This past Monday–March 20- marked the ten-year anniversary of the International Day of Happiness. Evidently, it was created by a  United Nations Resolution  passed at its 118th plenary meeting on June 28, 2012, declaring March 20th of each year to be the holiday. As one might guess, the resolution was promoted by the Kingdom of Bhutan which has a Gross National Happiness Index. The resolution itself explains why happiness is important:

Recalling its resolution 65/309 of 19 July 2011, which invites Member States to pursue the elaboration of additional measures that better capture the importance to guiding their public policies,

Conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal,
Recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives,

Recognizing also the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples,

  1. Decides to proclaim 20 March the International Day of Happiness;
  2. Invites all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system and other international and regional organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations and individuals, to observe the International Day of Happiness in an appropriate manner, including through education and public awareness-raising activities;
  3. Requests the Secretary-General to bring the present resolution to the attention of all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system and civil society organizations for appropriate observance.

As the opening paragraph on the website for the 2023 report notes:

Since then, more and more people have come to believe that our success as countries should be judged by the happiness of our people. There is also a growing consensus about how happiness should be measured. This consensus means that national happiness can now become an operational objective for governments. (Id.)

The report lists six factors to be considered in determining happiness: income, health, having someone to count on, having a sense of  freedom to make key life decisions, generosity, and the absence of corruption.  These factors “… all play strong roles in supporting life evaluations.” ( 2023 World Happiness Report at 7.)

What caught my attention was “having a sense of freedom to make key life decisions.”. As the report explains:

“Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?” This also includes Human Rights. Inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights without discrimination. discusses

Although this factor is in the context of basic human rights, it reminded me of Standard I of the Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators entitled “Self-determination.” That standard provides one of the most important aspects of mediation:

  1. A mediator shall conduct a mediation based on the principle of party self- determination. Self-determination is the act of coming to a voluntary, uncoerced decision in which each party makes free and informed choices as to process and outcome. Parties may exercise self-determination at any stage of a mediation, including mediator selection, process design, participation in or withdrawal from the process, and outcomes. …
  2. B. A mediator shall not undermine party self-determination by any party for reasons such as higher settlement rates, egos, increased fees, or outside pressures from court personnel, program administrators, provider organizations, the media or others.


Just as the 2023 Happiness report notes that it is critical that a person be able to make her own decision how to live her life and meet her own basic needs, so too is it critical that a party has full self-determination in deciding how to resolve a dispute. Informed consent is needed for both. Informed consent has generally been defined as agreeing to a course of action ONLY after the full situation has been explained to the person including all of the benefits and potential adverse consequences.

I raise this point because in some mediations, I wondered if self-determination and informed consent were really present? Was the party fully informed of the benefits and risks of settling/not settling?  Is the decision to accept or not accept a settlement offer one of self-determination? Or is a third party making these decisions for the party involved in the dispute?  Like most mediators, I have seen a lot of cases that should have settled but did not and like most mediators, I wonder if it was because self-determination and/or informed consent was lacking.

So just as the 2023 Happiness Report notes that self-determination is a critical factor in being happy, it is also  critical in determining the outcome of a dispute.

… Just something to think about.



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