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International Day of Happiness: How to Celebrate Joy

Beam your widest smile as you celebrate the International Day of Happiness every March 20th. More than having a hearty laugh, being happy encompasses our human rights. And so, the United Nations initiated this global event to acknowledge that happiness is a fundamental human goal. This day reminds us of our objective to create an environment that promotes overall well-being for each one.

The International Day of Happiness illuminates the need for policies that promote happiness as a society. From eradicating poverty to conserving our planet, celebrating joy involves every aspect that affects our being. On this day every year, we exchange smiles while moving towards a world where everyone can be genuinely happy. 

Featured in: March - Awareness months, days, and observances

International Day of Happiness History and Background

two old people on a flower field
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The world celebrated the first International Day of Happiness on March 20th, 2013, after the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to establish such an event in 20123. All 193 UN member states supported the resolution, which passed without a vote.

The occasion originated from Bhutan's "Gross National Happiness" concept, which prioritizes human happiness over economic growth. Bhutan has practiced this philosophy since the 1970s, inspiring the global recognition of joy as a fundamental human right.

The United Nations International Day of Happiness has had various themes. These are curated yearly to help achieve sustainable development goals–happiness is now a parameter for human development. For example, in 2022, the theme was "Build Back Happier," while it is "Be Mindful, Be Grateful, Be Kind" in 2023.  

The Cause and Its Challenges

This global celebration emphasizes the significance of happiness in everyone's life, regardless of where they are on Earth. Although we wish to bring joy to everyone, achieving it is more complex due to factors such as culture, economics, and personal circumstances.

People's financial situation and access to essential services hinder happiness. For instance, the World Happiness Report 2023 ranked Finland2, a first-world nation, as the world's happiest country. Meanwhile, Afghanistan, which receives travel bans, sits at the bottom.

In addition, mental health plays a crucial role in overall well-being. As of this writing, the World Health Organization reports that roughly 280 million individuals worldwide struggle with depression1. And that's only one type of mental illness.

From lack of support to corruption, this list could go on. The bottom line is that every challenge one faces directly affects one's happiness.

Why the International Day of Happiness Matters

happy girl with bubbles
Photo by Alex Alvarez on Unsplash

The International Day of Happiness centers around pursuing holistic satisfaction. But it is not solely about experiencing positive emotions. It is also about the actionable steps we should take, from governments to businesses, to attain happiness as a society. 

As a matter of fact, the UN General Assembly stressed in the resolution that a balanced approach to economic growth should prioritize three aspects4. These are sustainable development, poverty eradication, and promoting happiness. All three were eventually added to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. 

Efforts and Initiatives

Since the proclamation of the International Day of Happiness, United Nations started initiatives to achieve tangible objectives. Updated annually, the organization publishes a World Happiness Report that compares happiness levels across countries. 

The detailed reports and research inside it guide world leaders in shaping policies that foster the well-being of their citizens.

Here are some places that align with the United Nations' global goals for happiness:

In the Middle East, Dubai introduced the Happiness Agenda, which aims to discover, change, educate, and measure people's happiness. Scotland also established the National Performance Framework that updates indicators to track the progress of the citizens' well-being. Meanwhile, Santa Monica City in California started its Well-being Project with the same goals.

By tapping on the power of data and research, these government-initiated programs influence policy decisions for the happiness of the citizens. These scientific approaches can effectively push action from lawmakers down to non-profit organizations. What are the initiatives in your area?

How to Celebrate the International Day of Happiness

tree planting
Photo by Eyoel Kahssay on Unsplash

Are you interested in joining the global happiness movement? You can follow the social media platforms of the United Nations or your favorite organization to get updates on the community events they are running. Here are other ways you can commemorate this joyous occasion:

  1. Spread happiness through social media. Share something that brings you joy with the hashtag #InternationalHappinessDay and a quote about happiness.
  2. Offer your time and service by volunteering in homeless shelters or any community center of your choice.
  3. Organize an event with local authorities or neighbors to plant trees.
  4. Extend your happiness to those who need it by donating to charities.
  5. And the simplest of all — smile!

Change is not instant, but these small gestures build up over time. If you have more power to create a bigger ripple of change, you can advocate for legislation that fosters happiness or organize a fundraiser. Moreover, let us not limit ourselves to one day. Check out the Action For Happiness calendar for daily ideas to make the world a better place.


The International Day of Happiness is a moment to reflect on the link between our happiness and our society's overall state. From respecting each other's beliefs to the impact of sustainable practices, this day of celebration draws attention to the positive efforts we must continuously improve on. No matter the size of our actions, let's always contribute to a happier world, not only on March 20th but every day!


World Health Organization: WHO & World Health Organization: WHO. (2023). Depressive disorder (depression).


Helliwell, J. F., Layard, R., Sachs, J. D., Aknin, L. B., De Neve, J.-E., & Wang, S. (Eds.). (2023). World Happiness Report 2023 (11th ed.). Sustainable Development Solutions Network.


General Assembly resolution 66/281, International Day of Happiness, A/RES/66/281 (28 June 2012 ), available from https://undocs.org/A/RES/66/281.


General Assembly resolution 66/281, International Day of Happiness, A/RES/66/281 (28 June 2012 ), available from https://undocs.org/A/RES/66/281.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

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Isabela Sedano, BEng.

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