Editor’s Note: Grace Ueng is the founder of Savvy Growth, a noted leadership coaching and management consulting firm, and an expert on wellbeing and performance science. Grace writes a regular column on happiness & leadership for WRAL TechWire.

Less than half (47%) of Americans say they are “very satisfied” with their lives, according to a recent Gallup poll. With data trending in the wrong direction, especially concerning amongst our younger generation, leaders from all sides – state and federal, to academic and corporate are putting happiness and wellbeing on their agendas.

We need an International Day of Happiness

Recognized for the first time in 2013, the United Nations declared March 20 as the annual International Day of Happiness, saying “governments and international organizations should invest in conditions that support happiness by upholding human rights and incorporate well-being and environmental dimensions into policy frameworks.”

California’s Committee on Happiness and Public Policy Outcomes

A C-level leader in one of my HappinessWorks™ programs recently wrote:

“I was just in the car listening to Morning Edition on NPR and they had a segment on how Anthony Rendon, a CA state legislator, has formed a committee on Happiness and Public Policy in the California State Assembly.  He says the purpose of the committee is to use happiness as a basis for driving public policy and legislative change. 

I think it’s amazing that there are conversations going on about happiness at that level, and particularly in the context of systemic change and education, not only individual responsibility, as both are important!”

Former California Assembly Speaker, Anthony Rendon is the chair of the Select Committee on Happiness and Public Policy Outcomes, a group 11 years in the making. He was inspired to take on this topic ever since he watched the documentary “Happy” 14 times in two days.

I’ve only watched one time;  aspects that stood out to me:

  • Contributing to Denmark’s high happiness ranking is their having one of the highest percentages of co-housing communities where families live in multi-tenant housing units and share cooking and familial responsibilities. Children have many “siblings” and “parents,” and the burden of daily chores is divided up so that there is more time for just enjoying each others’ company.
  • In Okinawa, citizens share a sense of “ichariba chode” meaning “treating everyone like a brother, even if you’ve never met them before.” Similar to the co-housing communities in Denmark, Okinawans in one village all support one another.  They are “monchu”  or one family.

After Rendon was forced to hand over his leadership post last summer, he took on this new chairman role saying lawmakers “don’t take happiness seriously.”  Estimating his own happiness at only 2 out of 10, he is committed to trying to have California legislate its way to happiness.

Roko Belic, who visited 14 countries to create the documentary “Happy,” was the first witness to testify before the California committee. Through his research, he found that keys to happiness include nurturing strong interpersonal and communal relationships, leading a life that includes meaning, play or novelty, and a sense of gratitude.

Other experts also mentioned economic stability (but not necessarily economic wealth); a connection to the environment; and resilience.

How does North Carolina’s happiness compare?

Helsinki (photo credit: Grace Ueng)

In a September 2023 survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, 58% of California adults said they were “pretty happy,” 16% “very happy” and 26% “not too happy,” with the latter segment growing at a concerning rate.  Even with these figures, California ranks 7th for the happiest U.S. state according to WalletHub. Three California cities rank in the 5 happiest: Fremont, San Jose and Irvine.

North Carolina ranks #26 with one city, Raleigh, in the top 30.

With universal healthcare, increasing urban green spaces and a strong social safety net, Finland is ranked #1 happiness for the 7th year in a row

What do parents want more than anything for their children? The universal answer is “for them to be happy.”  Then why is happiness and wellbeing not being taught in schools? It’s no wonder that after I give my HappinessWorks™ talks to corporate leaders, I am inevitably asked about similar resources for their children.

Ways that lawmakers could help the pursuit of happiness through policies include teaching kids about its importance at schools, building parks for people to relax in nature like what Raleigh is doing with Dix Park and strengthening mental health services.

Happiness has public benefits

Happy citizens benefit the public – they live longer, are healthier, are more successful at work, and are more likely to volunteer.  Unhappy citizens can negatively impact mental health, depression and crime.

(Bhutan Photo credit: Aaron Santelices)

Committee member Pilar Schiavo said, “You don’t have kids walking into schools with guns to shoot people if they’re happy, you know?”

This is not a new concept. Since the 1970s, Bhutan has promoted population wellbeing over material development. The country measures gross national happiness and health. They have influenced the UN to consider development outcomes that value and measure happiness and wellbeing.

In Bhutan, health is a prerequisite for economic development and a means for achieving gross national happiness. 7.4-11.4% of government spending is on healthcare;  privatization of health services is not allowed.

Buddhist values encourage people to focus on what they have rather than what they don’t have. This contributes to why their people are very friendly, gentle, and hospitable.

How can you contribute to the happiness and wellbeing of your city, state, community, company?

About Grace Ueng

Grace is CEO of Savvy Growth, a management and marketing consultancy that since 2003 has been helping leaders and the companies they run achieve their fullest potential through conducting strategic reviews, marketing audits, and coaching.

A marketing strategist, Grace held leadership roles in marketing, business development and product management at five high growth technology ventures that successfully exited through acquisition or IPO. A TED speaker, her work has been covered in The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Beast, and Inc.

Contact her firm for more information on Grace’s flagship workshop, HappinessWorks™.

Subscribe for free to her Happiness & Leadership@Work.  You will receive one research based lesson each week to learn to be a happier and more productive leader: click here