By: David Stokes

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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.”

This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/the-inside/stop-and-chat-dept-how-happy-are-you-today-asking-anyone/.