This week, on the UN’s International Day of Happiness (20 March), I attended the second day of the World Happiness Summit, held at the Southbank Centre in London.

I was invited by a charity I’ve volunteered for in the past called Action for Happiness, whose mission is ‘to help people create a happier world’ – I’d definitely recommend following them on social media.

At the conference, there was a range of speakers covering far-reaching topics from climate anxiety, young people’s mental health and workplace wellbeing; to the benefits of forgiveness, thriving in today’s high-speed life and the impact of the sense of smell on our well-being…plus a therapy dog named after Humphrey Bogart (pictured).

They even had a DJ on stage pumping out big beats and uplifting music, while encouraging the audience to get up and dance (it’d be rude not to!).

So, what did I learn and did I discover the answer to the million dollar question: how to be happy? Well, yes and no.

Here are my 10 key take-aways from the day:

  1. Eco-anxiety: We may not be able to save the climate crisis single-handedly, but we can take small, daily individual actions as the founder of OneGreenThing, Heather White, advocates.

  2. Burnout: Learning to decipher the signals your body is giving, eg tightness in your chest or constriction in the throat, can help you avoid burn out. Ricardo Sutherland, author of The Energy Advantage, explained that while ‘your mind can play tricks, your body will always speak your truth’. He advises us to learn how to follow your energy and ask yourself, ‘What gives you your energy?’ and ‘What takes your energy away?’.

  3. High-speed demands: Former Royal Netherlands Air Force pilot Marc van Loken described how it’s not surprising that many of us are struggling to thrive in an ever-demanding world. Our brains simply haven’t had time to adapt to the high-speed nature of life and the multiple stimuli thrown at us daily. He cited studies indicating that we receive as much information on one day, today, as people 700 years ago received in their whole lifetime!

  4. Workplace wellbeing: There are a number of drivers of employee well-being, according to Sarah Cunningham, Managing Director of the World Wellbeing Movement, including: a sense of achievement, inclusion & belonging, flexibility, support, trust, learning and appreciation.

  5. Inner values: We can take an approach to happiness that’s like a ‘three-legged stool’, as GP and host of popular podcast Feel Better, Live More, Dr Rangan Chatterjee set out. Each of the legs is separate, but essential. If one of them is kicked away, your feelings of happiness will probably collapse:

    – 1st leg is Alignment – feeling aligned means that the person you want to be, and the person you are actually being out there in the world, are one and the same. You’re aligned when your inner values and your day-to-day actions match up.

    – 2nd leg is Contentment – feeling content means being at peace with your life and your decisions.

    – 3rd leg is Control – being in control means that you feel able to make meaningful decisions and that nothing, within reason, has the power to overwhelm you.

  6. Mindset: We all have a ‘want brain’ that makes you think you have to compete with others for limited resources – the modern myth of success. Strategies to tackle this mindset include writing your own happy ending:

    – Imagine you are on your death bed. Ask yourself ‘What are three things you’ll want to have done in your life?’

    – Bring these into your present day by asking yourself: ‘What are three practical actions that I can do every week to help achieve my life goals?’

  7. Regrets: According to a study of palliative carers, the following are among the main regrets of people who are dying:

    – I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
    – I wish I’d spent more time with my friends and family.
    – I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

  8. Stress: Happiness is wanting what you have – stress is wanting anything else you don’t have.

  9. Forgiveness: is essential for a happier healthier life. Dr Fred Luskin, Senior Consultant in Health Promotion at Stanford University, eloquently explained that forgiveness ‘gives your heart back to you, rather than locking it up and blaming others…Holding onto wounds is like an eclipse blocking the sun.’

  10. Gratitude and kindness: train your mind to pay attention to human kindness and catalogue the goodness and love that exists around you:

    – Think of someone who has been kind to you over the past 2-3 days.
    – Visualise their act of kindness.
    – Say ‘thank you’ to them from the centre of your being.

As you can see, the World Happiness Summit gave me much food for thought, but as the authors of the 2024 Happiness Report agreed there is ‘no smoking gun’ when it comes to finding your own happiness – it’s a combination of factors which are ‘as unique to us as our fingerprint’.