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"Happy": Doc About Happiness Is So Shallow It's Depressing 

Wednesday, Jun 29 2011

Fresh as a summer breeze, and as substantial, Genghis Blues director Roko Belic's new film zips across a dozen countries in an effort to pass along the secret of happiness — defined in an early scene as the joy expressed by a weary rickshaw puller when he sees his young son. However, that joy is different from the steady contentment, or pleasure in working, other interviewees express, which points out one cloud on this film's horizon. A society's definition of "happiness" may differ from culture to culture and language to language, but Belic ignores this. This is just one problem with this cheerful, featherweight primer. While we hear from a battery of psychiatrists and see some nifty graphics of brain cells, more questions are raised than answered. While in that early scene we meet a happy rickshaw driver, Belic later allows contradictory data that people struggling economically are less happy. The film claims that Americans are much richer now than they were 50 years ago, which is true if you ignore the inflation that has at best flattened our incomes. We learn that happiness is our individual responsibility, while other scenes urge a communal lifestyle. Belic might have found a historian to address the question of what exactly the Founders meant by "the pursuit of happiness." What about the good folk (Aldous Huxley, Barbara Ehrenreich) who dissent from compulsory happiness? Aerobic exercise makes you happy by stimulating the brain. What about the chemically induced happiness of drugs? What about the chronically depressed? Along the way, Belic locates two compelling stories, that of a woman horribly disfigured in an accident, and the tale of Japanese workers driven to death by overwork. Briefly we are confronted with the complexities of real life, and briefly Happy expresses something more than slogans. For the rest, I am unhappy.

About The Author

Gregg Rickman


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