April 13, 2011

World’s First ‘Happiness’ Group Launches

The world's first organization dedicated to spreading happiness officially launched in London on Tuesday, with the goal of promoting healthy relationships and meaningful activities as ways of happier living.

Action for Happiness, whose members include the Dalai Lama, was co-founded by Richard Layard, an economics professor at the London School of Economics.  The group rejects individualism and the pursuit of material wealth, and provides alternative advice for a happier life based on scientific evidence.

The organization, which began last year, says it already has 4,500 members in more than 60 nations.

"Action for Happiness is a movement for positive social change. We're bringing together people from all walks of life who want to play a part in creating a happier society for everyone," the group says on its website, www.actionforhappiness.org, which Laynard said was getting 4,000 hits per minute on Tuesday.

The non-profit group advises happiness-seekers to assist others, exercise, meditate, perform random acts of kindness, work towards goals and take occasional breaks from technology.

The group cited surveys of Britons and Americans that show they are no more content today than during the 1950s, despite significant economic progress.

"Our happiness levels have been stuck for the last 60 years," Laynard said.

"Income does not make a lot of difference. The quality of human relationships at home and in the workplace "” there are a lot of ways in which those have been neglected in favor of higher income."

"Average levels of charitable giving across the world correlate better with happiness than levels of GDP," said Geoff Mulgan, a co-founder of the group and a former senior official with the British government.

The organization said having strong mental health and personal relationships is vital to achieving happiness.

"The main external factor affecting a person's happiness is the quality of their relationships, at home, at work and in the community. And the main internal factor is their underlying mental health," the group said in a statement.

"It's a movement for radical cultural change, away from a culture based mainly on self interest to one based mainly on promoting the happiness of others," Layard said.

The group's festive launch in London, attended by hundreds of people, included a mass meditation and a group of "guerrilla huggers" that provided somewhat surprised passers-by with mostly-appreciated physical contact.

Mark Williamson, Action for Happiness's director, rallied the members, saying Britain was in an "epidemic of loneliness and isolation" but that research showed helping others could have enormous impact.

"The contagious nature of happiness means that we affect not only our friends, but our friends' friends. It spreads to form an extremely powerful social network," he said.


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