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March 20, the International Day of Happiness, created by the UN, is a perfect time for us all to take a step back from our daily activities and the long lists of things we must do, and express gratitude for the things in our lives that bring us happiness and recommit ourselves to protecting those things.

Azzedine Downes, President and CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, feeds a rhino at the Wildlife Rescue Centre in Kaziranga, India.

Azzedine Downes, President and CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, feeds a rhino at the Wildlife Rescue Centre in Kaziranga, India.

In support of this goal, we have published a new report called Measuring What Matters: Toward True Wellbeing for Animals and People. The report includes many case studies about how animals contribute to human happiness, and how we can help animals and people at the same time.  I have certainly found this to be true in my own experience.

I am truly grateful that in my role as CEO for the International  Fund for Animal  Welfare (IFAW), I have had the opportunity to work  with animals of all kinds, all over the world.

Animals make me happy. I work to protect them not only because I believe it is our duty to share our planet with other species—but also somewhat selfishly because animals make my experience on this earth so much happier.

I’ve helped feed orphan rhinos in India and collar elephants in Kenya. At IFAW we focus on rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing wildlife into secure landscapes. Helping any animal in need fills me with joy and a sense of purpose.

It’s equally or even more amazing to see healthy wildlife safe in their natural habitat. They don’t need us at all, and I am always careful to use tour guides that avoid intruding on their natural behaviors. Nonetheless sometimes animals’ curiosity gets the best of them.

It is delightful to see a young elephant edging closer to a jeep, and then its older sibling gently prodding the calf back away. We just quietly wait and enjoy an exhilarating sense of winning over a wild animal’s interest. Feeling that animal’s curiosity about what kind of a being you are, what you are doing there, and, ultimately, how the animal decides to interact with you provides great suspense and often a lot of laughter.

I get the sense from these experiences that animals share our curiosity about other species, and the notion that we can all coexist peacefully, even happily on this planet.

How do animals make your world a happier place?

Comment or tweet with the hashtag #makeithappy to share with us!

This post was originally published on the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s website.

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