The International Day of Happiness falls on March 20 as declared by the United Nations back in 2013 to recognise the importance of happiness in people’s lives as a basic human right. It was also to underline the commitment of the UN’s 193 member states to “better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies.”
A World Happiness Report is also released by the UN, which measures and compares the happiness level of different countries.
Some of the ways that people have celebrated the special day is by taking the Action for Happiness pledge (“I will try to create more happiness and less unhappiness in the world around me”), using happiness hashtags in social media, getting involved in charity work or helping someone in need, connecting with others especially people who are important to you, and just planning something that will make you or those around you happy.
Appropriately, in relation to the pandemic, the theme for this year’s International Day of Happiness is “Keep calm, stay wise, be kind”.
According to psychologist and Taylor’s University Centre for Human Excellence and Development director Dr Anasuya Jegathevi Jegathesan, there are different formulas for happiness for each individual.
“Happiness does not go by a one shoe fits all formula. Different people find happiness in different ways so we mustn’t judge others on what makes them happy (unless it’s illegal or harmful), ” she says.
“While happiness can be internal, sometimes, friendship, family, love, namely people around you will also impact your level of happiness, ” she says.
“Also, some people are extroverted and may need more external stimulus for happiness. But other people are introverted and may find happiness within themselves rather than externally, ” she adds.
It’s possible to be happy even when things are difficult, says Dr Anasuya.
“We’ve all seen pictures or heard accounts of people finding happiness in the worst of times: children in war-torn areas playing games, the story about WWI and WWII where they paused to sing Christmas carols together. The human spirit can be indomitable and amazingly solid, to find moments of happiness in the midst of suffering, ” she says.
“Also, there are people who are really “zen”. They can go within themselves and find that core of happiness that nothing can shake, ” she says.
Even when things are going wrong, you can find ways of being happy, says Dr Anasuya, citing her own personal experience as an example.
“During the first MCO, I lost 20kg, and that became my happiness. Although, I’m not a fan of exercise or dieting, but I used the MCO period to focus on this. It wasn’t an easy process and I may not have been happy when exercising or dieting, but I was very happy with the result, ” she shares. “So it’s possible to craft your own happiness. Put it in your brain that is what makes you happy and focus on that, ” says Dr Anasuya.
There are also other ways to be happy, she says.
“For example, I play computer games, play with my pet dogs, and spend time with my family. All these are things that help me build my level of happiness, even in times of difficulty, ” she explains. But, she cautions, sometimes, happiness isn’t the right word, especially when people are suffering or dying, but rather, it’s peace.
“It’s not that one will laugh and joke when there is suffering, but you can find that peace within a crisis, especially if you seek to help others, and you can be happy, ” says Dr Anasuya.
Dr Anasuya reveals that as a therapist and counsellor, there have been lots of calls from people reaching out for support during the pandemic.
Counsellors, psychiatrists, and psychologists are able to support people when they themselves may be going through the pandemic because they’re focused on helping others.
“When we focus on helping bring people peace and a sense of balance, that’s also what helps us find our own peace and balance, ” she says.
“This is also why people often find joy in giving or doing charity work or volunteering, ” she adds.
Don’t do things that will mess up your sleep schedule or actively destroy your happiness, advises Dr Anasuya.
One of these things is social media right into the night, or first thing in the morning, she says.
“Try to keep social media, or googling news, especially bad news, to after you’ve had your breakfast or coffee, and not be the first thing you look at when you wake up in the morning, ” she advises.
“Also, don’t get worked up over other people’s drama on social media, for example, what’s happening with the British monarchy or latest K-pop star. There’s no point getting overly upset because it doesn’t involve you personally and you don’t even know them personally.
“So, don’t borrow trouble, pick and choose your battles, and focus only on what is important and relevant, ” she advises.
While each person has their own way of being happy, Dr Anasuya reveals that happiness is a choice.
“My secret to happiness is I’ve chosen to be happy, not because of the world, but in spite of the world, ” she says.
“Many may go through phases of depression during the pandemic because of the negative things that are happening. But I actively try to overcome the feelings of unhappiness (or depression) after a few days.
“When I feel really down, I remind myself that happiness is a choice and I do things to make myself happy life, ” she concludes.