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How Happy Can You Be? cover photo

How Happy Can You Be? 2005


Distributed by First Run/Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Producer n/a
Directed by Line Hatland
DVD, color, 88 min.

Sr. High - Adult
Anthropology, Multicultural Studies, Psychology, Social Studies, Sociology

Date Entered: 03/08/2007

Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

In this short, amusing film, Norwegian documentarian Line Hatland reflects on the serious study of happiness. Describing herself as “fundamentally negative,” she ponders what happiness might mean but also whether it’s possible to become happier. More than a personal pursuit for contentment, it’s a subject that anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, and neuroscientists have also measured and studied at great length. Deftly combining interviews with experts in the field of subjective well-being with archival footage, scientific experiments, anthropological field studies, and statistics, Hatland provides viewers with an engaging guide to happiness research.

Social scientists define happiness as an overall enjoyment of life as a whole and find that people in all societies and cultures understand the question “are you happy?” Further, researchers are also able to measure exactly how happy people are, determine what factors affect contentment, and provide a profile of what a happy person looks like.

Despite the evidence, much of which is collected in the World Database of Happiness housed at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Hatland remains skeptical. What about having a genetic disposition to negativity? Do happy people simply have the ability to erase unhappy thoughts or memories? Does happiness come with a price tag? While the tone of the film is light, the questions raised are thoughtful ones that bear further discussion. Recommended.