Monday, February 11, 2013

Happy - Movie

Happy is a 2012 movie about - what else - the things that make us happy.

It combines interviews with real-life happy (and a few sad) people, together with cutting-edge research from psychology and neuroscience, to teach us how our own happiness is very much under our own control.

I highly recommend this movie to everyone. It is worth every one of the 72 minutes we spent watching.

So what's the movie about? I will summarise some of the key points made here, but you should watch the full thing and listen to all the interviews to really get the message convincingly. There are many poignant stories, such as the beauty queen who was disfigured after being dragged under a truck, but still managed to rediscover happiness and is now sharing it with others.

Your Happiness is Up To You

The first point that the movie makes is that your happiness is under your own control. Scientific research has found that there are a few key factors that determine our happiness. Genetics makes up 50% of this. Our immediate circumstance - standard of living, work, etc - only makes up 10%! The remaining 40% comes from Intentional Activity - regular actions you can choose to do, to make yourself happier. In particular, we should vary the routine of life, rather than just adapting out our surroundings.

What Makes Us Happy?

Money does not make us happy. Beyond meeting a certain basic level of human needs, more money does not buy us more happiness. Another point the movie makes more implicitly is that the happiness we derive from economic success tends to be relative - it all depends on who you compare yourself to.

One thing that does make us happy is physical activity, especially fun things like sports. Biologically, this is because it encourages the production of dopamine, which makes us happy. And like a muscle, the use it or lose it principle applies here.

There are three extrinsic goals: Money, Image, Status. These are goals which derive happiness from seeking the approval of others.

There are also three intrinsic goals - Personal Growth, Close Relationships, and Community Feeling (making the world a better place). Intrinsic goals are inherently satisfying of themselves because they have to do with intrinsic psychological needs that all people have.

Research found that people more oriented towards extrinsic goals are less happy than those meeting intrinsic goals.

The largest part of the movie is devoted to exploring these themes, of how we can better orient our lives around meeting intrinsic goals, and making ourselves happier in the process. Spend more time with friends and family, pick up a new skill, do something meaningful ... spend less time in the rat race!

The Role of Governments

Governments also play an important role in setting the foundation for the happiness of their people.

The movie first looks at Japan, one of the least happy nations in the world, where the single-minded focus on economic development in the post-war years bred a toxic culture where work is placed on a pedestal above all else. The Japanese spend all their time at work, and as a result, family life suffered. The workers suffer too; they have a special word specifically for people who die from overwork: KarĊshi.

In contrast, Bhutan since the 1970s has pursued a policy of Gross National Happiness. It is difficult to quantify the success of this, but qualitatively it does appear that the people there have become very happy.

Denmark is often rated as one of the happiest countries in the world, and it stands out from others like Bhutan or Vanuatu because it managed to achieve this despite being developed. One factor the movie focusses on is how their society is organised around communal living, which reinforced the intrinsic importance of close relationships. In contrast, how many of us really know our neighbours?


It's a great movie! Everyone who wants to be happier should watch it, then think about whether you want to continue living your life the same way. Some small changes could go a long way to making you happier.