Celebrate this International Day of Happiness with animals

The author in India at the IFAW/ Wildlife Trust of India Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation On this International Day of Happiness, we celebrate the United Nation’s goal of prioritizing happiness in the agendas of its 193 member countries.

The United Nations created the March 20th celebration in 2012 to recognize the importance of happiness and well being as universal goals, especially when creating public policy.

This year, the UN is marking the day by creating a “happy playlist” so that people can share music that makes them happy. 

Although a fun activity to brighten your day, it is also part of a growing conversation asking how to measure happiness and well being.   

Traditionally, a nation’s progress is measured by its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which analyzes only economic activity – driving policy though not necessarily contributing to personal contentment. 

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon explained that the world "needs a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental well-being. Together they define gross global happiness."

How can we measure social, economic, and environmental well-being?

To answer that question, the U.N. is encouraging the exploration of what in our lives and habits make us truly happy and, for many of us here at IFAW, animals make us truly happy.

Many of us know it from personal experience working with and for animals and we also know it from research. For example, we know:

  • Pet owners exhibit greater self-esteem, are less lonely, and have healthier     relationship styles than non-owners.1
  • Educational visits to nature and wildlife reserves can improve students’ confidence and self-esteem and learning skills.2
  • A 2009 ethnographic study of wildlife tourism revealed that wildlife encounters initiated an emotional response of awe, wonder and privilege, provoking a “deep sense of well-being that transcends the initial encounter leading to spiritual fulfillment and psychological health benefits.”3

IFAW is part of this growing conversation not only to encourage environmental and social metrics in a new universal measure, but also to correct the bias that prioritizes economic growth over sustainable environmental and equitable social policy objectives.

By the next International Day of Happiness, we could find ourselves measuring the strength of a nation by environmental and social well-being rather than by only economic activity.

Having a job I love where I get to promote policies that protect animals makes me happy. 

Sometimes I even get to interact with them like I did in January in India at the IFAW/ Wildlife Trust of India Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation.  I visited India to present a paper on the link between animal welfare and human happiness and wellbeing, and then got to experience it firsthand. 

A song that makes both me and my daughter happy is Stray Cat Strut. What song with an animal in the title makes you happy?  


We invite you to share your choice @Elizabetallgood, @action4ifaw, #HappySoundsLike #AnimalSongs or in the comments below!


McConnell, A. et al. “Friends with benefits: On the positive consequences of pet ownership.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101(6), pp.1239-1252 (December 2011).

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Wellbeing through Wildlife. n.d. https://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/wellbeing_tcm9-132872.pdf

Curtin, S. “Wildlife tourism: the intangible, psychological benefits of human–wildlife encounters.” Current Issues in Tourism 12(5-6) (2009).


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
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Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
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Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
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Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
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Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
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Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
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Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
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