Action for Happiness: a movement is born

People have been questing for happiness forever, yet it’s only in the last decade or so that governments and economists have begun factoring wellbeing into their equations and policy decisions.

There’s a very good reason for this. Despite being richer, many of us, especially in developed countries, aren’t necessarily happier. Which begs the question: why put so much emphasis on growing the economy and increasing personal wealth if it doesn’t translate into improvements in our lived experience?

It’s a good question and one that seeded the idea for Action for Happiness, a UK based movement for positive social change with a mission to bring together people from all walks of life wanting to play a part in creating a happier society for everyone.

Talking here about Action for Happiness is director Mark Williamson who presented at Happiness & Its Causes 2011. The movement, which was then just over two years old, already had over 20,000 members from 120 countries. At the time of writing this post, that number has gone up to almost 23,000 members from 126 countries.

So how does a movement go about creating a happier society? First, says Williamson, government needs to create the conditions for people to flourish.

To his credit, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, is one politician who has acknowledged as much, and is on record as saying, “It’s time we admitted there was more to life than money. It’s time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB, general wellbeing. Wellbeing can’t be measured by money or traded in markets. It’s about the quality of our culture, the beauty of our surroundings and above all the strength of our relationships.”

Second, people and organisations need to behave in a way that improves wellbeing (their own and others). For example, given so much is already known about the causes and conditions of wellbeing, what can Action for Happiness do to disseminate and share this information?

“One of the things we’ve developed is called the 10 Keys to Happier Living,” says Williamson. These are giving, relating, exercising, appreciating, trying out, direction, resilience, emotion, acceptance and meaning. “They spell the words ‘great dream’, and have all kinds of resources and materials that go with them.”

Of course, there are critics of the happiness movement who accuse it of being “some kind of middle class luxury, some privilege for those who can afford to worry about happiness”. Williamson disagrees arguing that genuine happiness ultimately transcends material circumstances.

He’s right. There are plenty of people whose dreadful living conditions don’t change, just their ability – provided they’re given the tools and support – to deal with them.


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