My New Kick

by Kim on January 23, 2013

Have you seen this?


After hearing about it from several bloggers, I finally gave it a watch (“gave it a watch”?? Am I British?) on Sunday.

The documentary argues that we have a lot more control over our happiness levels than we might think, and that just being happy can help us reach our other goals in life.

First, it breaks down happiness into three specific sources:

50% comes from our genes. We’re genuinely born with a certain range of happiness.

10% comes from our circumstances: job, social status, health, money.

40% comes from intentional activity. The actions we choose to do—the stuff we can actually control.

The movie attacked the misconception that genes and circumstances play even bigger roles than that in the happiness puzzle. Personally, if you would have asked me this a year ago, when I was unhappy in my job, I probably would have pegged circumstances at closer to 90%.

Those of us who worry about those circumstantial things—especially money—like to think that our happiness levels would be off the charts if, say, we didn’t have bills on the brain 24/7. And sure, it probably wouldn’t hurt. (Especially if it meant our intentional activities became things like lying on beaches, driving expensive cars around, and hiring cooks and housekeepers…)

But I think the point is that this 40% we have to work with is really a huge chunk of pie.

The movie goes on to describe a handful of family situations in which the people aren’t swimming in money, and yet are somehow crazy happy. We follow a rickshaw driver living in an Indian slum, who’s barely able to feed his family and keep the monsoon rains out of his tarp-walled tent, but who also considers himself an incredibly happy man. There’s an African tribe, a crab-fishing Cajun family, an aging surfer, and a handful of others. None rich, none problem-free, but all living in total bliss.

rickshaw In case you don’t know what a rickshaw is (I didn’t)…
Oh, and this is the actual guy from the movie.

The biggest factor that linked all the stories together, I noticed, was community and relationships. In the scenes where we were supposed to observe them “being happy,” they were always hanging out with family, friends, and neighbors. Not rocket science, I know.

But when I think about middle-class America, I think of us holed up in our well-spaced houses, maintaining relationships over Facebook. Grimacing a little when a certain neighbor corners us for a chat when we’re out getting the mail. Complaining about having to spend time with our extended families.

Other interesting tidbits from the movie:

–The best way to promote happiness is to consciously and constantly vary what you do. Some people need a lot of change, some don’t need much, but we all need some. This is tough for routine freaks like me, but I guess a little bit will do the trick (and so, I will park on the clothing side of Target instead of the grocery side next time).

–We all know physical activity releases dopamine, but it releases even MORE when it’s done in novel ways.

–One of the keys to happiness is the concept of “flow.” This is the feeling you get when you lose yourself in an activity that really invigorates you (like an interesting project at work or a hobby you love). Make sure you have something in life that regularly gives you “flow.”

–We overestimate how long both happiness and sadness will linger. When good things happen, joy quickly dissipates, and sadness after a tragedy doesn’t last as long as we think it will. We’re actually pretty good at dealing with bad things, and yet we waste tons of energy worrying about them before they happen.

–There are extrinsic goals (money, status, image) and intrinsic goals (personal growth, relationships, desire to help others). They exist in opposition of each other. Guess which one makes people happier?

I actually wish the movie would have gone into a lot more detail about certain things. For example, when they were talking about the biology of happiness (dopamine and nerves and whatnot), they mentioned that “nerves only care about contrast.” So, does that mean that if you’re in a static state of happiness, all day, your body might not recognize it? That you can only physically detect happiness if it kicks in on the tail of some not-so-happiness??

Maybe I read into that too much. And maybe I wasn’t quite the right audience for the movie, because I kept wanting to hear more about these random little scientific details.

But regardless, it was a good flick, and if you haven’t already given it a watch (if you will), I recommend it!

IMG_2438 This guy loves a good documentary. And by documentary, I mean Mickey Mouse episode.

So now I’m all amped up about health/wellness documentaries, and I’m planning to go on a little doc-watching KICK. Here’s the “short” list of things I still need to see:

–Food, Inc.

–Hungry for Change

–Forks over Knives

–Food Matters

–Super Brain

–How to Cook Your Life

–King Corn




–The Beautiful Truth

–The Future of Food


And there are a ton I left off this list (for now), PLUS a bunch of great TED talks I want to check out. It’s overwhelming in an awesome way.

If When I get through all these, I promise to come back and share my top recommendations with you!


Have you seen any great documentaries lately?

What would you add to my list?


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