Monday, February 04, 2013

"Happy": a documentary presenting happiness as social connectedness

The film “Happy”, by Roko Belic (77 min, 2011), certainly fits well a supplementary viewing following the 2013 Academy Awards Dcoumentary Shorts program, even as this film is normally a “feature”.

The film explores human happiness and presents it as largely a function of social connectedness.

It starts out with a laborer living in a shack near Calcutta, as he proudly shows his little shack that stands up to monsoons.  It then moves to the bayous of Louisiana. But pretty soon it’s exploring the biological basis of happiness.  A lot of it has to do with dopamine, which gets released in social interaction but which tends to diminish as we age.  Happiness, then, would be a habit acquired early in life.

The film introduces the concept of “hedonic treadmill”, where we always want “more” (rather like our domestic cats). It also presents the idea of “extrinsic goals” like money, status, fame, public accomplishment, compared to “intrinsic goals” like personal growth (of the Rosenfels variety, as was explored at the Ninth Street Center in New York in the 70s and 80s),  relationships (especially familial), community feeling.  These two poles are said to be “opposite sites of value systems”. I can remember being asked "Are You Happy?" in a counseling session one time at the Center back in the 1970s!

The film makes the point (like "I Am" by Tom Shadyac, March 27, 2011) that once we have enough to "live" with relative stability, we really don't "need" more to be happy.  There is a happiness difference between $5000 and $100000 a year, but between $100000 and $1 billion (like Facebook's founder).  Oh, I recall a meeting of the "People's Party of New Jersey" back in 1972 where they wanted to throw out of the Newark tenement anyone who made more than $5000 a year (me, even then).   
The film presents Japan as a country that has overdone “extrinsic” values.  It presents a case of a worker who died of a heart attack explaining a mistake he had made causing an industrial accident, as part of its exploration of Japanese “karoshi”, or “death from overwork”.

The film presents the history of a woman who discovered happiness after a horrible accident in which she was run over by a truck.  After many surgeries, she recovered, but her husband couldn’t stand relations with her and left (this was a problem covered in the short film “Mondays at Racine”, reviewed Feb. 2).  She became personally much more outgoing and giving.

The film talks about “happy countries”, especially Bhutan (see review March 28, 2010) and Denmark, where there are many planned communities with shared living.  The film showed a neighborhood of twenty families sharing a commons and taking rotations doing cooking of meals (sounds like an “intentional community” as on my Issues Blog, April 7, 2012).  I wondered what the singles do.  The film also talks to the Dalai Lama (see review of the “10 Questions” film June 25, 2007). 

The film also examined a “Blue Zone” in Okinawa, where people live communally and off the land and have strong social ties.  It closed by looking at the African Bushmen in Namibia, who may be closer to our genetic ancestors in Africa than any other group.

The film does indeed make the case for "eusociality" and altruism as intrinsic to humans as social creatures. But we're not Bonobo chimps. 
The official site is here The film is produced by Wadi Rum and Iris films and is distributed by Film Emporium.  It played at some documentary festivals, including Telluride. Significant parts of the film are in Japanese, Hindi, or native African Bush, with subtitles.  

For today’s short film, see “War on the Weak: Eugenics in America” by Liam Dunaway (2007, 10 minutes), discussed on the Issues Blog Feb. 3, 2013.  

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