I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy.
–Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th (and current) Dalai Lama
Let’s say His Holiness is right. That still leaves many unanswered questions regarding happiness, such as how and why we define happiness and how we are best off striving to obtain it.
Long Beachers will have a good chance to get together and examine these issues Saturday night when Conscious Cinema and Long Beach Cinematheque present a screening of the film Happy, to be followed by communal discussion.
Inspired by a screening and discussion of the film she attended in Topanga, Diana Perkins approached Conscious Cinema about the possibility including Happy in the steady diet of sociopolitical films the organization usually screens on a monthly basis. Then she contacted Long Beach Cinematheque about finding a venue.
“I just felt, ‘Wow, I just want to share this with more people,'” she says. “People are a little happier just for having seen the film.”
But Perkins is not necessarily right about that latter claim—which is all the more reason why this screening may be valuable to the community. Happy provides a cursory overview of several aspects of happiness—from its neurological underpinnings to the influence of societal expectations—ultimately positing that we are largely in control of how happy we are. And while the filmmakers leave aside nuanced consideration of external impediments to happiness (admitting the obvious truth that if you’re starving you’re not going to be very happy, but implying that being born in India as an untouchable may not make much difference), seeing a bunch of people who in many ways have much less than you do and yet seem happier is pretty depressing.
But maybe that’s the point.
Take Manoj, for example, who leaves his Kolkata slum each day on a rickety bicycle to pull a rickshaw with his thong-clad feet. He doesn’t dare talk back to the drunken passengers who verbally abuse him because he needs all the customers he can get so as to continue ekeing out a living for himself and his family.
“In the summer, my feet and head burn in the heat of the sun,” he says in the film. “It is painful.” His family lives in a hut with one side secured only by a tarp—quite a problem during monsoon season. Some days his family eats only rice and salt, but we’re told that surveys find he’s as happy as the average American. His son makes him happy; his neighbors make him happy.
Happy tells us that physical activity, close family and friends, and valuing intrinsic over extrinsic goals are major contributing factors to happiness, as well as shows how the cultural practices of places like Denmark (socialized medicine for life, state-sponsored education through college, a proliferation of co-housing communities) and Bhutan (government policies that prioritize Gross National Happiness above Gross National Product) apparently produce happier populaces than one finds in more mercenary societies like Japan, where people are working themselves literally to death with enough frequency that there is now a word for the phenomenon (karoshi).
With its largely undifferentiated hodgepodge of information, Happy is not the sort of documentary that provides detail and depth that leaves the viewer exceptionally more educated than she was before. Rather, its success is its ability to provoke and to stimulate thinking about your own happiness—particularly if you feel you have less than you might for reasons very much within your control.
Do you have that sneaking feeling? Want to change things? Happy might be a good start.
Happy screens Saturday, July 21, at 7 p.m. @ the Bungalow Building (727 N. Pine Ave., LB 90813). Parking is available in back. Group discussion follows the film. Tickets can be purchased in advance at www.ticketleap.com or at the door. Admission: $7 ($6 if you mention Conscious Cinema). For more information on Happy, go to thehappymovie.com.
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