Just wanna be happy? It’s evident it’s an emotion we are all chasing – from the ‘Happiness is…’ posters that fill stores and our feeds, to the influencers and brands who sell it through a well-lit VSCO filter (like and subscribe and you too could reach nirvana!).
In reality, finding happiness is a push and pull that we deal with daily. A combination of all the emotions – remember you can’t have light without dark – it’s worth remembering that ever-elusive state of being doesn’t mean you are going to ‘be happy’ all the time. Slowing down, as we’ve been forced to do during lockdown, has made us approach finding happiness in a more holistic way, along with forcing many of us to completely reassess what it means altogether.
If you need a big dose of positivity in your life – with a little reminder of what happiness truly is – we’ve collated a few documentaries and films to inspire hope and maybe leave your heart, like the grinch’s, a few sizes larger.
This is a doco by Jim Carrey’s longtime collaborator, director and Pet Detective wrangler Tom Shadyac. Intrigued? Us too. After a brush with death he takes on some big subject material, consulting with the likes of linguist and author Noam Chomsky, theologian and activist Desmond Tutu, and evolution biologist Elisabet Sahtouris, going out to boldly and optimistically ask: what’s wrong with the world and how do we fix it? The answer to human connectedness, happiness, and the human spirit? Well, we’re not giving away any spoilers here.
Already seen I Am? Shadyac also teamed up with award-winning director Roko Belic to produce 2011’s Happy; a rich tapestry of interviews, archival footage and real-life accounts all about, you guessed it, being happy. It’s a great introduction to happiness practices, with input from leading experts such as psychology professors Ed Diener and Sonja Lyubomirski, the Dalai Lama and Buddhist monk and author Matthieu Ricard. From the swamps of Louisiana to the slums of Kolkata, the inspiring individual stories will grab your heart as the best parts of humanity shine through.
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
Compiled of footage taken from Russian videographer Dmitry Yasyukov’s four documentaries about fur trappers in the Siberian Taiga, Happy People: A Year in the Taiga is a rugged expression of humans at their most independent, and their most resilient. It depicts happiness in their harmony living with nature, and in their willingness to confront the challenges that come with it. Come for the cute husky pups and stay for Werner Herzog’s narration.
The Happy Film
Tongue firmly in cheek, acclaimed graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, who’s worked with a few small names like Talking Heads, Jay-Z and The Rolling Stones, turns himself into a design project for The Happy Film. But despite meditation, psychotherapy and prescription drug therapy – y’all ready for this – “trying to chase after something more meaningful turned out to be a big pain.” And it’s in that pain of naked, honest confrontation Sagmeister finds resolution.
Hector and the Search for Happiness
There’s nothing wrong with leaning into some cheese – especially if it’s paired with a nice drop of vino, of course – and this flick based on French psychiatrist Francois Lelord’s novel gets top marks. Leave your inner cynic at the door, embrace the whimsical and join Hector, played by Simon Pegg, as he Eat, Pray, Loves his way across the globe to find happiness. And if that’s not enough for you to add to the queue, it also stars beloved Aussie actor Toni Collette.
A childish animation full of naive platitudes? Think again! After venturing inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley to meet co-pilots Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, we get a surprisingly profound coming-of-age tale that abounds with empathy. Happiness scholar Dacher Keltner acted as a consultant to ensure all the emotions were represented scientifically, so we recommend adding it to the ol’ homeschool curriculum – no matter your age.
WORDS BY LAUREN BAXTER