When we examine cultural similarities and differences throughout the world, how often do we actually stop and think of how happiness is measured through different cultural or ethnic lenses?
The documentary Happy, directed by Roco Belic, explores the concept of happiness in various places around the world, including Bhutan, Brazil, Denmark and Japan.
In Bhutan, the concept of happiness influences government policy and strategic decisions, through their Gross National Happiness. According to Bhutan government officials, “in the pursuit of economic development, people have lost their culture, environment, and their social systems…humanity needs a higher goal for development.” They distinguish between fleeting pleasure versus contentment. Happiness permeates throughout the country, through a prioritization of preservation of identity over economic gain.
For a lifelong surfer in Brazil, happiness is brought about by living one’s passion. According to Ronaldo Fadul, it is important to “try to work, so that you [can] live your life in tranquility.” Ronaldo goes on to question the reasoning behind accumulating wealth, observing that “it doesn’t make sense to make money for yourself, when you don’t take care of yourself, when you’re not dreaming or happy.”
Denmark is considered to be the happiest country in the world. Social contentment is commonly seen through the implementation of cohousing. In cohousing units, chores are shared and community is built. Younger members of the community assist in making dinner for others, while the elderly of the community are seen as nurturers. Ultimately, cohousing enables workloads to be minimized, so that families can focusing on spending time together, rather than spending their time on housework.
Okinawa, Japan is home to the largest number of individuals over the age of 100. Residents of the island attribute their longevity and happiness to their connection with each other, as well as to the younger generation. The concept of “icharibachode”, which roughly translates to viewing a stranger as a brother or sister, fosters peace and positivity. For a group of elderly women in the community, "having a lot of friends is happiness.”
If there is a common denominator that transcends any degree or dimension of difference, it is that we all experience happiness and sorrow. There may not be anything more humanizing and connecting than a smile exchanged between two strangers. It is through this recognition of common experiences that understanding is built and empathy grows.
The Intercultural Centre will be screening the documentary Happy on October 21st in S2009 at 12:30 pm, in support of the United Way.