How the Happy Human came to be

By the 1960s, the term ‘Humanism‘ had been in use for a long time to describe a non-religious approach to life emphasising reason, empathy, and common kindness, but the humanist movement still lacked a symbol to represent that ideal.

The formidable Margaret Knight, a BBC presenter and a passionate humanist
The formidable Margaret Knight, a BBC presenter and a passionate humanist

The British Humanist Association (BHA) had discussed the idea of a symbol for Humanism for years without any progress, until two women, Margaret Dootson and Margaret Knight, managed to convince BHA members to find and adopt one during the 1965 annual conference.

Everyone had their own ideas about what aspect of Humanism was the most important, and about how to represent the concept in a symbol. In response, the BHA’s public relations officer, Tom Vernon, organised a competition to find a new logo.

The logo that began it all
The winning entry from 1965

Over 150 entries poured in from all over the world, including from as far away as Mexico and Canada, until BHA staff identified a winner. Dennis Barrington was responsible for the winning design, which was simple, yet seemed to represent everything they were looking for. The logo had the potential to mean different things to different people, and be universally understood in many different countries. The logo, called the ‘Happy Man’ and now called the ‘Happy Human’, had finally arrived.

The organisation swiftly adopted the symbol as its logo. Shortly after, the symbol was adopted by the International Humanist and Ethical Union as well, after which it spread like wildfire, with humanist organisations all around the world customizing and using it. They were allowed to use it because the BHA freely licenses the trade mark to other humanist groups.

50 years on, the Happy Human is still used by humanist organisations worldwide. Some Happy Humans are draped in national symbols; some look up in wonder at the world; some are drawn to resemble mathematical or engineering symbols, or are filled with colours that have some special significance to a certain place or a particular project.

In all corners of the world you will find this Happy Human. It stands for everything it means to be a human in a world of one’s own making. It stands for Humanism: an approach to life which is all about confronting reality head on and dealing with problems, treating other human beings and animals with compassion and kindness, and working together towards building a better future for everyone.