It was the day before the annual BlogHer conference in Chicago. JC and I made plans to stroll down Michigan Avenue and explore the city. If you don’t know JC Little (The Animated Woman), take a look at her delightful and somewhat repulsive presentation about pinworms at the Voices of the Year ceremony. She’s my kind of person.
During our walk, we found ourselves in the architecturally-interesting Chicago Cultural Center, and noticed that there was an art show on the fourth floor gallery. It was titled “The Happy Show” and the installation was by Stefan Sagmeister, a prominent designer from New York.
The Happy Show offers visitors the experience of walking into the designer’s mind as he attempts to increase his happiness via meditation, cognitive therapy and mood-altering pharmaceuticals. “I am usually rather bored with definitions,” Sagmeister says. “Happiness, however, is just such a big subject that it might be worth a try to pin it down.” Centered around the designer’s ten-year exploration of happiness, this exhibition presents typographic investigations of a series of maxims, or rules to live by, originally culled from Sagmeister’s diary, manifested in a variety of imaginative and interactive forms. — from the city of Chicago website.
The exhibit was fantastic, and we spent over an hour enjoying the unique infographics and interactive displays, all relating the concept of happiness.
The most provocative art piece was Sagmeister’s attempt to show a graphical representation of the happiness of the visitors to the show. He did this based on the amount of gumballs that were taken from a row of ten old-fashioned gumball machines standing against the wall, numbered from 1-10, each machine signifying one higher level of individual happiness.
I thought about my level of personal happiness before I approached the gumball machines. I decided that I was relatively happy. Even with some bumps in the proverbial road, I had my health, good friends, my hair, and I wasn’t bored yet with my existence. I took a gumball from machine #7. That put me in the top 25% of happiness.
As I put the gumball into my mouth, JC said, “That’s bad for your teeth.”
I laughed. It’s the little joys of life that enable a person to be happy.
“It’s your turn,” I said, almost a dare.
JC walked to the row of gumball machines and turned the handle of machine #10. A bright yellow gumball dropped out.
“#10?” I shouted, rather stunned.
Maybe she was confused by the instructions. She was Canadian, after all.
“You realize that #10 means #10 in happiness.” I mansplained.
“I know,” she said.
I left it at that, but by the time we were back on the street, at “the Bean” in Grant Park, I couldn’t hold it in any longer. Her choice had annoyed me.
“How can you put yourself as #10 in happy?” I pushed again.
“Because I’m happy.”
“That’s great. I’m glad you’re happy. But #10 happy? What about #9 happy? Then you would have something to look forward to!”
“I think you can be #10 happy all the time, if you are happy at the moment.”
“Are you saying that nothing bad has ever happened to you? No one you cared about ever got sick or went bankrupt?”
“Of course bad things happen. I can be upset, but still happy and content.”
“This makes no LOGICAL SENSE. #10 means the IDEAL. The Platonic ideal. Heaven is #10. No one ever gets to be #10 in this world. If I thought I was #10 in happiness, I would just kill myself because it’s all downhill.”
“That’s because we have different views of happiness.”
Two days later, I met JC during one of the keynotes. It was the day after her presentation at the Voices of the Year.
“You were great last night,” I said.
“Anyway, enough about that. Have you changed your mind about what number happy you are?”
“Are you still obsessing over this?”
“Are you feeling #10 right now?”
“Ok, let’s make up a hypothetical situation. Imagine, last night your presentation was a total disaster. Everything went wrong.”
“The microphone didn’t work. The crowd was booing. Today, you’re being ostracized by everyone you know.”
“Are they throwing things at me?”
“So, what number happiness are you now?”
“Like I told you ten times before. I can be upset. But still happy. Because I know who I am.”
“OK, what if your pants fell down during your presentation last night, and you weren’t wearing any underwear and everyone saw your privates? What then? How would you feel today?”
“That would be quite memorable. It would probably make me more happy.”
“Aha, GOTCHA! You are already #10! You can’t become MORE HAPPY!”
It’s been a month since BlogHer. Last night, I had a dream. I was standing in front of the row of gumballs in Chicago, ready to make another choice. I gazed at the yellow balls of sugary gum enclosed in reflective glass tubes, and then I went for it. But this time, rather than taking a gumball from machine #7, I turned the lever of machine #6.