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Award-winning documentary shown on campus

What are the secrets of happiness? They might be different than you think.

Published: Monday, June 4, 2012

Updated: Monday, June 4, 2012 15:06

happy

Rebecca Miller | Photo Editor

Ethan McMahan, professor of psychology at Western, introduces the film "Happy" to the audience

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most people are about as happy they make up their minds to be.”


While this may be true, some may argue that this leaves an even more pressing question unanswered: what is the secret to being happy? The award-winning documentary “Happy” strives to answer that question. In the process, “Happy takes [viewers] on a journey from the swamps of Louisiana to the slums of Kolkata in search of what really makes people happy. Combining real life stories of people from around the world and powerful interviews with the leading scientists in happiness research, “Happy” explores the secrets behind the most valued emotion,” states the documentary’s website.


The film was shown on Western’s campus on May 30 in the Werner University Center’s Pacific Room. It attracted a sizeable crowd of students, faculty and community members. The documentary has won several awards, including Audience Choice at the Arizona International film festival and Best Documentary at the Maui film festival, and director Roko Belic has been nominated for an Academy Award.


“Happy” begins with the statement, “the Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” It then goes on to tell audiences the story of people from many different walks of life, including Mang Singh, a rickshaw driver from Kolkata, India. Even though Singh lives in a house that many would consider little more than a hut, and sometimes only “eats rice with salt,” he considers himself a happy person.


“When I see my child’s face,” says Singh, “I am filled with joy. I feel I am not poor, I am the richest person.” Roy Blanchard, who lives in Louisiana’s swamp country, says he finds peace in nature. “I watch the birds pass and just listen to the stillness,” says Blanchard. “Nature, especially like this, is good medicine.”


Society may say that happiness requires material wealth, status, or recognition from others. The researchers behind “Happy” beg to differ. Scientists believe that things like wealth and possessions only comprise about 10 percent of what makes us happy. Scientists attribute this to a theory they call the “Hedonic treadmill.” This means that as wealth is acquired, the consumer becomes accustomed to it and desires more, instead of feeling a greater level of satisfaction with their circumstances.


Belic believes he knows part of what will create true happiness. In an interview with USA Today, Belic tells of a trip he took to Africa, which was a substantial part of his inspiration to create the documentary.


“What I saw, in addition to some amount of suffering and struggle, I saw extreme amounts of joy and appreciation and gratitude and laughing and dancing. So my first thought for the film was to share that experience, to tell that story, the story of people who seemingly have nothing, but in fact they have so much,” said Belic.

The film states that factors such as a close, supportive family and friends, a feeling of personal fulfillment and a sense of belonging to a community are much more important than economic prosperity will ever be.


An important element of the film is its emphasis on Positive Psychology. The University of Pennsylvania’s positive psychology page defines it: “Positive Psychology has three central concerns: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Understanding positive emotions entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future.” “Happy” presents research that states that 40 percent of what makes people happy is behavior, in other words, deciding to live in ways that promote positive. Lincoln may have been correct after all.

 

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