Stop and Chat Dept.: How Happy Are You Today? Asking Anyone
Those days when you aren’t up to much, and have only the barest plan (eg, book, robarts) connecting you to the future. What will you find?
Outside Sidney Smith a smiling dude stands holding a yellow bristol board. “Hey, would you like to contribute to the happiness project? Just write down how happy you are.”
Hmmm. I take closer look at his board and read its handwritten magic marker message:
“How Happy Are You Right Now?”
A note underneath says: “Please be honest.”
OK, interesting. The dude hands me a pen and I take stock of my mood. It’s Friday, 3 pm, sunny, not cold, it’s nice to talk to someone here.
I put down a 7. A lot of other people have added their number to the board. A smattering of 6’s, 8s, 5’s.
“We know each other from something,” says the dude. He names a girl -- an ex. I’m a bit less happy than before. People continue to pass, and the dude asks if they wanna mark how happy they feel. He’s got a warm, inviting and inquisitive voice. People are interested, this is a busy spot on campus and most students passing take a marker.
Some people write obscure mathematical and statistical formulas (“n over a? what does that mean?”), a couple infinity signs. Most people stick to the 6-8 range. Some people can’t help but put 10 or 11: “my friend is taking me to get a birthday gift!”. One guy writes 100, silently, and walks off. Someone has inscribed a peace sign instead of a number.
The dude with the bristol board is psychology student David Fishbayn. Why is he out here doing this?
“Well, it’s just a little creative project. I enjoy it. And I work with Active Minds, a mental health awareness group on campus.”
“For me, a big thing is that it’s ok not to be happy. We live in a very outwardly happy culture. People feel pressure to conform. This here is just a chance to maybe take a moment and really think about how you feel. I dont know if it’s working. Though I did have two girls just slink up to me so slowly and write 3 and 2 and then slink away.”
Fishbayn’s sign and query become a little hub in the traffic in and out the building during the course of the afternoon. He talks to a lot of people, and a lot of people had things to say about happiness, mood, mental health, and mostly just, well, were happy to talk to a stranger and fellow student. Some people questioned his methodology, and some people asked if he was happy. At one point psychology Professor Jordan Peterson, one of Fishbayn’s heroes - “I wonder what he thinks of this, cause I don’t think he feels that happiness is as important as meaning” - walked by and initially was in too much of a rush to add to the board. “It’ll only take a second,” says Fishbayne, proffering a marker. Peterson, convinced, put down an 8. “Can I use decimals?” he asks. Fishbayne nods. Peterson added a .5. Later, Professor Vervaeke puts down, in his words, “a solid 8.”
Fishbayn, cold after spending the afternoon outside, notices the sun is setting - it’s time to pack it in, and he’s filled his board. “I think it’s more important to be honest than to be happy,” he says. He points to a 5 off to the side of his board. “That was me earlier. But now, after doing this, I’m an 8.”
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