Dana Arakawa, MAPP '06, is a PhD candidate in social psychology at the University of Hawaii. Before venturing into psychology, Dana graduated with honors from Georgetown University with a B.S. in International Economics, and spent a year in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. Her research has appeared in the Gallup Management Journal and International Coaching Psychology Review, as well as in publications in Latin America. Full bio. Dana's articles are here.
I don’t quite remember what I was upset about before I sat down to watch a pre-screening of Happy, the new documentary directed by Academy Award-nominee Roko Belic and produced by Eiji Han Shimizu. I was probably feeling anxious, thinking about my dissertation, the statistics class that I’m teaching, or the extra research that I “should” be doing to be a better candidate on the job market.
We all have a long list of to-dos and I was lost in mine, trapped at a mental crossroads with a thousand and one future scenarios. I’m not a film critic, but to speak to the power of this story, when I finished watching Happy I was more relaxed and uplifted, brought from my mental crossroads back to the only scenario that is true: the present moment.
For those new to positive psychology, Happy is a great introduction to the field and the work of some of its most prominent researchers, including Ed Diener, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Sonja Lyubomirsky, and Richard Davidson.
For positive psychology enthusiasts like myself, Happy weaves a lot the research we’re already familiar with into a story that takes us from the slums of Kolkata to the subways of Tokyo and other continents in between.
Just as most entertainment does, this story enabled me to temporarily escape. It took me out of my self-preoccupation (for a little while anyway), and around the world to take in the beautiful sights of the Louisiana bayou and the beaches of Brazil, among other locales.
But beyond escapism, I was inspired by the peace radiated by Roy Blanchard, taking in the sunset out on his boat in the Louisiana bayou, and by the contentment of Brazilian Ronaldo Fadul as he cared for fallen birds and surfed with his son.
As great entertainment has the power to do, Happy inspires the viewer to pursue the ingredients of happiness: exercise, strong relationships, goals that are intrinsically meaningful, and finding meaning in something greater than oneself, to name a few. These ingredients have been proven to be effective by positive psychologists, but they are so much more compelling when packaged in a real person’s story instead of academic jargon.
Coming Up Soon: An Interview with a Producer of Happy
As a novice interviewer, I didn’t really know what questions to ask Eiji Han Shimizu, one of the producers of Happy. I just asked what I was curious about: how he got involved in the project, how they found and chose participants in the film (both the positive psychology researchers and the individuals profiled from each country), and most of all, how he ended up living in Bali. After traveling all over the world making a documentary about happiness, did he uncover some secret formula for bliss in Bali? That is, after all, where Elizabeth Gilbert found love at the end of Eat, Pray Love, a favorite book of mine.
Dan Gilbert talks about each place having a word that captures its spirit, and I asked Eiji what would be his word for Bali. His response was “mindfulness.” It’s a place that allows him to live a simpler life, one that is slower, calmer, and more present-minded.
I will be back with more of what I learned from interviewing Eiji.
World Happy Day
I highly encourage everyone to get out and find the nearest screening of Happy this Saturday, February 11, to participate with thousands of people in communities around the world who are watching the movie together on this World Happy Day. Look at the World Happy Day map to see if there is a viewing near you.
For more information, check out Ryan Niemiec’s review:
Niemiec, R. M. (2011). Positive psychology cinemeducation: A review of Happy. International Journal of Wellbeing, 1(3), 326
– 332. doi:10.5502/ijw.v1i3.3