100 ways to be happy

What do you do to be happy? Graham McMullin, a student at New York’s School of Visual Arts, will pose this question to a different person each day for 100 days, as part of an assignment exploring what makes us happy and how it affects our creativity…

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What do you do to be happy? Graham McMullin, a student at New York’s School of Visual Arts, will pose this question to a different person each day for 100 days, as part of an assignment exploring what makes us happy and how it affects our creativity…

So far, McMullin has invited more than 60 people to write one thing that makes them happy on a postcard. Each day, he tries a new suggestion for himself to see if it makes him happy, too.

Suggestions have come from friends, relatives and passing strangers, as well as designers, illustrators, branding experts and authors. McMullin takes photos to record himself doing each activity and has posted the results on his Tumblr page.

The project is a response to an assignment set by Debbie Millman, leader of the Masters in Branding course at SVA, which requires students to do the same task a different way each day for 100 days.

“We were allowed to do anything that required creative expression. I was coming up with all these complex ideas and struggling to decide on something…but then I spoke to Maria Popova [editor of Brain Pickings and McMullin’s thesis adviser] and she suggested I just do what makes me happy,” says McMullin.

“I thought of lots of ways I could analyse and document the process, but it’s ended up being really simple: I ask a different person every day, then I do what makes them happy for myself,” he adds.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of suggestions are exercise-related, while several others suggest listening to music. Many have told McMullin to simply think positive, with suggestions such as ‘decide to be happy’, while others (like eating the skin of a kiwi fruit) are a little more unusual.

McMullin says the most rewarding activities are those that force him out of his comfort zone, or to stop and engage with his surroundings.

“I think the best bit of the whole experience is that it teaches you to be more present and less detached,” says McMullin. “I deliberately asked a broad range of people, and it’s had me travelling all over the city, but one of my favourite suggestions was just ‘sit on a park bench and watch people’…We’re all so busy these days that you feel guilty sitting around for 40 minutes, but it was actually really uplifting,” he adds.

 

Once the project is complete, McMullin plans to compile the suggestions in a book. As well as lifting his mood, he says the assignment has had a positive impact on his creativity, and suggests it’s something other creatives could learn from, too.

“Happiness is creative…and I think it’s really important for the creative process to break with your routine, as it really helps to reframe the way you see problems. So much of branding is about understanding people, finding trends, connecting dots, and considering what compels people to make decisions, so trying out so many new things that I wouldn’t have otherwise has been really inspiring,” he adds.

See the full set of suggestions so far at behappydothis.tumblr.com

  • This idea is plain beautiful. It not only help us think about and appreciate the simple and good things we take for granted, but it can also spark our creativity, once we start to pay more attention to the little things that sorround us… after that our brains will have more “material” to collect for future inspirational needs.

  • Very sweet idea but prefer the concept over the execution (or rather I don’t like the suggestions as much as I’d hoped). The strange grammar in some of the responses get me a bit too. Surely you write your command/suggestion in the imperative not the first person singular?

    And yes, I know I’m being a big grump.