The concept of happiness is one that I have always been fascinated by. Working on the topic for my final project, I started off wanting to research on depression. I experienced a change of thought after deep reflection into the things I actually cared about and hoped to get out of the project.
I am deciding to make a documentary; looking into the discourse of happiness within the community of International students here at Coventry. I aim to explore connections; ways in which international students find happiness in a foreign environment.
For this research project, I have identified four media texts, which I believe could be useful to my work.
The first on my list is The Promise of Happiness by Sara Ahmed. This book looks into the construction of happiness and critiques contemporary perceptions of it. This would be relevant to my work, as I look to follow a similar path by questioning already-existing understanding of happiness by people; particularly members of the international community.
The film, Hector and the Search for Happiness is one that I have found relevant to my project, as it captures the journey individuals sometimes have to undergo in order to discover meaning. My project too is inspired by a journey and search I went on, leading me to the current location that I am in, at the moment.
The third media text of relevance to my work is The Psychology of Happiness: A Good Human Life by Samuel Franklin. This book incorporates theory and research in expanding on the understanding of what it means to be happy.
In the film, ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’, the attainment of it is represented in a exciting manner. I shall be exploring within in this piece, Gabriel Muccino’s approach on happiness in the film and its relevance to my project.
In her first chapter, Ahmed starts off by questioning the construction and perception of happiness. She defines it as ‘the drama of contingency’ (2010: 22). A future situation which is possible but uncertain typifies my experience with happiness. This is something I hope to explore in my final project.
This book chapter makes it clear to me that, the ‘definition’ of happiness has already been looked into. Although it touches on aspects of affects, the book chapter seems to address happiness from an individualistic perspective and not collective; thus, neglecting the role of emotional connections within communities. This is not to suggest that happiness relies solely on mutual connections, but to underpin its importance within society. Hyman (2004: 87) highlights that, multiple people see happiness as ‘something individual, internal and self-oriented’. This, to my understanding denotes that, happiness is created internally, but creates a vibration – an atmosphere for others to partake of.
Hector’s Search for Happiness stirs up an important discourse of identity within happiness, and the role it plays therein. This film illustrates a rather western perception of touring the world in order to discover happiness. Correspondingly, Giorgino (2014: 9) argues that, ‘greater happiness can be achieved by having a greater understanding of the world and oneself’.
Whilst in the pursuit of happiness, it makes me question whether or not I would be required to follow in similar suit. Whether or not International students who have left home to study in a multicultural nation like the United Kingdom, and are still unhappy are getting the theory wrong. This takes me back to Ahmed’s concept; ‘the drama of contingency’, which in this case reflects the fact that, although an individual travels around the world or is situated in an international environment, he or she may not achieve greater understanding or happiness.
This is reflective of the experience of some international students, of whom I have been in contact with. Although many of them have broadened their understanding of international cultures, and learnt tremendously about other ways of life, they still experience a sense of emptiness within – even after returning to their home countries.
This takes me to the discourse of identity within happiness. As seen in this film, during Hector’s journey towards happiness, he went through a period of self-discovery; which could be translated as the uncovering or breakthrough of one’s identity. He only achieved happiness after this process. This leads me to question what it means to ‘be’, as our identities are never static but always in motion (Matthew 2009: 36). If I am to embark on a similar journey of ‘being’ or ‘becoming’, would that guarantee my happiness at the end of the tunnel? And when do I become aware of how close or far I am to the finish line? Moreover, does this journey even have a stopping point? Based on these thoughts, I disagree with the simplification of the pursuit of happiness, which this film seemingly portrays.
Identity is varied and complex (Frable 1997). In relation to my project, I am discovering that, many international students live chaotic identities. Upon returning to our home countries, many of us struggle to fit back in and feel like totally different individuals. This creates extra difficulties in our pursuit, as establishing connections with people now becomes burdensome.
Christopher (1991: 149) cited in Zevnik (2014: 19) highlights that, the ideology and moral visions of non-western individuals must be taken into consideration, in order to avoid psychological segregation. This is relative to the notion this film sends out. It surely is more convenient for a white heterosexual male to travel around the world, having the backing of multiple privileges. But what happens to many of us who do not share the same freedoms? Surely, reality must be a lot grittier than portrayed in his perspective. This is a major aspect the film failed to take into consideration.
In The Psychology of Happiness: A Good Human Life, the topic of happiness is approached from a conscious perspective, in hopes of gaining insight into the ways people think about and understand happiness. Franklin writes on the meaning of ‘the good human life’, and describes it as something of deeper understanding and moral significance (2009: 158). He furthermore states that, ‘The key to happiness is found in virtue because courage, temperance, justice, friendship, and the like, allow us to acquire the real goods we need to fulfil potentials’ (Ibid 2009: 158).
My major highlight within the chapter ‘Contemplation: A Different Kind of Happiness’ is that, it provides ‘working solutions’ within it. Applying Franklin’s keys to my research project produces distinctive results. I would admit that, there is a level of truth in his listed keys, as many international students that I know have identified ‘happiness’ within friendship, and the virtue it brings.
Nonetheless, I would argue that, although a life of high moral standards might produce a sense of fulfilment within the individual, it does not always lead the pursuant towards happiness. This raises the question ‘how do you define happiness’. Maybe fulfilment really does equate happiness, but in this context, I would like to define it as a long lasting feeling of tranquillity and peace.
Franklin (2009: 158-159) discusses Aristotle’s perspective on happiness, as he mentions that, true happiness is embedded within contemplation, and it is this process that guides us to ‘the world of knowledge, truth, perfection, and God’ (Ibid 2009: 158-159). This takes us into deeper realms of understanding around affects of happiness. Aspects which I believe shall be crucial for my research, as many international students look up to the guidance of a higher power, whilst in pursuit of happiness and meaning in life.
The subject of fulfilment within happiness is demonstrated in the film: The Pursuit of Happyness. Muccino makes a good attempt at capturing the reality many individuals go through while chasing their dreams and ambitions. In comparison to Peter Chelsom’s Hector’s Search for Happiness, Muccino documents the struggles involved in chasing happiness, whilst surrounded by pressing demands all around.
This relates to my research because of its resemblance to the happenings within real life. Many international students believe the odds are not in our favour, as we often have to work harder than others to get certain jobs or opportunities. With my final project, I aim to be as reflective as possible, and document things as they actually are.
This film captures the isolation that Chris Gardner goes through whilst in his pusuit of happiness, and the loneliness that many international students often experience. The topic of alienation is one that I intend to focus on within this project, as I look into the frequent feeling of seclution experienced by international students as they try to settle into a foreign environment. Martin (2008) cited in Fave (2013: 4) points out that, the subjective assessment of happiness changes over time, based on life experiences and development undergone by a person overtime. This stresses the neverending subjectivity within happiness, and how it might never gain a complete measurement, because of the unceasing factors that come into play.
The film questions the position of happiness within society; our understanding of its meaning and location. Chris is represented as an individual who finds happiness in always being there for his son, irrespective of the challenges he faces. The location of happiness in this context, is rooted in reason and purpose. Although surrounded by difficulties, Chris has identified a purpose in life and has a reason to get up every morning and face his challenges. This reveals a new aspect within my research; the role of purpose within happiness. The feeling of purpose affects the happiness of individuals in means that need be accounted for (Dolan 1968: 11).
Adopting this into my research, I aim to look at the various means that, international students use in accessing happiness. Be it, a purpose in life or the pursuit of fulfilment.
Bauman (2000) discusses the theory of ‘The Liquid Modernity’ where he comments that fluids do not maintain a given shape but constantly take multiple forms. This can also be said about the identity of international students and the nature of happiness too. Through this project, I shall be looking to explore this theory, assessing the the complications involved in this process.
As change is the only notable constant within happiness, what implications does this now have on our identities? International students are having to forsake the shape we have taken all of our lives and adopt new ones, in order to fit into the society we find ourselves in.
In order to find happiness in an environment foreign to us, we are having to implement new practises, lifestyles and traditions; changing the way we understand ourselves and the society around us. At the end of the day, what do these all boil down to produce? This is what I shall be addressing in my documentary research.
Ahmed, S. (2010) The Promise of Happiness. Durham: Duke University Press.
Bauman, Z. (2000) Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Dolan, P. (1968) Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life. London: Penguin Books.
Fave, A. (2013) The Exploration of Happiness: Present and Future Perspectives. New York: Springer.
Frable, D. (1997) ‘Gender, Racial, Ethnic, Sexual, and Class Identities’. Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 48. Available at <http://maxweber.hunter.cuny.edu/pub/eres/SOC217_PIMENTEL/frable.pdf> [20th June 2017].
Franklin, S. (2009) The Psychology of Happiness: A Good Human Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Giorgino, V. (2014) The Pursuit of Happiness and the Traditions of Wisdom. Turin: Springer.
Hyman, L. (2004) Happiness: Understandings, Narratives and Discourses. Basingstone: Palgrave Macmillan.
Matthew, K. (2009) Heidegger and Happiness. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Zevnik, L. (2014) Critical Perspectives in Happiness Research: The Birth of Modern Happiness. New York: Springer.