An article written by Dion Chang for City Press.
Hi, my name is Dion, and I’m a happy person.
You’ll have to forgive the somewhat Pollyanna tone to this week’s column but I’ve just completed a social media challenge called 100 Happy Days. It is a global movement started by the 100happydays foundation that aims to spread happiness in the world – and the world could do with a bit more. The challenge seemed simple enough: can you be happy for 100 consecutive days?
It’s actually harder than you think.
If you want to take up the challenge you are required to register on their website, chose a social media platform and for the next 100 consecutive days post one picture a day of something that makes you happy, and then tag your post with the hashtag #100happydays. Like I said, it sounds simple enough, but surprisingly, staying upbeat requires dedication and mindfulness – skills, I now realise, that we’ve ceded in a digital era.
The website warns that 71% of people who sign up never complete the challenge and the most common excuse is that they don’t have the time. The registration page for 100happydays takes this into account and asks an uncomfortable question: “If these people simply do not have time to be happy, do you?” As we reach the mid point of the year, and early fatigue sets in, it is a very good question to ask ourselves. If we don’t have time to stop and be happy, then what’s the point?
Questioning our state of happiness seems to be a growing trend in 2014 with Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” being the undisputed anthem. The song was released in November 2013 and was also the signature soundtrack for the animated movie, Despicable Me 2. As the song’s popularity grew in 2014, people around the world started creating their own music videos of the song. To date there are versions made by people in countries and cities across the globe from Fukushima and Kyoto in Japan, to our own versions produced in Jozi and Cape Town (and I have to grudgingly admit – as a Jozi resident – that the Cape Town version has the edge on Jozi’s).
Controversially, in May this year a group of Iranian fans created their Happy video tribute, and were promptly arrested because, as the police chief put it, “the song represented vulgarity and also hurt public chastity”. The Iranian president later criticized the arrest via twitter saying, “#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviours caused by joy.”
The creators of the video were subsequently released, and happiness became a topic of discussion.
Other key pop culture influencers like Beyonce also seem to be on a quest to promote happiness. In her song, Pretty Hurts, which deals with perceptions of beauty and what girls put themselves through when entering a beauty pageant, she is asked the question (as a beauty pageant contestant), “What is your aspiration in life?” to which she replies, after much hesitation, “To be happy”. It’s interesting to note that the song title has subsequently been adopted as an urban slang phrase, which shows that the message is filtering through.
Another pop culture indicator is an unusual cyber self-help industry on the rise in Silicone Valley. California is known to spawn some rather bizarre trends but while seemingly esoteric, this new industry makes complete sense in a digital era. Conferences like Wisdom 2.0 and The Rise of the Buddhist Geek (yes, those are actually conferences) aim to balance our online and offline worlds, acknowledging that we now essentially live, work and play in both a virtual, and a physical world.
So it came as a surprise that a challenge conducted in cyberspace could bring me happiness in the physical world. The 100happydays challenge turned out to be a protracted meditation of sorts, using social media: strange but true. The pressure – as that is what it came to on the days I was frenetically busy – to find a happy moment in every day, was a revelation. As promised on the 100happydays website, my mood improved and by being constantly reminded how happy I am, I slowly but surely became more optimistic, and relied less on our national pastime: that of complaining. In 100 days, I’ve become that Silicone Valley, Buddhist geek.
On the 99th day of my 100happydays, I had to attend a funeral, which got me thinking about the transience of life and how one should spend it. Death always throws things into perspective.
I realised that, when the grim reaper finally calls, all you really want is to have lived a happy life. And every day spent with negative emotions like hate, anger, envy, resentment or regret is a day robbed of happiness. So even though my challenge is complete, I’ve discovered that I’ve subconsciously been trained to look for those happy moments (however fleeting), every day.
I highly recommend this challenge. It’s not a bad way to view the world.
Image credit: Fibre Magazine