15 September 2014
“The Constitution only guarantees Americans the right to pursue happiness, you have to catch it yourself.” –Benjamin Franklin. While pursuing happiness may be a “right” in the Constitution, actually capturing and becoming happy is a different story. To become a happier person, one must have the desire and will to do so. The film Happy is a documentary made in 2012 based on the concept of what makes people truly happy. The film is intended for a broad, general audience and provides information that is both informative and appealing. The film makes a good argument about how happiness is a choice by providing claims that are easy to understand and relatable for the viewers. A few claims made about how people can increase happiness are that of dopamine release especially through exercise, the concept of flow, ability to recover from adversity, and connection to family/community. “Any discussion of happiness centers a lot on dopamine” (Happy). That is why one of the first claims made in the film is about how dopamine release, especially through exercise, can increase a person’s happiness. P. Read Montague, a Professor of Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine and Gregory Burns M.D., a Professor of Psychiatry at Emory University, talk about how dopamine is released in the brain and the amount of dopamine synapses declines as we age. According to Burns, the “use it or lose it” principle applies to the brain, so it is up to us to seek out experiences that release dopamine. “Aerobic exercise is one of the best releasers of dopamine, especially if you do it in novel ways” (Happy). With their high level of education in studying the brain, Montague and Burns are credible resources for this claim. Between these two professors, this claim becomes more believable for the audience.
In addition to the experts, the film involves Ronaldo Fadul as evidence for the claim of exercise releasing dopamine and thus increasing happiness. Fadul, a Brazilian surfer, is a model example for this claim based on his ability to do what he loves (surf) everyday and thus live a happy life. Fadul claims, “I feel I am still rising with every wave I catch. I feel happy” (Happy). This evidence is effective because it shows that a man who is releasing dopamine daily through a physical activity that he loves (surfing) can make him happy regardless of his income or material goods. Due to Fadul’s simplistic lifestyle, many people, especially Americans, may think he is unhappy. This is why the filmmaker chooses Fadul as an example. Although he lives simply, he appears to be happier than the average person because of this daily release of dopamine through surfing.
An interesting claim made in the movie Happy is the concept that people who experience Flow are happier. Flow can be described as a “synergy of different aspects of consciousness” according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Professor of Psychology at Claremont Graduate University. This synergy can often cause the feeling of being “lost in the moment” where the world around you seems absent due to the enjoyment of this activity. Flow can help people to feel in control and allow them to forget their problems. “The kind of ego we are always aware of in everyday life disappears” (Happy). Flow can enforce feelings that life is worth living and that enjoyment can be found in both expected and bizarre places. The filmmaker specifically uses Professor Csikszentmihalyi because he is not only highly credentialed, but also coined the term Flow to express this “feeling” or “state of being” and based a book off of this concept.
The film provides another example of this claim through Jamal, a chef at a diner who experiences flow almost daily. Due to Jamal’s love of cooking, he is able to combine his passion with his job to create an environment brimming with flow. This is effective evidence made in the film because