Johnny Barnes greeting commuters from his roundabout in Bermuda.

From simple daily greetings and happy cafes to helping refugees, four people have devoted themselves to bringing more joy to the world

Most people would agree with Anne Frank, who wrote that “we all live with the objective of being happy”, and that “our lives are all different and yet the same.” In fact, achieving happiness is so important to humankind, that today – 20 March – marks the annual United Nations International Day of Happiness, which was established following the UN General Assembly’s first ever Conference on Happiness in 2012. To commemorate, here are just a few individuals across the world who have brought joy to the lives of others in various ways.

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Johnny Barnes Bermuda

Before his death on 9 July 2016 at the age of 93, Bermuda’s Johnny Barnes – who featured in Mr Happy Man, a documentary by Matt Morris – spent about 40 years greeting and waving the early morning commuters heading into Hamilton – the island’s capital and only city – from the Crow Lane roundabout, with his signature “I love you, I love you!”, a smile, and strings of blown kisses.

As a Bermudian, I have many cherished memories of travelling to school in the car with my parents and waving at him from the back seat, or riding my motor scooter into work, tooting and saying “good morning Johnny Barnes!” as I passed him by. Locals and tourists alike would flock to the roundabout for photographs and prayers with him. The secret to his happiness, he once said, was his relationship with God, and reading the Bible.

Barnes would often leave home around 4am each weekday to walk a mile to the roundabout and wave for five or six hours straight. “Often times when he was not feeling well I would take him down to the roundabout” said his 88 year old widow Belvina Barnes (the couple were married for 65 years). As he became frail, adjustments were needed, so a railing was erected on the roundabout, and later a bench followed. Nonetheless, he was committed to his early morning duty and would be there come rain or shine. “He demonstrated what true service is all about”, said a close friend of Barnes, Russ Ford. “Giving of yourself and not expecting anything in return.”

Barnes was often referred to as the ambassador for the city. In 1991, he received the Queen’s Certificate in recognition of his valuable service to Bermuda, and a statue (unveiled in 1998) by British sculptor Desmond Fountain, stands near the spot where he waved.

Stan Rosenthal UK

Stan Rosenthal is the founder of the Happy Cafe concept, which has grown from a network across the UK (where he is the national coordinator) to over 80 across the world, including Cambodia, Costa Rica and Australia. The concept has also been taken up by members of the Action for Happiness movement, which coordinates the global campaign for the UN International Day of Happiness.

Happy Cafes aim to provide a space where people can connect with others who are seeking happiness for their lives – in addition to providing their usual caffeine-based needs. Happy Cafe visitors learn skills for enhancing psychological wellbeing, listed in “Ten Keys to Happier Living”, including developing good relationships, doing good for others, taking a positive approach, trying out new things and being comfortable with who you are.

Rosenthal created the network to inspire more people to live happier lives. “The crucial thing was to bring the action for happiness ideas into the mainstream and to reach people who would not normally be exposed to them” he explains. “My grand vision is to have a happy café in every high street and city centre, to change the culture to one of positivity, in the same way that the coffee shops of the 17th and 18th centuries changed the culture from being religion-centred to the ideas of the enlightenment.”

There are Happy Cafes in various settings, such as universities, community centres, workplaces and climbing centres. To find one near you, check the map at: www.actionforhappiness.org/happy-cafe

Midia Shikh Hassan Canada

Midia Shikh Hassan
Midia Shikh Hassan. Photograph: Gholam Nandoko Photograph

“Their childhood was taken from them so we try to give it back to them”

Midia Shikh Hassan is a recent One Young World Ambassador and one of three Canadians to win the prestigious 2018 Queen’s Young Leaders award, which recognises exceptional young people across the Commonwealth, who positively impact the lives of others. She is the co-founder of Dextra, an initiative that provides affordable 3D printed prosthetics to refugees living with upper-body amputations, and coordinator for Difference Makers, a programme founded by the University of Ottawa.

Of Syrian descent, Hassan is involved in the Refugee Outreach programme, which aims to facilitate Syrian refugees’ social integration through technology and entrepreneurial training. “I think the reason why I connected with them is because I never lived in Syria, but if my parents didn’t leave Syria when they did that could have been me” says Hassan. She loves working with refugee children and seeing the smiles return to their faces. “Their childhood was taken away from them, so in many ways we try to give it back to them.”

Hassan organized a Friendship Day for refugees on the University of Ottawa campus, so they could meet students and other newcomers to the country. “I told them that the celebration was for them so they could do whatever they want, and many wanted to dance, bring their instruments etc, so it ended up being a festival. I initially invited 80 people but 250 showed up. Everyone was smiling, and ever since then, when I go to work for the Refugee Outreach programme, they all recognise me as that girl who ran Friendship Day at the university.”

Mavis Braga Elias Namibia

Mavis Braga Elias
Mavis Braga Elias Photograph: Trace

“No matter how small or big, showing care goes a long way”

Mavis is a philanthropist and civil engineer, and the only Namibian national to receive the 2018 Queen’s Young Leaders award. Her favourite quote is from Steve Jobs: “Those who are crazy enough to believe they can change the world are usually the ones who do.”

This positive mindset led her to found the charity Em Love Foundation. The work of the charity ranges from providing donated food and clothing to low-income families, to hosting fundraisers for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. “We have seen the heart of Namibian people: eager to help and donate from the little they have, in the hope that they can help change a life. No matter how small or how big the help might be, showing care goes a long way” she said.

Elias now leads a team of seven directors, and she has more than 40 volunteers. She and her team have hosted a charity pop-up shop in collaboration with Street Store, a pop-up store that can be created in any community to enable the homeless to shop for free. “It gives the dignity back in the giving process and avails the less fortunate of an opportunity to have choice, a basic privilege that many take for granted” said Elias. “We facilitate donations from the public to those in need, which is achieved by advertising and spreading the word. The reality is that many people want to help, yet the process of identifying where to give the help can be troublesome for many.”

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN

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