No doubt a short break in Como will do wonders for your wellbeing, but the major outcome of the recent World Happiness Summit held over three days in the Teatro Sociale might just result in a more long lasting effect – with global impact. The World Happiness Summit (WOHASU for short) staged its fifth year anniversary event outside of Miami for the first time. Running from Friday March 24th it filled the auditorium and galleries of the Teatro Sociale for three days. Supplementary events were held in the Villa Olmo, the Tempio Voltiano and the Hotel Palace.
WOHASU was founded by Karen Guggenheim, a Californian with relentless energy and positive determination. Her brief biography states she is ‘a pioneer in the global happiness movement, a leader in promoting the science behind wellbeing to an international audience, and a motivational speaker inspiring people about how to grow post trauma and rebuild a life focused on passion, purpose, and happiness.’ Over the years she has ensured this annual event attracts leading academics, psychologists, business consultants and others to contribute to how we can place the importance and achievement of happiness (or wellbeing if you prefer the term) above personal goals such as achieving wealth or social advancement and supplanting business objectives limited to increasing shareholder value. The list of international contributors to this summit was impressive; their presentations covering both theory and practise ranged from personal to social well-being, even extending out to planetary happiness! Both presenters, coaches, volunteers and the hundreds of participants from all over the globe seemed, above all, to be very happy visiting Como and experiencing this significant event.
Why did WOHASU come to Como?
Como is a beautiful city within a stunning natural setting. Awareness of its charms increases year by year judging by the number of visitors to the city and the lake, and up till now it has been able to meet the needs and expectations of its guests. But for this summit, the city had to show a commitment to the values of WOHASU for it to become the location of choice for 2023. And that commitment came in the form of its major sponsor, DHL Express and more precisely, its European CEO, Alberto Nobis.
Alberto lives in nearby Brunate, and, with pride in DHL’s achievement of being designated ‘World’s Best Workplace’ in 2019, and a strong personal commitment to making work a happy place born out from his own bitter experience, he was determined to bring the summit to his adopted city. Fortunately his vision was shared by our recently elected mayor, Alessandro Rapinese, who granted use of the Teatro Sociale for the 3 day event – the first time the theatre had hosted a multi-day conference of this sort. Alessandro also extended a warm welcome in an address at the start of the conference which included his own aphorism that happiness stems from ‘not what you have but how you think’. Bravo Signor Sindaco!
Versailles outside of Paris has gone down in history for the signing of the treaty following the First World War in 1919. Utrecht in Holland is likewise known for the treaty in 1713 ending the War of Spanish Succession. Let’s hope Como goes down in history for the declaration of the Como Well-being Manifesto of 2023, presented at WOHASU by Lord Richard Layard, a Labour peer in the UK’s second parliamentary chamber, the House of Lords. Under the slogan ‘Let’s put wellbeing first’ he presented this manifesto as a call to action to influence politicians, educationalists, businessmen and us as individuals to ‘reappraise the goal of our society… the goal should be people’s wellbeing – their enjoyment of life, their sense of satisfaction and of fulfilment.’ The appeal was made to gather as many signatories to the manifesto so as to influence policy makers, whether in government, education or business, to take wellbeing more seriously and to take its measurement as the primary indication of their institution’s success.
Science and Measurement
It was interesting to note that many speakers took care to underline the academic credibility of their subject firstly by describing the study of wellbeing as a science and as a consequence, emphasising the importance of the collection and analysis of related data. Prior to this summit, the 10th annual edition of the World Happiness (unrelated to WOHASU) Report was published applying measurement criteria that have by now gained academic acceptance. This report ranks countries according to the overall stated happiness of their population. Finland headed the list in 2020 whilst Afghanistan and Lebanon were deemed to host the least happy populations.
The criteria adopted by the World Happiness Report does not take into account the ecological health of the country – in other words, how happy is their corner of the planet. This aspect is however incorporated into the so-called Happy Planet Index which was presented at the summit by its founder, Dr. Nic Marks.
This index is calculated using standard data and applying the following simple formula. Take the measure of a country’s wellbeing and multiply it by the country’s average life expectancy and then divide this total by the country’s ecological footprint. Some interesting results arise form this formula with the predominance of Scandinavia now surpassed by Central and South America with Costa Rica heading the list. Latest data is from 2019 and this is their headline summary: ‘Notably, Central and South America dominate the Happy Planet Index, with 8 of the top 10 highest ranking countries from the region. However, there has been a decline in wellbeing in several countries in South America, including Brazil.’ Nic Marks summarises his index as revealing how efficient different countries are in producing good lives.
Out of interest, UK came 14th in 2019 ahead of all other European countries except for Switzerland, but I feel confident in saying that it will by now have gone right down the table due to recent data showing a decline in life expectancy and issues over public health provision. Italy comes in at 40th just above Sweden brought down in spite of good life expectancy and wellbeing by a low score for its ecological footprint. Como’s immediate neighbour, Switzerland, comes very high in the table at 4, attributable perhaps to its proximity to Como!
I was lucky to be selected to volunteer at the summit allowing me not only to attend presentations when not actively required to help but also to make the acquaintance of many of the 70 or so other volunteers from all over the globe. There was a particularly large contingent of Ukrainian volunteers, many of whom as women had immigrated out to neighbouring countries such as Poland, Hungary or Germany. We all had our own specific areas of interest within the broad scope of happiness studies with many of my Ukrainian colleagues seeking methods and strategies to reinstate positivity and hope amongst their fellow citizens brought down by the anxiety for family and friends or indeed by the trauma of wartime brutality. They all seemed to display immense resilience and also joy in their endeavour to find ways to alleviate their own and others anxieties. I can only wish them well.
For my part I was so grateful to hear the message that business or government must turn away from a single-minded obsession with growth. After all, isn’t it this which has led our planet to the brink of self-destruction, and isn’t the major cause of stress and anxiety in work attributable to the relentless desire to increase shareholder, rather than stakeholder, value?
It is beyond me to provide a full account of this three day event but I hope I have managed to convey some degree of its significance, the quality and variety of its speakers and the positive atmosphere generated amongst its volunteers and participants. It was thanks in great part to Alberto Nobis that WOHASU, on deciding to cross the Atlantic from Miami, landed in Como this year. I expect that another European or possibly South American country will be selected for next year’s event. However Como may leave a lasting legacy if we all sign and support the Como Wellbeing Manifesto. See the link below.
And let’s give the last word to the concluding paragraph of that manifesto which states:
‘We can build a happier world – with sustainable wellbeing and much less misery. But we will only do it if that is really our objective. So let’s measure wellbeing. And let’s make it the objective of every organisation and every individual. There could be no more inspiring purpose for our lives.’
Lord Richard Layard
And as a postscript, let’s recall the words of the ex-Head of the UK Civil Service, Gus O’Donnell when he remodelled Karl Marx’s memorable call to action in stating ‘ you have nothing to lose but your misery.’
More information on WOHASU can be found online at https://worldhappinesssummit.com/
Details of the World Happiness Report and Index are at https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2022/
The Happy Planet Index is at https://happyplanetindex.org/
If you have in any way been prompted to consider the issue of happiness and wellbeing do visit to review and hopefully sign the Como Wellbeing Manifesto by going to https://worldhappinesssummit.com/como-wellbeing-manifesto/