Who is the happiest person you know?
I guarantee you'll think about that person as you're watching Adam Shell's gloriously happy and life-affirming documentary Pursuing Happiness, a diary of sorts of interviews with America's happiest people. Shell and his team asked the 300+ supporters of their Kickstarter campaign the question "Who's the happiest person you know?" and travelled the country based solely on those referrals, showing up at the homes of complete strangers with their cameras rolling.
Pursuing Happiness weaves together this journey with academic and spiritual wisdom from many of America's leading experts in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and business to create a film that is both emotionally resonant and intellectually satisfying.
In the film, it's pointed out that one in ten Americans takes anti-depressants. The pursuit of happiness is a $10 billion industry, yet year-after-year the United States ranks low on the United Nation's World Happiness Report.
Yep, that's really a thing.
In fact, the 2016 update is due to be released on March 16th! In 2015, Switzerland topped the Report followed by Iceland, Denmark, and Norway. Canada, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, and Australia round out the top ten. The United States? 15th.
The journey that Shell undertook with his producer, Nicholas Kraft, encompassed 6,000 miles and over 300 interviews with 400 hours of footage.
The result? As expected, should make you smile.
Also not unexpectedly, Pursuing Happiness is proving to be a hit on the festival circuit including screenings at such fests as the Newport Beach Film Festival, Sacramento International Film Festival, including picking up Sacramento's "Outstanding Achievement" prize, along with being the opening night film for the Awareness Film Festival and being invited to present at the United Nations World Happiness Day.
The stories told in Pursuing Happiness are incredibly diverse, from a 28-year-old vegan, lawyer, hip-hop DJ and cancer warrior named Gloria to an African-American mother who raised all of her kids in a one-bedroom home and whose children swear they've never seen her anything less than happy. The stories keep on going.
If there's one thing I truly loved about Pursuing Happiness it's that in the midst of it all there's an awareness that sometimes life is truly challenging. Shell, quite beautifully, doesn't sugarcoat on the road to happiness. Instead, he simply constructs a powerful film that proves time and again that happiness, an intentional choice, always makes life better.
From looking at how we choose happiness amidst tragedy to the discovery of those a-ha moments that inspire lasting change, Pursuing Happiness will not only make you feel better but it will make you want to share that feeling with eveyrone around you. As I sat there watching the journey unfold, I got in touch with my own experience traveling the roads at 2-3 miles per hour in my wheelchair and, for the most part, discovering a world of wonder, happiness and hope.
For more information on Pursuing Happiness, visit the film's website linked to in the credits. The film is directed by Adam Shell, award-winning documentarian of such films as Put the Camera on Me and Finding Kraftland.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic