Today is 20th March and, as I tap away at my laptop, I am being reminded (informed, in truth) that this is the seventh International Day of Happiness. Yes, in 2013 this day was marked out for an annual celebration of happiness on our planet.

In this knowledge, do I feel happy today? Not immediately. Radio 4’s Today programme has just injected its daily neurotoxic Brexit update. Will this ever referend?

Clearly, I need help here. Maybe if I summon up Pharrell Williams’s catchy homage to the H word. ‘Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth’ he urges cheerily. No, that’s not working. I’m now recalling Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s incongruously hard kiwi vowels as she poignantly and intelligently nurses her wounded nation though its recent terrorist trauma.

And then there are harrowing images from Mozambique as the human toll of Cyclone Idai continues to exceed even the most pessimistic expectations.

And it’s a grey day in London. And someone has just stolen (again) the catalytic converter from the underside of my Prius. ‘Serves you right’ I can hear my south of the river friends shouting. So, am I happy? Not exactly.

What’s the International Day of Happiness all about then? It was, in fact, the idea of United Nations (UN) special adviser Jayme Illien and the 20th was chosen to coincide with the March equinox when the plane of the earth’s equator passes through the centre of the sun’s disk. The appropriateness of this universal phenomenon was felt to be its capacity to touch all of humankind simultaneously.

So resonant was Illien’s concept that it received the support of the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and was enshrined in UN resolution 66/281 which was ultimately adopted by the unanimous consensus of all 193 member states on 28th June, 2012.

Each year, there is a theme (‘Happier Together’ in 2019) which is dramatised by events, initiatives and celebrity appearances under the general banner of recognising the importance of happiness in the lives of us all. Henceforth, I will know that spring in the UK officially starts with a day of jollity.

More broadly, the pursuit of happiness has long been regarded as a priority for human beings. Since classical Greek philosopher Socrates first taught that happiness is not only a proper goal for life but also achievable by our own efforts (i.e. we are no longer the playthings of fickle gods), one definition or other of happiness has cropped up in the mapping of legitimate worldly endeavour.

Famously, in 1776, the American Declaration of Independence asserted: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” A part, then, for happiness in one of the most illustrious sentences ever written in the English language.

Happiness remained a topic for lively academic and philosophical debate until earlier this century when what has been described as a happiness frenzy began. According to Psychology Today, in the year 2000 there were only 50 books published on the topic of happiness but by 2008 this had rocketed up to 4000.

In short, we now have a happiness industry preaching the gospel to a society which seems to have become infused with an imperative to be happy, with the sense that happiness is the endgame, the ultimate cure-all.

We all want happier lives, I have no problem with that, but the apparent tyranny of an objective as transient and nebulous as happiness is dangerous and more and more voices are speaking up to this effect. Indeed, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association, the pressure to be happy actually makes people verifiably unhappy.

In her 2017 book, The Power of Meaning, writer and psychologist, Emily Esfahani Smith explores the limitations of pleasure and gratification goals in proposing an escape from the happiness hype.

The answer lies in identifying a higher-order aim for life, of which happiness can be an expression. Esfahani Smith, as the title of her book reveals, identifies meaning as the driving ambition. Myself, I prefer fulfilment which results primarily from a sense of purpose (akin, I guess, to meaning) and a feeling of belonging.

A purposeful life can be achieved by using our strengths to reach our potential, whatever that might be. To experience belonging, we need to be understood, recognised and affirmed by those we respect and about whom we care.

Such definitions also leave room for the influence of melancholy and tension in our lives. The odd struggle can contribute hugely to fulfilment. Happy times are not always the most inventive.

Hopefully, due to the work of Esfahani Smith and others of her ilk, we can retain the importance of happiness as a joyous benefit of the human condition but permit it to sit in a less pre-eminent, more realistic position.

To quote the late Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl: “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” In my view, for personal human ambition, fulfilment belongs at the top of the tree.

Happy International Day of Happiness. I shall celebrate mine with a happy hour!