Monday, July 20, 2009

A conference on happiness

Next year Australia will again host a Happiness and Its Causes Conference.

The conference website says it will be focused on "the key issues of the mind and its potential, happiness, wellness and the care of others. Attendees will be drawn from professional groups such as psychotherapy, mental health, counselling, coaching and human resource management."

I'm intrigued by this conference. I was last time too, when it was held in Sydney in 2007, but I couldn't afford to go then, either. At first I wondered at the cost of attending the two-day happy-fest, $800 or $1300 this time, plus dinner and workshops.

I wondered how many of the people we would naturally expect to be unhappy could afford to go - people with chronic illness, or substandard housing, literacy or employment for example. I wondered if it was targeting, and appealed primarily to, the worried well.

What's making me think that it may be worthwhile is the list of sponsors on the website. They include organisations working in the areas of mental health and other health care and related issues, including the Ted Noffs Foundation, Beyond Blue, the Black Dog Institute, the Mental Health Associations of NSW and Queensland, the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses, the Australian General Practice Network, and Relationships Australia.

So maybe it's not so much about achieving personal happiness, as increasing the wellbeing and potential for happiness in people who face significantly greater disadvantages than the majority of the population? If so, I would support that.

The Dalai Lama was a keynote speaker last time, in 2007. His said the secret to being happy is getting eight hours of solid sleep every night.

The main drawcards this time around include feminist author and social justice activist, Naomi Wolf; Benedictine monk and director of The World Community for Christian Meditation, Fr Laurence Freeman; and Harvard University neuroscientist and meditation researcher, Dr Sara Lazar.

I'm intrigued to hear what these three people have to say. I'm intrigued about who will go to listen to them speak. Maybe I can volunteer to be an usher or something.

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