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Your happiness is part of something bigger

Flickr: Erno Hannink

Have you ever thought about what makes you happy? Or realized that what makes you happy isn’t necessarily the same as what makes others happy? These questions have been heavy on my mind, since March 20 is the International Day of Happiness. I was curious- are our ideas of happiness dependent on where we're born? Do they change with time and age? I decided to reach out to my colleague Natalie Prolman who previously worked for Make It Happy, as well as friends who live in other parts of the world.

Here's what I learned:

Let’s begin with my awesome colleague, Natalie Prolman. Natalie used to work for Make It Happy,  whose main objective is, well, to make people happy! Or, according to the organisation itself, “We make tools to instigate and spread happy to generate positive social change.”

I thought I’d ask Natalie about her time with the organisation! Read ahead for her inspiring answers.

Joline: Hey Natalie, I want to know all about Make It Happy. So tell me- what does the organisation do? How does it work?

Natalie: The idea for the organization was born out of a social experiment called the Happy Post Project where we would ask people the question "what makes you happy?" and have them draw or write down the answer on a Post-It note. Then they would put the notes up on a wall and it was a cool interactive art piece. The whole premise behind Make It Happy was that everyone in the world has a gift- so what are you doing with that gift to make the world a better place? They have a campaign to "share happiness" at 3:20 pm on Friday, March 20th.

Joline: That’s awesome. How was your experience there, what did you do?

Natalie: I volunteered with them in Boston and then started working with them in NYC after I graduated and the organization shifted to “Make it Happy”. Finding out what makes people happy is one of the most amazing jobs I've ever had. It's such a simple question but so beautiful to interact with strangers in that way. I don't think people ask themselves that question enough and what I realized through this was that making others happy is what makes me happy in this world.

Here's a photo from the first International Day of Happiness [in 2012] after going to the UN. We went to Washington Square Park to find out what makes people in NYC happy [via sticky notes]!  

Now, lets hear from others around the world- what makes them happy?

1. Ms. Sibley, USA

Pictured here is my high school Spanish teacher on the left! Ms. Lee Sibley with her granddaughter and husband.

“It didn't take me long to answer this question, BUT there are so many things that make me happy, I could fill pages and pages. Right off the top of my head I know that walking with my husband on a spring day with the sun, trees and flowers blooming fills me with joy. My granddaughter, Iris, can make me smile whenever I'm feeling sad -- just looking at her and thinking about the continuity of family makes me sing and speaking of singing, using my voice with music always makes me happy, especially when I'm around people who are listening or joining in with me. Giving of myself puts me in a naturally high state -- just helping young people or old people or poor people, troubled people makes me feel happy to be alive and blessed to be able to share in a positive way.”

2. Edgar, Mexico

Ed, second on the left, with his friends in Mexico.

“I’m from Mexico and I live in New York City now. Seeing my friends for the first time in 8 months makes me happy.”

3. Boglarka, Hungary

Boglarka, on the right, with her friend.

“I’m from Hungary. Happiness is when I'm bubbling with excitement, and my heart is filled with hope and positive energy. My brain is taken over by this storm-like positivity that makes me believe for the given time that I can do anything and everything, and makes everything possible. A lot of things make me happy, but I think it's the most precious when comes out of nowhere. For example: when a public transportation inspector smiles back at me and says hi when I say hi to him/her while showing him/her my ticket. Or when a person just smiles at me during the day in the office for no reason really just because he or she has a good day. These are all small things, but stay with me for a long time and provide me a source of positivity, a source of happiness.”

4. Sheikh and Friends, Tanzania

Sheikh Rajabu Ramadhan, Said Ally, Fuad Ally in the photo.

All ladies in the photo from Tanzania define happiness as: “Something that is stress-free with the freedom to make decisions on your own.”

Sheikh: “The things that make me happy is when I complete my goals that I’ve planned for a long time, like having a baby or getting married. Welcoming a guest in my home also makes me very happy.”

Said: “The things that make me happy is faithfulness and satisfaction. Without faithfulness and satisfaction, all the things you will get, you will need to get more. This makes people stressed and lose their happiness.”

Fuad: “The things that make me happy is to be with friends in the world and to share different things.

5. Avalon and Friends, India

Avalon, fourth from the right, with her friends in India.

Avalon’s friends defined happiness as:

Gunjan: “Happiness is what keeps you busy in life.”

Ankur: “Happiness is nothing to worry about.”

Bhutta: “I don't know. Spending time with friends.”

6. Chelsea and Students, Thailand

Chelsea, a teacher in Thailand, with her students.

Students define happiness: “Happiness is something that makes you smile, like when you play.”

Students answered my question, what makes you happy?:

“Playing football!“

“Going home!”

“Playing sports and playing drums!”

“Playing games!”  

7. Jolly, France/Canada

Jolly is on the left with her husband, how can one not be happy with that name?!

“I’m originally from Lyon, France, but I’m settled down in Toronto (for now). For me, happiness is in the small everyday moments. It’s when you smile at a stranger on the street and their whole face lights up, and you both walk away surprised and gleeful. My happiness comes from a thousand different places, but if I could narrow it down to one moment, I’d say my happy place is lounging on my bed with my husband, our two purring cats around us as we snuggle watching the X-Files, a glass of wine in hand, blankets everywhere. Heaven. Getting married to this guy: definitely a happy moment.”

8. Me, USA/France

Myself on the right with my sisters.

Lastly, here’s my contribution to the discussion. I realize that there are many injustices and despair in this world. And this may make it very hard to be happy. Like everyone, I’ve been through tough times, but I have found myself most productive and better at life when I’m happy (this should be obvious, but it’s surprising how many people don’t realize this). From my personal experiences, I have been most happy when I share myself with others, and I am grateful for the people in my life who make me happy. I hope that everyone can be as fortunate as me in this regard. I put a picture of my sisters and myself as they make me very happy!

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What can YOU as global citizens do to help others be happy?

This year, the theme for the International Day of Happiness day is tackling climate change. While this may seem random, the reality is that climate change has already begun to affect people around the world, particularly the world's poorest and most vulnerable. Tackling climate change is imperative to promoting all of our happiness and well being. Though that is the focus, each day is also an important opportunity to build awareness and come together to end poverty and inequalities. Now, what can you do on this day? Lots!

You can visit this site and upload photos to create an animation of yourself in support of #HappyDay.

Or, you can join the marathon and share a photo of what makes you happy.

There is a digital activation platform set up by the UN Foundation for this day, click for the schedule here and see how you can be a part of it!

And to be completely redundant, Happy International Day of Happiness! Have a great day!