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!
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • 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.