Interpreting Happiness

June 8, 2017

This past month, a couple Ponies and I took the time to go and see The Happy Film by Stefan Sagmeister, a renowned graphic designer who has learned and worked around the world. To provide context on this particular piece, the film’s synopsis, provided on its website, is as follows:

“The Happy Film is a feature-length documentary in which graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister undergoes a series of self-experiments outlined by popular psychology to test once and for all if it’s possible for a person to have a meaningful impact on their own happiness.”

The film follows Sagmeister’s journey over the scheduled time span of a year (though the experiment ended up being much longer), as he engages in three different practices: meditation, therapy and prescription drugs. It was intriguing to see the effect that each practice had on him over time. Probably the most enlightening part of the experience for me, though, was being able to participate in a Q&A session with Sagmeister and the audience after the viewing.

Here are a few takeaways that I gathered from the discussion. *Please note that these comments are based on my own interpretation of both the questions and answers that were discussed within the forum.

  • Sagmeister learned from his colleagues and trusted medical professionals that working on a) your relationship with others, b) your relationship with your work and c) your relationship in finding purpose/being a part of something bigger than yourself helps provide people with a focus that can in turn lead to happiness.
  • Sagmeister defines happiness as “a length of time; a moment.” He said that, to him, this can vary, whether it be a Sunday spent lounging or pursuing your dream.
  • He found all methods to be effective, though in different ways, and they would vary from person to person. He said that for him, meditation helped him work through larger projects and problems, therapy helped him be able to view his actions and work toward a positive change, and the drug he took, Lexapro, simply just worked; it appeared to make him euphoric. (It is important to note that he was supervised by a professional in each of these phases of this experiment.)
  • Sagmeister believes that “graphic design needs to speak to an audience.” I believe that he felt film was one of the best mediums that he could use for this project in order to impact the most people; as a viewer, it was a true case of the cliché, “seeing is believing.”

It also seemed to me that he created the film to express art and design in a unique, nontraditional way. He joked many times about how difficult and hellish is was at times, though the reaction of the audience at each viewing makes it worth it every time. He feels people can learn from it, and he views it as a helpful resource for all. I personally found it to be honest and inspiring; the play on graphic design, in addition to the overarching theme of the pursuit of happiness, was both engaging and interesting. I recommend this film for those of you who, like myself, have an affinity for design and popular culture.

To learn more and view the trailer, check out the website: