Theme and background

“Sustainable Happiness and Sustainable Development”

International forum on the Occasion of

UN International Day of Happiness


Background and Rationale

The year 2015 marks the beginning of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that international development partners globally commit to achieve toward 2030. However, the concept of happiness has not much linked to the sustainable development goals. The international happiness day on March 20, 2015 is timely to advocate for the integration of happiness approach into sustainable development.


Sustainable development has been a topic of discussion and global movement for a long time. Since the UN conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972 which considered as the start of global concern towards the environment internationally, related UN organizations as well as the World Commission concerning the environment and development were established. There have been many active movements towards sustainable development, mainly driven by environmental stream; whereas another stream of movement from UNESCO declared: “the World Decade for Cultural Development (1988-1997) to focus on culture (related to human values) for development.


Since the 1992 UN conference in Rio, heads of states and government adopted Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration; however, over decades there have been huge implementation gaps across the world in moving along the sustainable development pathway. Upon reaching 20 years of implementation in 2012, Rio + 20 adopted “the Future We Want” to speed up campaigns of sustainable development which focused on green growth concept of sustainable development by integrating economic, social and environmental aspects. The Sustainable Development Solution Network (SDSN)   - a global initiative for UN supporting the SDGs, proposed the fourth dimension, good governance, to the framework of mainstream sustainable development covering economic, social and environment.


That conventional idea implemented globally is still attached to growth, aiming for green growth. As environmental problems remain in global development today largely driven by consumption-led growth, it seems difficult to achieve both continued growth and sustainable development goals. Therefore, the development framework need a rethinking. There may be some missing elements in the sustainable development pathway which may be more crucial than those four dimensions (mentioned above) that exclude human minds and spirits.


The concern for living in harmony with nature is likely to be driven from inner happiness obtained by wisdom with the understanding of interdependence of all kinds of living-beings and nature, as well as happiness from the less use of resources or less dependent from materials. In this regard, promoting inner happiness with moderate consumption, in line with middle-way economics, well supports holistic sustainable development approach. The spiritual or inner happiness focus of sustainable development can also be considered as a direction for advanced human development, encouraging human to move along the path of happiness from low/ basic level of material dependence up to higher (mind => wisdom) happiness levels. This is to promote human to obtain happiness at high level which is more sustainable and independent (as explained in Buddhist happiness concept). This type of happiness can be achieved with less consumption and low resource utilization.


This is why the approach of sustainable development has to link with happiness that also has sustainable nature. This sustainable type of happiness could help making sustainable development effective. The inner-human dimension which is a critical factor for sustainable development and a starting point for all changes need to be discussed and subjective well-being of human beings should not be neglected.


To achieve the goal of sustainable development successfully, human beings must be happy and be willing to do so. Thus, sustainable happiness from inside is necessary and is missing from the current sustainable development concept. This forum, therefore, aims to discuss the idea of the linkage of happiness and sustainable development and propose a new concept of sustainable development. This is the focus on demand-side of sustainable development, rather than supply-side management that generally discussed.