“Research psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes the mind as a small rider, the conscious, sitting atop a giant elephant, the unconscious. The rider thinks he is in charge and can tell the elephant where to go, but the elephant has his own ideas. The rider cannot force the elephant in a direction, but can train him slowly over time.
If the rider and the elephant work as a team – when the conscious and the unconscious are close – my life is going to be rich”.
And that is how Stefan Sagmeister sums up his candid, stylish, sometimes hilarious, but always thoughtful, personal research into happiness. Who, exactly, is Stefan Sagmeister and why should we take advice from him? “The Happy Show”, now on view at MOCA Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, is an odd hybrid of art installation/personal confessions/graphic design and a tremendous amount of fun.
Spoiler alert: this show will make you happy or, at least, leave you with a lingering sense of well-being, long after you walk out. And then there are those ginger candy. But more about that later.
We want to be happy, no, we deserve to be happy – if you are an American citizen, your Constitution demands it of you, and we spend our little lives spinning our wheels trying to reach that elusive state of happiness which, in the last two decades or so, has been annoyingly summarized by the omnipresent smiley face.
From the moment I walked in I was warned that
I felt an immediate kinship with Mr. Stagmeister, whom I have never met, but who sounds like a kindred soul: an Austrian graphic designer who spent the first half of this career realizing a dream come true – working in the fast paced and mad environment of the 80’s and 90’s, designing album covers for famous rock artists, until the dream became too high maintenance and unfulfilling . Sounds familiar?
He then took a step back, reassessed his goals and took a look at how he could keep on doing what he loved – graphic art – without the stress, the constant looming deadlines and the sense of malaise that was overwhelming him. In the process, he went on an exploration of what happiness means, drawing insights from a variety of personal experiences and published studies, the results of which are playfully displayed over the walls of MOCA.
Once being warned the exhibition will not make you happy, you are asked to take a card. Here is mine:
and yes I did.
And then you move to explore some of the misconceptions of what we think will make us happy, demystified through the lens of what “experts” know to be true.
Money for example
Most of all, I loved Mr. Sagmeister’s honest admissions about himself: the way he weaves them into the material and how they influence the outcome of his search.
At the top of the staircase, oversized yellow gum dispensers invite you to take one gum from the bin that, on a scale from 1 to 10, better illustrates your current state of happiness. At that point, I went for 10 because I was having a ball, interacting with the exhibition, with other visitors around me and basking in the well-being of understanding another human being through words and images on a wall. In a way, it also validated my choice to revolutionize my life, take a dive into the deep end, having faith I will be able to come up for air in the end. “Doing what you love, eventually will bring you money”, Mr. Sagmeister says, which is also my belief. Right now I am still inhabiting the “doing what I love” part, which, in turn, brought me to MOCA, in my constant exploration for bringing you, the reader, what is interesting but maybe not in the mainstream yet.
And about those candy. On your way out, don’t forget to pocket a couple of the Indonesian candy Mr. Sagmeister really wants us to try. Highly addictive. I am perversely thinking of going back for more.
For more information on the exhibition, check out MOCA’s site
For Stefan Stagmeister’s current endeavours, check out his agency – Sagmeister and Walsh
Smaller photos courtesy of Moca’s website