What Does it Mean to be Happy?

As RSE educators, we have a role to play in helping the young people we work with to gain an understanding of what real happiness is.

Often the media might suggest that if we look a certain way, buy a certain brand, or have certain things we will be fulfilled. Young people need to be given the tools to question these beliefs and to have a sense of identity that is stronger than the messages they may receive from mainstream or social media.

This is linked to helping young people be wise. Teaching children and young adults about inner happiness, positive relationships, and self-esteem remains a crucial part of the lessons we deliver.

Happiness is always relational. Not only do relationships help to make us happier, but also happy people tend to have longer-lasting and better-quality relationships.

The International Day of Happiness has been celebrated in 193 countries around the world since 2013. The UN set up this initiative with 17 goals around ending poverty, protecting the planet, and eliminating hunger: the idea being that we all have a part to play in reaching these goals and thereby contributing to levels of happiness across the world.

With all the news around us bringing us disturbing stories of war, financial struggles, and natural disasters, it can feel hard to keep calm and maintain a sense of joy, but that’s precisely why we each need to celebrate this day and share moments of kindness with others.

In my church, we have been looking at the beatitudes since January, and in each of these Jesus starts with the words ‘Blessed (happy) are…’ Many of the statements go against what we assume happiness to mean in modern culture, where the focus is purely on self and what we can earn, achieve, win, or buy.

The type of happiness Jesus is talking about is one where we surrender our hearts to God and put others before ourselves.

Happiness is not dependent on what is happening around us but comes from what is inside us. Knowing we are loved deeply by God, should then allow us to reflect that same love to our neighbours, encouraging them to also feel hope and inner happiness in an ever-changing world.

I was once taught the meaning of JOY being ‘Jesus, Others, You’ and it works as a really simple reminder of how to find it.

Action for Happiness has taken the three elements of happiness and broken them into simple words – Mindful, Grateful, Kind. 

Being mindful or calm can be something as simple as deep breathing while focusing on 5 things you hear, see, taste, touch, smell, and feel.

Gratitude is considering all the things around us we are thankful for. The wise English writer and philosopher, G.K. Chesterton once said, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

Research has long shown a strong link between gratitude and happiness. The more we give thanks for the small things in life, the more we notice these things around us.

So how can we be kind to others?

Interestingly, although the pandemic had many negative effects on people’s wellbeing, the UN report on World Happiness found that three positive aspects of behaviour — donations, volunteering, and helping strangers — all showed increases in 2021, throughout every global region.

It also reported that benevolent people are more likely to be happy and those who are happy are more likely to act benevolently.

We can all choose to be kind to others in a variety of ways; through affirming words, generosity or even just lending a helping hand to someone struggling to carry their shopping.

Kindness doesn’t need to cost more than a moment of your time but could make a world of difference to someone’s day.

All of these things can be taught to young people from a very early age, which is why relationships education at primary level plays a big part.

If we teach children the skills of kindness early on, they will hopefully grow into adults that make the world a kinder, brighter place to live in.

Let’s all celebrate the part we can play on this International Day of Happiness by sharing opportunities for thankfulness and building others up. Today, see how many people you can genuinely thank or encourage and in turn your own joy will increase!

As Mark Twain wrote, “Sing like no one’s listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching, and live like it’s heaven on earth.”



International Day of Happiness | United Nations

Action for Happiness

Suggestions for practical activities to spread happiness to others