If someone asked you, “What makes you happy?” what would you say? That’s basically the idea behind this very watchable documentary. The film crew went to different places around the globe to find out how different cultures measure happiness. And what’s a documentary without some professional researchers, educators, and scientists weighing in?
The good news is the research is enlightening and fascinating – not at all a snoozefest.
One of the findings: about 50% of “happiness” is genetically predisposed. Only 10% is attributed to circumstances – the things people often say they need in order to be happy: income, social status, where you live. The remaining 40% is left to “intentional activity,” actions you choose to do. So the filmmakers traveled the world finding stories about what people do that makes them happy.
One story centers on a Cajun fisherman in a tiny town in Louisiana. His theory of happiness centers on his family and their lifelong close friends who gather at least once a week to share dinner from the seafood he catches, tell stories, and laugh. For him, happiness is simple: “Nature is good medicine.” One focus was on a man in his 60’s in Brazil, who surfs every day and lives in a hut – perfectly content. His philosophy: “Try to work so you’ll be able to live your life in tranquility.”
The experts talk about extrinsic and intrinsic goals. Extrinsic goals are things outside of one’s inner, spiritual self, such as money, image, status. People focused on these alone are less happy and more depressed than those who are intrinsically focused: investing in personal growth, close connected relationships, and the desire to help one’s community. It becomes more and more evident through the stories in the film that we all need something bigger than ourselves to care about, and that giving makes people happy.
There are poignant, even sad, moments too. A woman who was terribly disfigured in a truck accident talks about how she wanted to die, but finally found inner peace and is now more content than ever. A middle school assembly that addresses the subject of bullying and a couple of boys stand up to give their experiences, which is heartbreaking.
Japan, which is the least happy of wealthy, industrialized nations, is examined to find out why.
Most of it can be attributed to the intense national focus on high stress and long working hours. They’ve actually defined this toxic lifestyle as “Karoshi,” which literally means working yourself to death.
A much happier place is the island of Okinawa, which has the highest percentage of oldest living people in the world. A charming group of elderly women is asked why and their answer is “having a lot of friends.” They are also fully integrated and respected in the community. One scene shows a bunch of adorable small children in yellow hats running to get hugged by the women. Seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces is nothing less than adorable and just one of the moments I felt joy watching this film.
We’ve heard much of this before: practice gratitude, show kindness to one another, appreciate what we have, do something meaningful to you, play, keep connected to friends and family. The good news is that Happiness is a skill that can be improved the more you practice these things. This film shows us that more than a new car, a new dress or more money, we need to have community and to try to be part of something bigger than just yourself.
2012, 1 hour 15 minutes. Available on Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, GooglePlay