Reporter: Charles Wooley
Producer: Danny Keens
In a lifetime of reporting, no one has ever asked Charles Wooley to go out and find 'happiness'.
Reporters get assigned to droughts, floods, earthquakes, wars and misery aplenty.
But the elusive subject of human happiness? Where do you begin?
Here in Australia, we are living longer and richer lives than ever; yet we're still complaining.
So Charles ventured forth on a strange journey of self-discovery to find out why we are so unhappy and how to put a smile back on our dials.
CHARLES WOOLEY: If the greatest evidence of happiness is laughter, then my search would be over even before it’s begun. But this is forced laughter, emitted in convincing guffaws by a laughter yoga class in South Australia with the laughter master, Mumbai doctor, Madan Kataria.
MADAN: The world is getting so stressed out, depression is number one disease – there is hardly anything to laugh about and this is why laughter yoga is a system which actually prescribes laughter to people so that you get the benefits.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Laughter is certainly the best medicine here in the Adelaide hills – this is one of 16,000 of Doctor Kataria’s laughter clubs worldwide, where members find that fake laughter very quickly turns into the real thing. And everyone – even me – ends up feeling a whole lot happier. Do you think you ladies are nicer to the blokes in your lives because of this?
LADY: We make eye contact, we do a laughter exercise and in no time at all, the laughter’s spontaneous and it’s just so much fun, it makes you feel good. Best way to de-stress you’ll ever find.
GOLDIE: I wanted to do it because I wanted to be alive and active for as long as I possibly could and laughter’s a great way to be able to do that, cause I feel like, 20 years younger every time I laugh.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Why not stand as a political party at the next election?
GOLDIE: Oh! Maybe we can form the laughter party. There’s an idea. Very good, very good. Yeah!
CHARLES WOOLEY: Speaking of laughter and politics, perhaps there is no better place to continue my odyssey than the United States of America, where the Constitution states the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” So, I should wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and say, “My God, you’re looking good today?”
GOLDIE: No! You don’t look in the mirror! You look inside!
CHARLES WOOLEY: Goldie Hawn embodies the American dream. Rich, successful – a Hollywood star.
GOLDIE: Everybody wants to be a star, everybody wants to get success. Everybody wants fame, fortune, money. Notoriety. These are hollow pursuits.
CHARLES WOOLEY: And to be truly happy, she believes we have to start young. Across the United States, Goldie has opened hundreds of schools where happiness is part of the curriculum.
GOLDIE: I felt our children were inheriting a world that would never be the same. It would be full of challenges, full of obstacles, very difficult and tremendous polarity. There had to be a way to help these kids manage some of these fears.
TEACHER 1: How many of you today feel very happy at this moment?
TEACHER 2: How are you guys feeling today? Are you feeling happy today?
CHARLES WOOLEY: At Goldie’s school, kids learn about how the brain works, breathing and meditation – all of this they tell me, part of the art of becoming happy.
GOLDIE: All together, it’s helped them with testing, with fear, with sports. Their grades have gone up. They’re more attentive, they’re more self-aware, they more self-regulate. It’s incredible when you look at it. I had one wish – let’s make kids happier and look at the benefits of happiness.
CHARLES WOOLEY: While it’s hard to prove that people are happy, misery requires no more evidence than the look on someone’s face. Most New Yorkers could do with a stint at one of Goldie’s schools. After all, the experts say the Big Apple is recognised as the unhappiest place in the United States.
DAN: In this city, there’s always somebody richer, there’s always somebody who has more fame. We know from worldwide studies that status equality – feeling good in your own skin – is more important to happiness then being able to excel, being rich.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Dan Buettner is happy and so he should be – his girlfriend is 1980s top swimsuit model, Cheryl Tiegs – and moreoever, he’s written several ‘New York Times’ bestsellers on the subject of happiness. So is there really a science to happiness?
DAN: There’s an enormous science to happiness. You know, when you look at the happiness formula, there is an ingredient that includes, ‘am I married to the right person? Do I have enough education? Do I make money? Do I have engaging work? Do I volunteer?’ The biggest variable in that formula is where you live. If you live in an unhappy place – if you live in Sydney and don’t have adequate housing – yes, moving elsewhere in Australia is a good move.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Should we change a job in the pursuit of happiness?
DAN: Yes. If you are unhappy in your job you should definitely, unless you absolutely need the money. But the reality is, most people are engaged in their work because they see this spectre of more money bringing more happiness. You should be trying to enjoy your life moment-to-moment, day-to-day – and I think the rest will follow.
CHARLES WOOLEY: And so, to the city of Monterrey in northern Mexico – a dangerous place that the Australian Government warns a traveler not to visit. More than 33,000 innocent people have died here in the crossfire between warring drug cartels. So, keeping my head down amongst the market stalls with the cactus, canaries and coconuts...Is my coconut half-empty or half-full?
DAN: It’s half-full.
CHARLES WOOLEY: ...I learn from Dan the bewildering contradiction that this city is one of the happiest places on earth.
DAN: I think it’s the joy of everyday life right here. You know to maximise happiness – when you look worldwide, you should be interacting about seven hours a day socially. And these people go to work and they’re doing it.
CHARLES WOOLEY: And just around the corner, a huge bundle of human happiness – a man so big, it’s hard to move him around. And from what I hear, he needs a truck that size.
DAN: For a man who holds the Guinness World Record in weight, he does need one.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Manuel Uribe lives on this truck which parks in his specially converted living room. Not only is he the heaviest human, but Dan says also one of the happiest.
DAN: For me, this is the icon of Mexican happiness
CHARLES WOOLEY: Well, I certainly get the idea that the pursuit of happiness leads you to some interesting places and some very interesting people.
DAN: Yes. And for me, Manuel here represents the counterintuitive nature of ‘happy.’ What you see isn’t always necessarily what brings you the most happiness.
CHARLES WOOLEY: That’s worth remembering.
CHARLES WOOLEY: I do have one important question for him – does he have the secret of happiness?
DAN: He says he’s happy because he carries Christ in his heart. And you’ll see throughout Monterrey here, the vast majority of the people we’ll meet as we go out today are people who have the steadfast belief in God and that’s something that makes up for a lot of the shortcomings of this area and a lot of difficulties in life. Hard to swallow, but it’s a facet of Mexican –
CHARLES WOOLEY: It’s one in the eye for rationalists, isn’t it?
GOLDIE: When you believe in something, when you have belief, trust, wonder – all of these things will lead to a better state of neurobiology. So it’s not about religion, it’s about believing. It’s about having faith. So these are two very different things.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Maybe despite my travels, happiness begins at home – and in the most unlikely places. And more than 500 kilometres from the sea, a great Australian beach.
ROBERT: You almost expect the waves to be breaking on it.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Professor Robert Cummins is a happiness expert. Based on his surveys around the country, nowhere in Australia are people happier than the good folk of Wagga Wagga.
ROBERT: There are two kinds of happiness. There’s the happiness like you get eating an ice-cream, but the happiness that we’re measuring is a deep mood state that gives us all normally a positive sense of ourselves and we know very precisely how to measure that and where people should be to be in the normal range.
CHARLES WOOLEY: I reckon I’m a 7 1/2 – how does that stack up?
ROBERT: 7 1/2 is the Australian average and it is a good place to be. And if we get up too high, then strange things start to happen. We become very careless. It’s like we’re living in good times. Any choice is a good choice. We don’t process negative information very well. We take risks, so people who are very high – and some people are genetically programmed to be very high – they put themselves at risk.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Well Professor, you look like a happy kind of fellow. What are you out of 10?
ROBERT: 7 1/2 Charlie, just like you!
CHARLES WOOLEY: Have you been to the yoga laughing class?
ROBERT: No I haven’t.
CHARLES WOOLEY: But in all my wanderings in the pursuit of happiness, I never really got happier than I did at the very beginning of this story – in the most infections atmosphere of this quite mad, but loveable, group of laughter clubbers. But we can’t have people everywhere laughing in the streets – it’s a threat to public order.
MADAN: No, this is nothing about laughing in the streets. You laugh in the laughter club and then carry your spirits with you throughout the day.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Out of 10, how happy are you?
MADAN: 10 out of 10!