we? 

March 20th has been declared International Day of Happiness by the United Nations in 2012. Sounds crazy? Think again. In UN speech, this day serves torecognize the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives. And rightly so: There are a lot of discussions about how to measure development, wealth and progress. Do we focus on purely economic indicators, on the average income? Is it enough to measure mortality rates, paved roads or access to electricity? The kingdom of Bhutan has gained a considerable amount of attention when it started to measure the quality of life for its citizens in the form of gross national happiness over gross national product. After all, shouldn’t personal feelings count for something?

In CARE’s work around the world, we seek to empower communities to lift themselves out of poverty while providing life-saving relief after disaster strikes. The living circumstances and choices of millions of people around the globe are far from happy, yes. But March 20th offers a welcome occasion to stop and reflect on one of the most precious feelings that exist. So here’s a quick survey – we’ve asked around the CARE world what it means to be happy:

Noha in Egypt thinks that “Happiness is when you feel valued and respected in your own country, not because you are rich or powerful, but just because you are citizen.”

Zvjezdana, who manages CARE's programmes in the Balkans, says „happiness for me is the sun shinining through the eyes and smiles of people we work with.“

Mary is part of CARE’s team in Dadaab, Kenya, the largest refugee camp in the world. She says: “Happiness is when I wake up in the morning and visit the refugee schools and see smiles on the children’s faces… that confirms to me that they still have some hope for a brighter tomorrow despite the dark present!”

Johanna, who manages CARE's communications for the Syrian refugee crisis, questions what comes first: happiness itself or the reasons for it. „I'm sure you can learn how to be happy, but it seems to me that this is easier for some people than others. And it is not always about what you possess or how you live. In my life so far, I've met more happy people who really – from an outside perspective – did not have many reasons to feel that way. And then there are others who simply have a hard time being content. So I guess what makes me happy is that I actually am happy.“

Bashkim was born in Albania. For him, happiness is the fulfillment of your personal wishes. “But to the same extent it is the possibility of doing something for others.”

Yasmin from Jordan says that small things can make her happy: “Like inviting my mom to dinner and having a good time with her, or organizing a crazy birthday party for my son and his friends.” Besides her family, she also finds happiness in her job: “I used to teach orphans English, the day of their results and their faces when they passed the exam, this made me really happy."

“Freedom is happiness” says Male who lives in Germany. “To be free to do what you want to, because you have the means and the space do to so. Happiness to me means freedom from social, political or security constraints.“

So do you know what happiness is to you? What better day to share some of that happy feeling than today, the International Day of Happiness? Crack a smile at the person sitting next to you on the train. Prepare a nice meal for your loved ones. Make a long-distance phone call, lend a hand, take some time. And yes, there are other ways of sharing, too. A donation (link) to CARE’s work fighting poverty worldwide is easily done and will help communities improve their wellbeing – and hopefully their happiness, too. And it will make you happy, guaranteed.

For those still humming Pharrell’s song, take a minute and check out this video: People from Tacloban, one of the hardest-hit Philippine communities rebuilding their lives after typhoon Haiyan have come up with their own version of “Happy” that shows their strength and resilience – clap along!


March 20th, 2014 / Sabine Wilke,