Wednesday 20th March 2013 was a historic day for global wellbeing, because the United Nations declared it the first ever International Day of Happiness. This signifies recognition of the relevance of happiness and wellbeing as universal goals in people’s lives around the world, and acknowledgement of the importance of these goals in public policy objectives.
In April last year the UN held a High-level Meeting titled ‘Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm’ at the initiative of Bhutan, which has prioritised national happiness over national income since the early 1970s and famously adopted the goal of Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product (GDP).
All over the world the importance of wellbeing is gaining wider acknowledgement and here in Totnes we are doing what we can to develop wellbeing practice in a new community project: The Network of Wellbeing, or NOW.
NOW is a new, independent organisation with an international, national and local remit. Picking up on Ban Ki-Moon’s statement above, NOW recognises that there are three essential elements to wellbeing: personal, community and planetary and that all three are interconnected. NOW aspires for wellbeing to be embedded in communities everywhere as part of a global movement away from economic growth and towards wellbeing, as co-founder Satish Kumar explains in the video clip linked below.
Based in Totnes, NOW distils wellbeing best practice from around the world and and applies it in a local case study: NOW Totnes. NOW Totnes, offers information, resources and practical support to individuals, community groups,and public and private sector organisations to inspire and enhance wellbeing within their own specific contexts, networks and areas of work. NOW aims to report on this process and use it to feed into national and international wellbeing policy, practice and research and create replicable models that can be used elsewhere to deliver enhanced quality of life and local community resilience.
In practice our small, but growing team of staff and volunteers are engaged with an incredibly wide range of rewarding activity from local food initiatives such as the Big Dig and Brunch Cafe, to the drop-in centre, working with homeless people and Bridgetown Children’s Centre working with children under 5 and their families.
By providing resources, information, and support, and linking initiatives together, NOW aims to see measurable improvements in wellbeing locally. Our objective is for everyone in Totnes to know about or be engaged with wellbeing and to have access to activities and information that can enhance their quality of life.
As part of our national and international remit we research different approaches to wellbeing and benefit from the support and advice of wellbeing thought leaders such as Nic Marks and Jules Peck. The core of our approach moving forward will broadly be based on the New Economics Foundation’s 5 Ways to wellbeing (Connect… Be active… Take notice… Keep learning… Give…) but we are also looking at ways we can use Max-Neef’s constellation of 9 Universal needs, and how we can produce engaging and understandable educational material based on the many wellbeing models available.
Ultimately, we are each experts on how to support our own wellbeing, and NOW sees wellbeing as an inclusive process. NOW would like to work in a participatory way and invite those from the Totnes community and beyond to define what wellbeing means to them and how we can better thrive on personal, community and planetary levels. By engaging with wellbeing and connecting with others we the enhance quality of life of our communities which in turn supports us.
Wellbeing supports building physical, emotional and psychological resources for “wealth” and wellbeing from the bottom-up by each of us taking responsibility for contributing to ourselves, our families, friends, communities and world, rather than relying on institutions or governments. Good health tends to be associated with greater happiness, but there are subtle differences between wellbeing and happiness. Happiness is often understood as a temporary emotional state, whilst wellbeing spans a wider focus from our immediate state to longer term trends in our lives.
Our vision is of a world where everyone’s wellbeing needs are met within the planet’s limits. Ultimately our intention is that wellbeing will become the main measure of success and progress economically, socially and culturally for communities, business and government. Therefore it is exciting to be building up the work of NOW at a time in which people’s wellbeing and happiness needs are being recognised at an international level through initiatives such as the International Day of Happiness.
As Mr. Ban said. “On this first International Day of Happiness, let us reinforce our commitment to inclusive and sustainable human development and renew our pledge to help others…When we contribute to the common good, we ourselves are enriched. Compassion promotes happiness and will help build the future we want.”
Josh Malkin, Florence Scialom & Larch Maxey
Images: NOW logo; the NOW team