The pursuit of happiness. A ponderment searched and researched probably just as much as love has. We want to feel that state, and in our pursuit of it there is realization that it takes work. Anything worth having is worth our efforts.
Documentary film maker Adam Shell certainly found a calling as he considered the word happy and began to speak with people from all walks of life from around the world about their own state of happy. Together Adam brings a film that breaks down what this word really is in a tangible sort of way. A state of being that isn't complicated, but takes diligence. After all we are what we create. Pursuing Happiness takes us on a journey to understand a complex emotion but one that attainable to us all. As we learn, our expression is our happiness.
Song River: Hey Adam, so nice to be able to talk to you today. How are you doing?
Adam Shell: Doing great! Thank you for taking time as well.
SR: I have now been able to watch your film, Pursuing Happiness, and I would first like you to define the word happy.
AS: Wow. I guess it was what I set out to film how to do. It is a state of contentment and being pleased with your existence and state of being in a positive way. It's a tough one. Boiling it down to a small nugget is difficult. There are so many questions and things that come up. It's a struggle to boil it down.
SR: Do you think that it is something that can be described better in action, than in words?
AS: If you break down the word happy. A state of bliss, euphoria, comfort you could use all those words to define it, but when you really start looking at the word happy for so many people it means so much more. There's success, comfort ,so many things that come into play. In any given moment I can tell you I am happy... but what am I using to define that state.
SR: Many times it seems we break out our synonyms to define our words. If you go back and look at the etymology of the word happy it comes from the word lucky.
Did you find that there is a difference between being happy and content?
AS: Yeah, I think you can be content without being happy. I think content is not having a longing for anything, we are comfortable but are we necessarily euphorically happy in that moment? To take it to the next level and have the experience of happiness you have to be content.
SR: If we look at happy, singularly and in the moment, as opposed to contentment...
AS: Contentment can come and go in an instant. Which form are you looking at? Life contentment and where you are with your wife, kids, home, job...? But then you bring in the American thought of a bigger home and nicer car. Happiness is split into two categories. Most of us tend to look at the hedonic state. Am I am having a good time, having a good meal, with good friends? I think there isn't enough weight put on the state of accomplishing something meaningful. We tend not to calculate many things in when people ask if we are happy.
SR: I think in our society we may have a hard time defining things. For example, we meet on the street and I say, “How are you doing Adam?” We say it because we don't know what else to say.
AS: We use that as an automatic response. Think about how many times have you said that someone. Really what did that person mean.
SR: I think we might treat happy and sad the same way.
AS: I do think another important thing to know here is that we are now in a place where we have over analyzed everything that comes our way. I think when we over analyze things they take on multiple meanings. This brings a fear of how what I am saying is being defined. So, we have to come up with new words. Now maybe we can start figuring out real answers and maybe new answers for happy. They are words that have so much meaning and are so broad.
SR: What made you decide to tackle this project?
AS: The film I made last, Finding Kraftland, was a film on finding the definition of joy. It is shown in the film that it is done with full force and that is that person's model of life. Realizing how that person operated as we filmed it, the most resounding response was how people would say thank you for bringing me this film to make me think about joy and how to bring it into my life. This whole happiness thing at that time was bubbling on the topic, there were college courses being taught on it, books coming out so from there I wanted to make a film on it, not a social action to fix something, but more of film on a big problem in our society of not feeling happy and getting back to changing on an individual basis to find happy. When we make individual changes of course then it affects society as a whole.
SR: Do you think as a society we are ready for self-discovery about what happy is?
AS: It is tough. The way we have been groomed as a society makes it hard. I hate to say we have become lazy, but in a way we have. It takes work to be happy. It doesn’t come from one little thing, it can be little things every day.
SR: We certainly have to desire it within ourselves to attain it.
AS: We know we have a serious problem with mental illness who knows if the ratios are the same as they were fifty years ago, we just may be more aware, but I know there are clinical cases where people have to have medication to cope. But for a good deal of us, maybe we just need to work at it instead of medicating. Just a thought I am know expert.
SR: Putting medicine over something with a bandage sometimes works, but sometimes we need to look at the causes.
Did you learn about happiness from those who are more creative or people who think more logically?
AS: I honestly saw it was split down the middle. Both sides are happy in different ways as we all find happy in different ways. There are many things that can get you there. Just because you get there one way, doesn’t mean that another person can't get there another way.
Take for instance the painter Andy in the film. If one were to take away his painting from him would he still be happy? Absolutely because it isn’t just painting that makes him happy. It is a part of who he is.
SR: Do you think some people are predisposed genetically to be happy?
AS: There are studies showing that we all are born with our own baseline, or set point. Let's say you put it on a scale of 1-10 and I am a 6 and you’re a 10...that just means that is where you might begin. Would a 6 have to work at it harder than a 10? Of course. Take for example, look at athletes. Some are born to be that naturally and others have to work at it and practice more. Of course, people can live below their set point. It takes work wherever you are on the scale.
SR: One of the essentials for humans is love. Do you think happy is an essential too?
AS: Yes absolutely. Happiness is a part of our survival and it brings us together as a group. Happiness is definitely all encompassing for our survival.
SR: What is something you do Adam to keep yourself happy?
AS: I keep having this conversation over and over. (laughed) There is so much information from people in this film to help. Tips and tricks. Relishing the day. One thing we might be able to learn from Gloria, John or Gary in the film, which is exactly why I made this film, was so we could have help to pull from.
Then there is the great moment when I was talking with Gary on the beach and he said, “Your expression is experience,” and I said to him, “So what you give is what you get?” Gary's response was perfect, “What you give is what you experience right in that moment.” If we all think about that on a daily basis, if we put that out into the world, I think we all have better experiences in this world.
SR: Whatever you put out in that moment, is what is going to come back to you.
AS: When you start looking for something, you notice it. By me doing this project it elevated all of us who were involved. It all started happening, naturally.
SR: Has this project changed your family structure and marriage?
AS: Yes, certainly. It has made me a lot less anxious and appreciate every moment. I recall what Gloria said in the film, “We all live every day as we are guaranteed eighty years and that notion makes us take things for granted.” We can get hit by a bus tomorrow and it will be over in an instant. I just want to say I lived and had a great life. That is pursuing happiness.