I always find projects are a joy to create and you feel very accomplished when the project you have set out to do is completed. I know that there have been several versions of happiness projects and the search for an ultimate happiness continues through each trial and revelation.
Books such as Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project or Shonda Rhime’s Year of Yes showcase happiness by being motivated to go out and explore the world for a one year period. Their journeys are life changing experiences and fall in the category of revelation. Other more theoretical approaches, such as Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness, where he exposes theories of synthetic happiness showcase studies of trial and error.
So, where does that leave my project? Is it about theory or about revelation? I decided to expand my horizons and tie it to both. I used Daniel Gilbert’s book as a backbone to my project, along with Patricia Lorenz’s Positive Quotes for Everyday and a book for spirituality reference, How to See yourself as You Really are by the Dalai Lama. I believed with these three books I would be able to have a good balance of where happiness comes from, and it should be easier for analysis after I obtain conclusive results from the project.
I kept my project simple. I would create nine questions to formulate an interview to find out what makes people happy. My interview group was small, but I figured I could find out a lot more if I narrowed it down to two candidates. If I were to keep the questions open-ended then their true answers for happiness would be revealed instead of being hidden behind simple yes or no questions. I also wanted to create some contrast so I interviewed a male and female because I was under the impression that happiness differentiates for each gender.
Meet Cheyenne. Her happiness strives from the simple things in life. She has a great start in a career that she wants and is in the process of completing her secondary education. Cheyenne’s passions stem from education, taking care of her dog Penny, and being career-driven. She is in her early twenties and after interviewing her about makes her happy, it was evident that Penny was a high indictor of her happiness. As a secondary component to my project, I accompanied a portrait session to represent what makes Cheyenne happy. The concept behind the session was simple: have her dog Penny in the photos and place Cheyenne in a colorful playground to represent her youthfulness.
My second candidate is Jeremy. Jeremy is in a PHD program for literature and enjoys having a good dialogue with someone. Jeremy’s passions stem from literature, fulfilling interactions with people, and education. He is in his late twenties and after my inquiries about happiness, it was clear a good dialogue or meaningful social interactions were high indictors of his happiness. Jeremy gave me a very abstract concept to work with for his portrait session, but I was determined to complete this project with my artistic visions intact in photograph form.
I had an epiphany. I thought about the character of Forrest Gump and how he would sit on a bench with his box of chocolates waiting for someone. I would have Jeremy sit on a bench with a small bunch of flowers, waiting for either that special someone or for someone that could strike up a good conversation with him. I noticed that within his answers there was a part of him that appeared to be a perceptive individual as well. In order to showcase his perceptive side, I asked him to bring ten of his favorite books. I would have him sitting on some rocks, while he looked out to the water, alongside his books. In addition to his series of photos, I thought if Jeremy were under a tree reading then that would represent his reflective and tranquil nature in a meaningful sense.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with their answers and I realized figuring out your happiness is not as complicated as you think it might be. Happiness comes from inner strengths and outer stimuli. It is not just one thing that contributes to your contentment, but whether a combination of your livelihood, relationships, and financial status contribute to your overall happiness.