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How to Be ‘Happy’

Gabriela Leskur | Sunday, March 24, 2013


“The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” -Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin’s noble words perfectly begin the documentary “Happy,” a film that pursues happiness all across the globe in attempts to catch a glimpse on how to achieve it for ourselves.

The documentary starts off by introducing an Indian rickshaw driver, Manoj Singh, who lives in a shack with no running water. In the monsoon season, rain soaks him, his wife and his children. Every day he pulls wealthy families around in a makeshift rickshaw cab in his flip-flops. And yet, the female voice that narrates the scene soon informs me that this man-who I had been pitying seconds earlier-is as happy as the average American.

“I feel that I am not poor,” Manoj Singh says, “but I am the richest person.”

Why is this man happy, when he seems to have so little? No house, no television, no modern amenities – and somehow, a joyous smile graces his face.

This wonderful documentary seeks to find out what happiness is and how to obtain it.

The examples depicted in this film are quite telling. For those of you who didn’t get to see the film showing this weekend on campus, here are insights into the keys to happiness from the film:


“Nature is good medicine – this is my happiness.” -Roy Blanchard Sr.

One key to happiness is centering yourself with your surroundings.

Roy Blanchard Sr. lives in the bayou of Louisiana. His house is humble, small and he watched the destruction of Hurricane Katrina destroy his family’s land. 

On his little motorboat, cruising past birds and crocodiles in the muddy swampland, his childlike smile teaches an important lesson.

So often we are running nonstop and we forget about the beauty that surrounds us. Roy Blanchard finds happiness sitting on the edge of the bayou, taking in the birds, the sky and the splendor of this Earth. Without moments of stillness such as Roy’s, we can often lose sight of what is really important. A moment of clarity can put a lot in perspective and can force us to put away our trivial worries.

This problem is very common for the typical college student: another week, another exam, another problem that seems like the end of the world. You’ve got a philosophy paper, an accounting test and you’ve run out of flex points. 

As you mope back to your room from another late night of studying, stop for a moment and look around you.

You might be surprised by what you see and hear: the signs of spring beginning to show, a bird chirping in the distance, the weeping willow standing proudly in front of Walsh – things you may never had noticed before.

Maybe in that moment you’ll see that Roy is right; a moment on a park bench on God Quad looking at the Dome could be just the medicine you need. 


“I think that each person has to be what they want to be.” -Ronaldo Fadul

Another key to happiness is doing things that bring you peace.

Ronaldo Fadul spends his days surfing the waves on the coast of Brazil. His house is bright pink, surrounded by palm trees and buzzing with life but otherwise unremarkable. His hair is long, curly and overgrown. He’s wrinkled and tanned from the sun. He seems unexceptional, but his philosophy is undoubtedly noteworthy.

To be yourself, is to do what brings you tranquility in life – that is his motto. 

He casually addresses the camera with his laidback air and eloquently suggests that we follow the trail that brings us closer to peace, no matter what the path might be. 

For us, his philosophy means to major in what you love, major in something that brings you peace and enriches your soul. Or perhaps, it means take this time in your life to live the dreams never realized Рlearn to rock climb, knit and bake souffl̩s. Whatever brings you contentment can bring you closer to joy.


“You can make a choice and you do make a choice when things happen in life.” – Melissa Moody

Another key to happiness is being able to overcome adversity.

Melissa Moody was a debutant, voted one of the most beautiful women in America. She had a loving husband and great kids. One day her hand got stuck in the handle of a truck and she was run over. The whole right side of her face was crushed. She went through hundreds of surgeries over nine years to reconstruct her face and even still gets weird looks from strangers. After the accident, her husband divorced her and became an alcoholic. The trauma reawakened memories of being molested by her father. In all respects, her life was in a period of great adversity.

However, Melissa professes that she is happier and more grounded than she was before. Adversity has taught her to appreciate life, not to fret over the little things. 

Perhaps that C+ on your last test isn’t the end of the world. Instead of looking at the bad grade and dwelling on the past, Melissa teaches us to look to the future and see where we can improve.

Instead of looking at our weaknesses, we should appreciate our strengths. For happiness does not mean our lives are void of adversity, quite the opposite. Melissa shows us that in the face of turmoil, we must grow, persevere and hold on to hope.


“Compassion from birth is in our blood.” -the Dalai Lama

Another key to happiness is compassion.

The San Bushmen tribe of the Kalahari Desert is more closely genetically related to our ancient ancestors than any other group in the world today. They are hunters and gatherers and rely heavily on each other for food and shelter. They live in grass huts and are virtually shut out from the modern world.

“It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, just being together makes us happy,” one humble member of the tribe said, as if this is the most simple idea in the world. When one member of the tribe becomes sick, everyone, young and old, comes together to aid that person in the healing process. They care for each other, love each other and laugh with each other.

Companionship and friendship are things that we cherish as a Notre Dame community.  Even more, we must be aware that showing love and compassion for others can fill us with the greatest happiness. Maybe buy a coffee for a stranger behind you in line at Starbucks or give the last piece of treasured banana bread to a friend having a rough day. Give and you shall receive.

“Happy” provides us with some ideas on how to achieve happiness successfully, revealing the keys to joy. If nothing else, consider watching this documentary on Netflix over spring break. I’m not sure if this movie has all the answers, but it seems like a step in the right direction for our journey to joy.