Over 700 people from all walks of life assembled in a large conference room in the United Nations headquarters last weekend to celebrate the International Day of Happiness. A U.N. resolution officially proclaimed March 20 as the day to annually recognize the importance of happiness in the lives of people worldwide. Since 2013, events have been organized around the world.
U.N. Ambassador Toriello of São Tomé and Príncipe at the microphone surrounded
by U.N. ambassadors from the missions of Vietnam, Benin, Hungary, Bhutan,
Palau and Kazakhstan. Photo: Mangala Weerasekera/Stewardship Report.
A marathon full-day event at the U.N. was organized by Ambassador Angelo Toriello of the Permanent Mission to the U.N. of São Tomé and Príncipe and Special Envoy of the President of the country, Manuel Pinto da Costa. The U.N. Missions of the Republic of Palau and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam were co-sponsors. Ambassadors from many other countries were present.
The focus was on honoring healthy people and a healthy planet as fundamental to happiness, goals intertwined with the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the U.N. General Assembly last September. Consequently, the theme was "Happiness and Well-being in the U.N. 2030 Agenda: Achieving a New Vision of Sustainable Development for the People and the Planet."
The event featured inspiring presentations intermixed with cultural performances that were so compelling that many people who had arrived at 8am stayed for twelve hours, until the final performance.
"At this time of grave injustices, devastating wars, mass displacement, grinding poverty and other man-made causes of suffering, the International Day of Happiness is a global chance to assert that peace, well-being and joy deserve primacy," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his official message on International Day of Happiness.
The Secretary-General conveyed his personal wishes to everyone to enjoy the event when meeting with Shweta Emmanuel Inderyas, Executive Assistant and spokesperson in Ambassador Toriello's office in India that represents President Manuel Pinto da Costa in the Asia region.
The video of mobile game characters "Angry Birds" was played, given that the Secretary-General appointed Red as an honorary ambassador to raise awareness about addressing climate change for a happier future.
The event was presented by Humanicy - Ambassador Toriello's initiative to bring the human side into diplomacy - as a tribute to the Kingdom of Bhutan, a country whose King started the focus on happiness in 1972. Bhutan has proposed a new paradigm of development to include Gross National Happiness as opposed to just Gross National Product.
Ambassador Toriello welcomed the assemblage and often joined in the conversation and merriment. His spontaneous singing of That's Amore drew much applause.
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador to Nepal Ani Choying Drolma, a Buddhist nun who traveled from Nepal for the event, launched the ceremony with sacred chants.
In his welcome message, the President of the U.N. General Assembly, H.E. Mogens Lykketoft, said that as a native of Denmark, he was particularly happy that his country had previously been rated by the Happy Planet Index as the happiest nation in the world, noting that everyone in his country has been given access to education, health and protection. He noted that "by the SDGs, we have set ourselves a deadline to make the right of a good life a reality for everyone."
The first panel featured ambassadors from countries that have played a major role in the promotion of happiness and wellbeing at the United Nations.
Ambassadors of missions to the U.N., from left Dr. Caleb Otto of the Republic
of Palau, Kunzang C. Namgyel of the Kingdom of Bhutan and Nguyen Phuong Nga,
of the Mission of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Photo: Sekou Diarra.
H.E. Ambassador Kunzang C. Namgyel, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Bhutan to the U.N., expressed appreciation for the Humanicy tribute to her Kingdom, and noted that a growing number of countries and civil society organizations are starting to question the way we measure happiness and recognizing happiness as fundamental to human existence.
Ambassadors Bogyay of Hungary, Namgyel of Bhutan and Nga of Vietnam
with Amb. Abdrakhmanov of Kazakhstan standing behind - all enjoying
performances. Photo: Sekou Diarra.
Ambassador Otto addressed the crowd with touching remarks about how Palauans view life from the heart and emphasized the importance of the spiritual realm in development. His wife Judy, a public health expert who enjoyed the event all day, was a partner in its organization.
H.E. Ambassador Nguyen Phuong Nga, Permanent Representative of the Mission of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to the U.N., described her country's national motto of independence, freedom, and happiness. "The 2030 agenda is our guideline to make the world a happier place where no one is left behind," she said.
The theme of "Happy People Happy Planet" was highlighted by an original anthem with that refrain brilliantly composed for the occasion by international musician/composer Russell Daisey.
As Russell and his back-up choir sang, more serious messages of the day turned to spontaneous delight when soft stuffed globes mapping the world - from eight inches to two feet wide - representing the planet, were tossed throughout the auditorium and hugged by ambassadors and audience alike.
It was a spectacle I had never witnessed in my almost two decades at the United Nations. The globes were donated by Hugg-A-Planet founder Robert Forenza.
The event was also an acknowledgement of H.E. Ambassador Dr. Caleb Otto, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Palau to the United Nations, who was responsible for the inclusion of mental health and well-being in the new U.N. global agenda.
In her keynote address on "Wellbeing in the U.N. 2030 Global Agenda," event producer and noted international psychologist Dr. Judy Kuriansky described this campaign and her partnership with Ambassador Otto in this historic effort, demonstrated in the video shown about "Youth and Mental Health: Youth and Ambassadors Speak Out." Dr. Judy, who had been invited to the 2012 U.N. high-level meeting organized by Bhutan about a new paradigm of development, was a keynote speaker at the first U.N. panel on the International Day of Happiness in 2013.
"What a wonderful day when happiness, mental health and well-being were united," said Ambassador Otto, echoing the many enthusiastic comments about the day.
Celebrity actor "007" Daniel Craig was on hand to join the celebration. Daniel was named by the Secretary-General as U.N. Global Advocate for the Elimination of Mines and Explosive Hazards.
Film star Craig graciously greeted the crowd and U.N. dignitaries.
Noted humanitarian Ms. Man Xian Li, Founder of the American Oriental Arts Foundation, took the stage to offer gracious appreciation of the bridge between cultural arts and the celebration of happiness in joyful as well as serious ways.
In another of the many emotionally touching moments to me, that I could feel moved the audience to be connected and happy, Ambassador Toriello invited the audience to hold hands in a show of solidarity and caring.
The Deputy Permanent Ambassador of the Mission of India to the U.N., H.E. Ambassador Tanmaya Lal, reminded everyone that we all have a responsibility to work together to make this planet sustainable and to achieve harmony.
Former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation of India, and Director General of the National Human Rights Commission, H.E. D.R. Kaarthikeyan, underscored how the progress of a nation should be judged by happiness and not just a growing economy. The noted law enforcement officer organized the First World Parliament on Spirituality.
The two exceptional MCs wove the innumerable pieces of the program together with not only professionalism and aplomb but also good humor. Alizé Utteryn, born in French Guyana, is a former model and currently publisher of AlizéLaVie magazine. Shannon LaNier, television reporter for Arise TV, is also author of the book Jefferson's Children: The Story of One American Family about uncovering his heritage as a ninth generation descendant of Thomas Jefferson and slave Sally Hemings.
Culture was interspersed throughout. Virtuoso of the ancient Chinese instrument erhu, Feifei Yang and pipa virtuoso Jiaju Shen played a medley of tunes, including Pharrell Williams' Happy.
In a keynote Address, Dr. Dan Haybron, professor of philosophy at St. Louis University, described his visit to Bhutan to consult about the Gross National Happiness survey. It was most surprising to me that Bhutanese rated a high number of people they could count on. I was also impressed that Haybron was awarded a $5.1 million grant from the Templeton Foundation for a three-year project to encourage young researchers on the topic of "Happiness and Well-Being: Integrating Research Across the Disciplines."
Other U.N. ambassadors spoke on what happiness means to them and their nations. H.E. Jean-Francis Zinsou of the Mission of the Republic of Benin to the U.N. noted in his typical eloquence that happiness is about being free of want, fears, and threats of any kind. In his role as the Global Coordinator of the Group of Least Developed Countries during the global agenda negotiations, Ambassador Zinsou had been exceptionally supportive of the importance of well-being.
H.E. Barlybay Sadykov, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the U.N., emphasized how happiness is fundamental to the achievement of world peace, to which his country is dedicated.
H.E. Ambassador Katalin A. Bogyay, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Hungary to the U.N., made me - and everyone - smile when she noted that happiness begins with a smile. Her experience as a journalist and television reporter was evident in her presentation engaging the audience.
After her address, it was my honor to present Ambassador Bogyay with the J. Luce Foundation Global Citizenship Award.
Ambassador Bogyay told me after the event:
I was delighted to have had the chance to speak at this wonderful event. It was great to see that in spite of the horrendous things the world is experiencing today, members of the international community and civil society took time to celebrate the International Day of Happiness and the commitment towards universal well-being that is embodied in the 2030 SDG Agenda.
Moreover, I felt honored to receive the 2016 Global Citizenship Award of the Luce Foundation on this joyous occasion. I am a firm believer that happiness is something we create and not wait for. Happiness is something we aim and work for; happiness is a constant curiosity, challenge and action.
I am a diplomat who believes that multilateral and cultural diplomacy can help indeed in bridging people, and if we do it well, it can give us a chance at least to try not to misunderstand but understand each other.
Having once been imprisoned in his native country, former Ambassador of Iraq to the U.N. Hamid al-Bayati knows the value of well-being. A professor and author of books like "From Dictatorship to Democracy: An Insider's Account of the Iraqi Opposition to Saddam," he had spoken on the panel at the first International Day of Happiness here at the U.N. in 2013.
Teacher Betsy Sawyer was surrounded by her dedicated students who described their dream project The Big Book: Pages for Peace with great pride. The massive book measuring twelve feet tall by ten feet wide, was displayed in the lobby, marking its first stop in a planned 2016 World Tour. I was in awe.
The Big Book, begun in 2004, weighs more than a ton (!) with contributions from more than 3,500 notables, including 9/11 First Responders, Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, and the Dalai Lama. The students obviously touched everyone's heart when talking about how anyone can achieve their dream as they did, and that their "dream goes on."
It was a big surprise to all when a video was played of famed Italian comic actor Totò -- considered an heir of the Commedia dell'Arte tradition -- and then onstage he walked! But he had died in 1967. Aha! Under the mask, was Amerigo Festa, president of the Italian organization United Beings, in full regalia dressed as Totò, the stage name of Prince Antonio Griffo Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneno Porfirogenito Gagliardi De Curtis di Bisanzio. Festa is promoting a movement to have a Minister of Peace in all nations.
In a passionate narrative, Greek native Georgia Nomikos of the Orpheus Luxury Collection, spoke about the many contributions of her people to the welcome and well-being of refugees to the Greek islands.
As president of the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW), I presented the next keynote address, moderating a panel of Lions Clubs International members,"Happiness Through Service." It was a new experience for me to speak of my personal experience in giving up my savings from my family and made on Wall Street -- to disavow money and devote my energy to helping orphans worldwide, including adopting my cherished son from Indonesia.
Lions District 20-R2 Governor Guillermo A. Perez spoke about the 1.4 million Lions in 200 countries around the world actively engaged in service, often for the sight-impaired. Student Hector Liang, president of the New York Tribeca Campus Lions Club at Borough of Manhattan Community College, also spoke with great passion on his club's activities to serve humanity. Kevin Camacho, District Zone Chair and past president of the Tribeca Club, also spoke on finding happiness through helping others.
Our own club, the New York Global Leaders Lions Club (NYGLLC), was founded specifically to engage in service. The Lions had just celebrated Lions Day at the U.N., which I attended and wrote about (here).
True to the theme of "Humanicy," the event included many speakers with expertise in human development. Holistic coach and energy medicine expert Sonia Emmanuel described how the experience of happiness and love releases hormones that vibrate at the highest frequency.
Many speeches from Italian experts addressed the science and practice of positivity, wellbeing and happiness. Neurologist Dr. José Foglia, M.D., Ph.D., presented a new paradigm of neuroscience taking kindness into account, entitled "Homolux."
Other speakers included Stefano Bizzotto representing the Italian group known as Conacreis, who spoke about holistic energy treatments; spiritual healer Crótalo Sésamo (born Alessandro Zattoni) who teaches astral traveling and out-of-body experiences, representing the ecovillage and spiritual community of Federazione Damanhur; representatives of United Beings in Italy, holistic therapist Patrizia Coppola with ReiKi master and entrepreneur in ecological wellness Roberto Cossa; and filmmaker Nicolas Grasso.
For someone so young, Francesca Festa truly inspired me by telling her heartfelt story about how she came to devote her life to founding a movement that promotes saving exotic wildlife.
Many people wonder whether happiness can be measured, so it was truly educational to hear Michelle Breslauer of the Institute for Economics and Peace talk about measuring peacefulness through the Global Peace Index.
Meditation is key to peacefulness. The Field Resonance Medit-Action was a 21-Minute experience in which all the participants in the Hall, "in Resonance and in Communion of Intent," joined with individuals and groups around the world to generate a "Field of Anticipated Joy and Gratitude" that was said to "reach, envelope, and fill all Humanity."
Treating us to more sheer entertainment and brilliant performance, raising all of us to our feet dancing and waving arms, composer/pianist Russell Daisey and his band and choir played a medley of music on the theme of happiness. The popular songs included "Here Comes the Sun," "Happy Days Are Here Again," "Don't Worry, Be Happy," "What a Wonderful World," and "Oh, Happy Day." Daisey is also a representative of the ECOSOC-accredited NGO, the International Association of Applied Psychology, that also partnered in the event production.
As if I wasn't already enthralled and awed, more cultural art was in store with a dance performance by Nalini Rau, founder of the Natya Anubhava Academy of Classical Dance, with one of her star high-school students, Meena. The intergenerational duo offered a classical Indian dance performance interpreting the "essence of being."
Naturopath Giuseppa Camerino sang a devotional song, "Nirvanasatkam," which was a perfect prelude into a concert by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador to Nepal Ani Choying Drolma and her band in a series of Buddhist chants set to contemporary music played on classical instruments.
The performance closed the International Day of Happiness at the United Nations on a perfect uplifting note after a most exciting, educational and inspirational day, which I thought brought a special spirit to the United Nations.
Performers and speakers on stage for finale thank you.
Photo: Joel Zinsou.
I can't remember having ever spent twelve hours with over 700 people of such goodwill assembled to uplift humanity - which is exactly what we did at the United Nations headquarters last week celebrating the International Day of Happiness. Global Citizens and thought leaders Ambassador Angelo Toriello, Ambassador Dr. Caleb Otto, and Dr. Judy Kuriansky -- and so many more -- are to be commended for making the world a better place. I intend to be front row center next year - and bring all of my friends!
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The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org) supporting young global leadership is affiliated with Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW), raising global citizens. If supporting youth is important to you, subscribe to J. Luce Foundation updates here.