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.
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‘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.”


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