Happiness and positive thought champion Leo Bormans is to give a public talk at the University of Malta’s Sir Temi Zammit Hall on June 1.

People who think positively see more opportunities

Mr Bormans, a Belgian journalist and motivational speaker, is the editor of the bestseller The World Book of Happiness, a collection of 100-odd short essays about happiness written by the world’s leading experts in positive psychology.

Designed to challenge myths about happiness and positivity, it answers questions such as “Are rich people happier than the poor?”, “Are married couples happier than single people?”, “Which countries report being the happiest?”, or “Can happiness be learned?”

Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, was so inspired by the book that last December he sent out a copy of the English edition to all world leaders as a New Year’s gift. He hoped to encourage leaders to make people’s happiness and wellbeing a political priority for 2012.

In the accompanying letter, he wrote: “Positive thinking is no longer something for drifters, dreamers and the perpetually naive. Positive psychology concerns itself in a scientific way with the quality of life. At stake are not only the happiness and well-being of individuals, but also those of groups, organisations and countries.”

“People who think positively see more opportunities, perform better, possess greater resilience, take more often correct and sound decisions, negotiate better, have more self-confidence, maintain better relations, take greater responsibility, have more trust placed in them,” Van Rompuy continued. “Positive education, positive parenting, positive journalism, and positive politics play a crucial role.”

The debate on happiness and wellbeing has come to the fore in many societies as they live the worst economic crisis since World War II.

In late February, the UK’s Office for National Statistics published its analysis of experimental subjective well-being data from the annual population survey (April to September 2011).

British Prime Minister David Cameron had announced last year his government would channel the information to guide policy makers under a strategy that would use happiness as a better measure of how the country was faring in tough times.

In the past, happiness polls have placed Malta everywhere from first to 38th place in the rankings.

Happiness has been discovered everywhere, even in the least affluent and most hostile places on earth.

One survey found the population of the kingdom of Bhutan – 800,000 people living in one of the poorest countries in the world – to be among the happiest. Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley has just participated in the UN summit on happiness in New York, while a first UN report on World Happiness discusses ways to design an economic system that factors in happiness.

Carol Graham, senior fellow at the University of Maryland’s Brookings Institute and a contributor to The World Book of Happiness, explained how a survey had found that 81 per cent of Afghans had been smiling a day before they were interviewed. In a country at war almost uninterruptedly for more than 30 years, respondents across eight regions showed an overall high level of happiness. Adaptation to crime and corruption appeared to be the key.

One of the key notes to Carol Graham’s essay – each of the essays in the book comes with three “keys” – stresses that there seems to be strong similarities in what determines happiness across humankind, regardless of the contextual environment: age, health, employment and income.

Leo Bormans has been working for the Belgian government on active citizenship, empowerment, communication, positive education, and positive journalism for more than 20 years, besides working for Unesco in Belgium. His initiatives have inspired many organisations and policy-makers. He supports the international movement for Happiness and Quality of Life, is ambassador of several organisations, and lectures all over the world.

Mr Bormans has been invited to Malta by Leading Talks, the organisers of events featuring such personalities as leadership trainer Vivianne Amar. Mr Bormans’s talk is being held in collaboration with the Philosophy Society, and the Research, Innovation and Development Trust, both of the University of Malta. A discussion will be moderated by Prof. Joe Friggieri. The event begins at 9.30 a.m.

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