Why Jews Are Among World's Happiest People

Stefan Sagmeister Brings a Smile to the Jewish Museum

Happiness Is a Warm Exhibit: Sagmeister & Walsh’s ‘Happy Show,’ now on display at the Jewish Museum New York, features interactive exhibits.
Courtesy of Sagmeister & Walsh
Happiness Is a Warm Exhibit: Sagmeister & Walsh’s ‘Happy Show,’ now on display at the Jewish Museum New York, features interactive exhibits.

By Ellen Shapiro

Published April 12, 2013, issue of April 19, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

‘Jewish” and “happy” are words not usually found in the same sentence.

But now, being Jewish and being happy are, if a bit tenuously, united at The Jewish Museum in “Six Things,” an exhibit that visualizes in sensuous three-dimensional letterforms what Stefan Sagmeister, one of the world’s most influential graphic designers, has learned about happiness.

Admitting openly that personal bouts of sadness and depression propelled him to search for answers to basic questions like “What makes people happy?” he consulted experts and read psychology texts, ultimately finding answers in the book “The Happiness Hypothesis,” by Jonathan Haidt, a professor of social psychology at the New York University Stern School of Business.

Haidt’s keys to happiness, as Sagmeister has explained in TED talks and previews of his forthcoming documentary, “The Happy Film,” are meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy and mood-altering drugs — both legal and illegal.

He’s tried them all, he says, and, along with various collaborators including his new creative and business partner Jessica Walsh, he uses the tools of graphic design — typography and image — to communicate his findings and to encourage others to try them, too.

And somehow — and this is what makes Sagmeister & Walsh different from typical designers who create logos and brochures and websites for clients — the results are museum-quality. The research has become fluid, wet, active; it’s been transformed into leotard-clad figures frolicking among bursting water balloons, goldfish swimming in bowls and boats gliding on waterways in abandoned amusement parks.

By the end of 2013, Sagmeister & Walsh’s “Happy Shows” — full-scale installations of interactive, participatory pieces, videos and sculpture — will have been exhibited at museums in Philadelphia, Toronto, Los Angeles, Chicago and Paris.

The Jewish Museum New York allotted 1,000 square feet for the artists to tell the story. So they focused on six maxims from Sagmeister’s diary: “If I Don’t Ask I Won’t Get”; “Keeping a Diary Supports Personal Development”; “Be More Flexible”; “It’s Pretty Much Impossible to Please Everybody”; and “Now Is Better.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.