Things I Learned While Making a Movie About Happiness

Screen Shot 2012-02-08 at 10.49.53 AM.png

A dirt poor rickshaw puller in a slum in India once told me that he was the luckiest person alive. His hut was made out of bamboo sticks and plastic tarps, with raw sewage trickling out front, but still, Manoj Singh said he was happy, very happy, in fact. Though sometimes he only had only a few bowls of rice to feed his family, he said “I feel that I am not poor, but I am the richest person in the world.”

How could this be? I have friends who can become unhappy by bad cell phone reception or a delayed flight.

For the past six years I have been making a documentary film called HAPPY, exploring the true sources and causes of happiness. My crew and I traveled to 14 countries and talked to people from many different cultures. Old and young, rich and poor, they taught us about happiness. We also spoke with many of the leaders in the field of positive psychology, the scientific study of happiness.

What I learned changed my life.

1. You can Become Happier

There are a number of ways we can increase our happiness. The formula for happiness is not the same for everyone, but all of us can make changes to become healthier, more fulfilled and happier.

2. Your Happiness is Good For You

Happy people are more likely to have better relationships and have happier children. Happy people do better at school and at work and make more money. They are more creative, more resilient in the face of hardship, healthier and they even live longer.

3. Your Happiness is Good For the World

Happiness is contagious. As you become happier, those around you have a higher likelihood of becoming happier. Happy people are less likely to cheat someone else, commit a crime or pollute the environment. They are more likely to help a stranger in need and stand up for justice and human rights. Happy people create a happy world.

There are things you can do to become happier.

1. Get in the Flow

Flow is a state of being where you are totally immersed in an activity. You forget about the worries of everyday life and you are completely focused on the experience of the moment. Flow usually occurs while engaging in a hobby like gardening, painting, golfing or surfing, but it can also happen at work. People who get into flow on a regular basis are happier than those who don’t.

What to do: Recognize your flow-inducing hobbies and prioritize them.

2. Integrate Exercise into Your Day

We have a chemical in our brain called dopamine that is essential for feelings of pleasure and happiness. It is part of a system of transmitters and receptors that deteriorates as we get older (past teenage years). The best way to maintain the health of our dopamine systems is through physical aerobic exercise.

What to do: Find something aerobic that you like to do and prioritize it in your schedule. Some ideas are biking, dancing, running, tennis, basketball, walking.

3. Spend time with Friends and Family

Ed Diener, a leading researcher in positive psychology, told me that every happy person he studied in over 30 years had strong relationships. Not all were outgoing or necessarily very social, but all had someone they loved and someone who loved them back.

What to do: Make time to spend with your friends and family on a regular basis.

4. Focus on Intrinsic Goals

People who prioritize “extrinsic” values for money, power and fame are less likely to be happy than people who prioritize “intrinsic” values for compassion, cooperation and wanting to make the world a better place.

What to do: Shift your priorities and your actions toward intrinsic goals.

5. Be a Part of Something that Offers a Sense of Meaning and Purpose

Happy people often feel they are part of something bigger than themselves. Whether it’s a community service organization, a charity or a spiritual affiliation, participating in a group or identifying a context for your life can increase your happiness.

What to do: Participate in an organization that reflects your values or do things that contribute to the legacy you want to leave.

6. Act with Compassion

Being kind and helping others, even strangers, makes you happier.

What to do: Take opportunities to be kind and offer help.

7. Practice Gratitude

Writing a letter to thank someone can boost your happiness for days afterwards. The amazing part is: it works even if you don’t send the letter! If you do send the letter the positive impact is even greater. The simple act of expressing your gratitude makes you happier.

What to do: Make a habit of thanking people who help you, and write a list once a week of things you are grateful for.

On World Happy Day, February 11 – www.WorldHappyDay.com – Over 600 locations in 60 countries on all 7 continents will unite to view HAPPY and begin journeys toward healthier and happier lives. Happiness is a goal worth sharing. I hope you will join me.

Happy – A Documentary Trailer from Wadi Rum Films on Vimeo.

About the Author

author image

Roko Belic’s directorial debut, “Genghis Blues” (1999), won the Sundance Audience Award and was nominated for an Academy Award® for best documentary feature. Belic recently directed the 44-minute documentary “Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious, ” which was released on the “Inception” Blu-Ray. He shot two award winning feature documentaries, "Indestructible" directed by Ben Byer and "I AM" directed by Tom Shadyac (“Liar Liar,” “Bruce Almighty”). For his current project, Belic teamed up with the Hollywood heavyweight Shadyac, who executive produced, to direct the feature documentary HAPPY. HAPPY combines powerful human stories from around the world with cutting edge science to give us a deeper understanding of our most valued emotion.

Read more from Roko Belic

Sign Up for the Shriver Weekly

More Posts from Architects of Change

  • Abbe Jacobson
  • Abigail-Brenner
  • Adam-Garone
  • Photo Cred: Carla Duharte Razura
  • Adrian-Crouch
  • Aida-Mollenkamp
  • Alex-Kinzler
  • _MG_6814 copy
  • Alex-Woodard
  • Alexander-Trivas
  • Alexis-Maybank-and-Alexandra-Wilson
  • Ali-Guthy
  • Ali Skylar
  • Alison-Armstrong
  • Alison-Brod
  • Levine_pink_jacket_medium copy