Shanna Lennon

International Day of Happiness

In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which recognised happiness as a “fundamental human goal.” The following year the International Day of Happiness was born and from 2013 onwards it’s been celebrated every year on the 20th March.

Unsurprisingly it’s got us all talking about how we can be happier, individually and as a society

This year the UK has been ranked 19th with countries such as the US, Germany, Ireland and Israel ranking higher. The author of the World Happiness Report, Jeffrey Sachs commented that “The predominant political discourse in the United States is aimed at raising economic growth, with the goal of restoring the American Dream and the happiness that is supposed to accompany it. But the data show conclusively that this is the wrong approach.”

The report highlights that much more research is needed to understand the interplay of factors that determine the social foundations of happiness and consider alternative ways of improving those foundations. Here at Common Cause Foundation we know that values are crucial to the well-being of society and influence wellbeing, civic engagement and peoples feelings of social alienation.

Values are the guiding principles we hold in life, most people hold compassionate values to be most important, these are values such as broadmindedness, social justice, helpfulness, forgiveness and love. When these values are ‘engaged,’ brought to mind by certain communications or experiences, this tends to affect our attitudes and behaviours in positive pro-social ways. For instance, we are more likely to respond positively to requests for help or donations.[1]

Unfortunately there is a disparity between the values that people themselves prioritise and the values they believe their fellow citizens hold to be most important. Most people believe that others care most about self-enhancement values such as wealth, social status, dominance and popularity. It’s not difficult in the current climate to think of examples of why people may believe this to be true.

When we’re talking about happiness this perceptions gap becomes more than just interesting – it becomes crucial to our understanding of happiness. The more we underestimate the importance that others place on compassionate values, the less inclined we are to volunteer, the less responsible we feel for our communities, and the more socially alienated we are likely to feel. This suggests that this perceptions gap could be in part responsible for our constant search for happiness.

The report concludes that ‘changing the focus from the material to the social foundations of happiness will improve the rate at which lives can be sustainably improved for all, throughout the world and across generations.’

The work of Tim Kasser, professor of psychology at Knox College (Illinois) and a great help in developing the Common Cause work, agrees with this conclusion.

Tim discusses how America’s culture of consumerism undermines our well-being. When people buy into the ever-present marketing messages that “the good life” is “the goods life,” they not only use up Earth’s limited resources, but they are less happy and less inclined toward helping others.

Our social institutions have a part to play in this. Most people said that schools universities, the media, businesses, government and cultural institutions do little to encourage compassionate values. By working to stimulate and engage compassionate values of the communities and audiences they engage with, these institutions can work together to counteract this misconception. Ultimately helping to create a society that is more aware of what they have in common, come to rely on their fellow citizens and be more civically active, connected to their community, less socially isolated and ultimately… happier.

Check out how Common Cause Foundation are working with Manchester Museum and the work that’s already under-way there.

[1] Maio, G.R., Pakizeh, A., Cheung, W.Y. and Rees, K.J. (2009). Changing, priming, and acting on values: effects via motivational relations in a circular model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97 (4), 699–715; Burgoyne, C.B. and Lea, S.E.G. (2006). Money is material. Science, 314 (5802), 1091–1092; Vohs, K.D., Mead, N.L. and Goode, M.R. (2006). The psychological consequences of money, Science, 314 (5802), 1154–1156.

Shanna LennonInternational Day of Happiness
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Values work begins in a ‘big’ way at Manchester Museum

You may have seen in our previous blog post that Common Cause Foundation are working at Manchester Museum on a programme of work to explore how the museum can convey a deeper appreciation of the values that most people in Greater Manchester share. I’m pleased to say that last month we kicked off our work in a ‘big’ way with a Big Saturday at Manchester Museum!

Building on insights from the social psychology of values, Common Cause Foundation is helping the Museum to become a ‘museum for life’: a museum which promotes strong communities, encourages people to take action in their own lives, and contributes to the wellbeing of their visitors.

Research published by Common Cause Foundation last year found that over three quarters of people in the UK underestimate the importance that our fellow-citizens place on values such as friendship, helpfulness, social justice and broadmindedness (what could be referred to as compassion values). This is likely to be important, because the more we underestimate the importance that others place on these values, the less likely we are to vote, the less inclined we are to volunteer, the less responsible we feel for our communities, and the more socially alienated we are likely to feel.

A museum could help to prompt people to reflect on what they values in life, and to convey an appreciation of the widespread concern that is placed on compassionate values. In a survey of Museum visitors conducted in December 2016, we found that people who felt their visit to the Museum engaged compassionate values were likely to report greater support for action on climate change, greater commitment to community involvement, and greater wellbeing.

North West Stroke Association Choir and visitors sing together in Manchester Museum’s Living Worlds gallery

Every third Saturday of the month Manchester Museum hosts, a day full of family activities focusing on a specific theme or topic; we used this to pilot activities that could support the Museum to communicate a more accurate understanding of what others actually value, and over a thousand visitors joined us on the day.

One example of the many activities designed to engage visitors in meaningful conversations about what matters most to them was the ‘Big Conversation’.

Artists captured the conversations as they went on throughout the day and produced this fantastic snapshot of what matters most to the people involved

At least 125 visitors, staff and volunteers took part in the Big Conversation, a long conversation relay encouraging people to share what they love and valued about life with someone they’d never met before. This idea was borrowed from the fabulous People United, an organisation whose belief that ‘being kind to one another is fundamental to making the world a better place’ really aligns with the work of Common Cause Foundation and the Museum’s aspiration to be a ‘Museum for Life’. This was all about being open to connecting with someone you don’t know and the joy of finding that spark of commonality. Snippets of these conversations were all captured in this beautiful piece of art and as you can see values such as love, family, friendship, freedom and solidarity all feature.

Amy, who was facilitating this activity, said: ‘People often looked nervous about speaking to a stranger, but then looked so happy and relaxed once they made that connection’. At least one initially reluctant participant subsequently thanked Amy for encouraging her to get involved.

Families sharing how they make people welcome as part of the World Welcome activity

There were many more fantastic activities; each creating an opportunity for the Museum to show that it is a place where values such as compassion, kindness and care are widely held to be the most important, and can be celebrated. The day was also a chance for our visitors to share what they value most with others – be it their families, our staff, our volunteers or other visitors.

When asked if Museums should be celebrating and championing compassionate values, one visitor said:

‘I think it’s very important, especially for children nowadays. I think it’s very important to try and promote things like this because it’s the basic qualities we all need to have. I found this truly amazing, a wonderful way of sharing that message – and very interactive as well’

In terms of how this Big Saturday felt for the Museum one member of staff said: ‘The overall atmosphere was great. It felt like something new and fresh for the museum.’

And one of the museum’s many volunteers said:

‘It’s lovely to come into a ‘building’ where the emphasis is on friendliness, kindness and sharing – it’s refreshing to come into a positive environment basically.’

You can find out more about some of the activities we piloted on the day:

On the Museum’s visitor team blog

On the Museum’s dedicated Courtyard Project blog

On Twitter at hashtag #Peopleofmcrmuseum or #MyMcrMuseum

By getting in touch with Shanna Lennon, Common Cause Co-ordinator at Manchester Museum shanna.lennon@manchester.ac.uk

Watch this space for upcoming video from of the day

Shanna LennonValues work begins in a ‘big’ way at Manchester Museum
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