Sunday 12 February 2012

The Happy Movie

Yesterday I had a little day out by myself into London to go and watch 'Happy', a new docu-film being previewed all over the world to help celebrate World Happy Day. I made the most of the day by walking from Paddington to the Coronet cinema in Notting Hill and taking plenty of photos along the way without feeling bad for making anybody else with me stop and wait every two seconds while I fiddle about with focus or experiment with composition.  The cinema itself was one of those real, proper old cinemas and I settled into my seat ready.

The film was fantastic. I was wondering if it would be a bit cheesy or happy clappy given it's American but the tone was perfect with a really good balance of psychological research, human stories and more spiritual insight.  It followed the stories of people from Calcutta to Denmark, to Japan examining levels of happiness and the conditions that contribute, interspersed with scientific comment and findings. There were some really lovely light hearted moments of comedy, such as listening to the elders of Okinawa discussing the merits of sake and lots of sleep for longterm health and happiness, but balanced with moments when the whole room fell silent at some of the quite harrowing stories being shared.There was a beautiful lady who had been run over by a truck, losing her entire face in the process and having to spend the next 10 years undergoing surgery to have it rebuilt. The trauma had unearthed memories of being abused as a child and if that weren't enough, she also lost her husband along the way. But  the experience had really grounded her, made her more in touch with what matters and with herself, leaving her able to say now that she is honestly happier than ever before. Or the fact that in Japan the phenomenon of working yourself to death is so commonplace that they even have a special word for it; Karoshi. The story of one young father who worked himself to death at Toyota was shocking. The point here was that beyond meeting our basic means, our happiness does not increase with our economic or financial circumstances.  Economic growth has been steadily on the rise, but levels of happiness have not. Since the war Japan has focused on building economic growth at the sake of all else, and it's had its toll.

On the flip side, I particularly liked Bhutan's refreshing positioning, which is to work to a central objective of not GDP like most other nations, but gross domestic happiness and this is at the centre of all decisions they make.

There was so much else in there, so much wisdom and some really interesting scientific findings, far too much to share here but maybe the most interesting to ponder was that when it comes to our happiness, 50% of our ability to be happy is down to genetics. We all have a genetic baseline happiness. Another 10% comes from our external environment, so things like our job, our wages, our social circumstances. Interesting that this element is so low. But that leaves 40%. 40% of our happiness unaccounted for by our genetic make up or our external circumstances. And that 40% is totally down to us. The exact formula will be different for everybody, it's just up to us to solve it.

So I enjoyed my day out and I really enjoyed the film, but I have to say my own particular happiness had been shifted. I walked back to the station 'happily' taking more photos and enjoying the sights and sounds and on the face of it was having a great time, but underneath my mind was in a total spin. There had been so much to take in and contemplate in such a short 75 minutes that my mind was working overtime to process it all, leaving me with a really frustrating underlying sense of anxiety. Now I hate feeling anxious and cannot help but try to question and rationalise it which I know is nonsense and I should just notice it and let it be, but sometimes I cant. This then, clearly, makes me both more anxious and then angry on top. Then I start to berate myself for feeling anything other than 'happy' having just watched a film called 'happy' on World Happiness Day. This is also a nonsense...there is no such thing as 'should' when it comes to emotions. Knowing all of this doesn't actually help sometimes. So I walked back into the house all bristly and uptight and weird and was given rather a large berth until I'd calmed down enough to ask for a massage...which turned out to have been exactly what I needed. So thank you to my lovely husband for pummelling away the frustration and giving me the space to put all my thoughts and feelings back in order. And having spent all day watching happy, and thinking about happy, for reminding me more importantly, what happy actually feels like.

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