Assignment 2 – Initial idea 5: Happiness

What makes us happy? Sometimes we pin our hopes of finding happiness on something or somebody and this turns out not to work the way we expected it. Happiness is an elusive subject, something that we may feel when we least expect it, and that is not there when we expect it to be. When that happens, we get frustrated. We get angry. The opposite of happiness takes place because, just like an untamed animal, happiness cannot be summoned, cannot be grasped, cannot be controlled and cannot be moved around as we please.

If there is no clear way to find happiness, is there a way of representing it pictorially? One way of tackling this is to think back about moments in which we remember being happy, and then take a picture representing or related to such moment. Another way would be to be on the alert for moments of happiness, and then take a picture of whatever is going on at that time, whatever I feel is associated with the generation of that happiness.

The above can actually end up being highly personal and consequently, impossible to decipher by the viewer. A third approach would be to distil the moment of happiness into its basic emotions and then look for ways in which such emotions could be represented by symbols or signs that could trigger a connection with happiness on the viewer. In order for this to work, the signs would have to have a near universal connection with happiness. A slight variation in this approach would be to try to use signs and symbols that elicit happiness directly in the viewers, rather than just an association with the concept.

But what are the universal symbols of happiness? If we Google happiness, and then look at images, we can see a lot of “smiley” faces:


So, smiling seems to be directly associated with happiness. But what actually makes us smile? A smile in itself is just a manifestation of something, the “happiness”, but that has been caused by something else. A few examples could include

  • A joke
  • Receiving praise
  • Being together with someone we love
  • Closing a business opportunity successfully
  • Victory
  • Our football team scoring
  • Reaching the top of a mountain / finishing a race / completing a goal
  • Sunrises
  • Sunsets

There are many other things that can make us smile but which are not necessarily related to happiness. We can force a smile before somebody takes our picture, for instance, because this is a general convention when taking social pictures. The viewer of such picture may conclude that those in the picture were happy at that time, but this may not actually be the case. The limitation of this approach is that the viewer can never know for sure if what is being represented is a derivative of happiness or not, although one could argue that we should not be concerned with such things in any case, for as long as the correct response is elicited (ie if there is an association with happiness or happiness is indeed generated). My concern in connection with this limitation is only in as much as it can generate doubts in the viewer as to whether the symbol is genuine or not (eg is the smile fake?), thus ruining the intention.

Are there other symbols that are specifically related to happiness other than smiley faces? Are there any colours, sounds or objects related to happiness?  Can a colour or object, in itself, cause somebody to be happy? Does happiness require action, interaction between people or objects, in order to flourish? We can, for instance sometimes associate an object with a prior thought or situation and that can bring us a small degree of satisfaction, like a moment of joy, but again this could be a very personal response.


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