THE GOOD LIFE: What Makes Us Truly Happy?

For the past eight months or so, I have been thinking of making another film.  I say this with LOTS of trepidation.  It took seven years to bring Who Does She Think She Is? to the screen.  And it was a hard haul; two years into filming and editing, I was told “there is NO story here.”  I wandered the desert, cutting and pasting the women’s stories together with Paula and with Micki; then Nancy Kennedy came on board.  She is a genius–she knew the material would make a story, but it took another year to complete.  Still  the film was not finished: we spent another year submitting the film to the  “festival circuit.”  Then, working to get it to theaters.  Our outreach efforts–a fancy way of saying, letting people KNOW about the film–was nearly as much work as the making of it.  The good news, of course, is that three years later, we are still selling it, still showing it and still finding our audience.   In fact,  our audience is GROWING.  Wow!!!  Thank you all.

So, am I ready for this process to begin again?  I think so.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking.  What is “the good life” in America: a nice house, in a good and safe neighborhood, two cars, money left over for vacations.  The latest appliances.  Good schools, sports, music and enrichment activities for our kids.  But, is that it?  What have we left out in our pursuit of more and bigger and better?

Has our focus on material well-being  been at the expense of happiness?  Are we so busy paying the bills and the mortgage that we don’t have time to connect with our neighbors?  To connect with nature?  To take a walk with friends?  What happened to our sense of wonder?

At what cost is  “the good life”?   And when is enough, enough?  And how secure are we when the whole thing falls apart in an economic downturn?  We have counted on the rising value of our houses to finance this lifestyle.  We were told to go out and buy.  Buy on Credit.  Refinance.  Then the downturn.   Uh Oh.  Now what?

But, maybe, just maybe there is an upturn to this downturn.  Maybe it forces us to reconsider what truly makes us happy.

I am not suggesting that we scrabble from month to month to pay the bills and put food on the table.  No one wants that.  But, maybe we’ve gone too far in the opposite direction.

So, I want to investigate this purported link between material well-being and happiness.  I want to find people who have cut back on spending, perhaps downsized their job so as to have more time for community, for their family, for others.  I want to find people who have left behind the Big Job with its promise of success and status and salary….for something simpler and closer to their hearts.  I want to find people who laugh more and stress less.  People who are right here now, instead of busy busy busy.  How have they achieved this?  What have they given up?  What have they gained?

Maybe they have been forced towards this path by the downturn.  Maybe by something catastrophic.  Maybe they chose it.  What matters is that they have lost or given up something that promised satisfaction and yet found something surprisingly better.

So, there it is.

Tell me what you think.


13 Responses to “THE GOOD LIFE: What Makes Us Truly Happy?”

  1. Hi–I wrote a book on this topic published in 2005, a book now out of print–but I’d be glad to send you a copy if you send me your address. The book is “Selling Ourselves Short: Why We Struggle to Earn a Living AND Have a Life.” Film reaches a different audience, and images & interviews say things that writers can’t say. We each have our own gifts & our own tasks to do. That said, my research as a cultural critic & historian w/ a PhD (and, umm, three children under age 3) might be useful. Those babies are now 29 & 31, but that’s only to say that the next generation in my family is now facing all the same painful questions I faced. The conversation continues. Peace, Cate

    • Cate, we’d love to read your book….we are still in the middle of researching this subject for a film so your book would come at the perfect time. Please send it to Mystic Artists Film Productions, 32 Everett Avenue, Winchester, MA 01890. Thanks for writing to us!

  2. I like your enquiry. I am in a committed relationship with a wonderful man who works on Wall Street. He is burnt out and is on the way out unless he radically changes his life. I am a westcoast mother/artist and believe in creating balance, but most of the time I am stressed out balancing parenting, teaching , and studio time. I have hit menapause and it is fuel to the fire.
    We are 50 plus and our world will be changing soon. Simplifying , unifying. It is time to get off the treadmill. THere are lots of hurdles but our love and believe prevails. I do think it is a choice between life and death.
    I will keep you posted if you are interested.

  3. I purchased WDSTSI over a year ago and have watched it many, many times…often with tears in my eyes (and trailing down my face). I also didn’t complete my BFA in Painting because of family, but I didn’t give up my art. Though we don’t have the latest gadgets, only one vehicle, and a smaller home than most of our friends and aquaintances (still large by my standard), I am very happily painting and exhibiting my work. There have been a few sacrifices along the way but my daughters, now 11 and 16, realize how valuable this life has been with time for family and art. We read and prepare meals together. We go camping instead of travelling to DisneyLand. We enjoy one another, and I’m so happy to say that my daughters are proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in spite of the challenge of being a woman, a mother and an un-“certified” artist. I hope that I can be a role model to them and to teach them that there are always sacrifices, no matter the direction they choose to travel, but to make sure to follow the passion that they’ve been created with…and to never give up.

  4. Michelle Province Says:

    I truly hope you’ll take on this new challenge. “Who Does She Think She Is?” is an incredibly important piece of work; extremely well-made and thoughtful in it’s process… you’ve changed people from the heart – where it matters. We beg you to continue.

  5. I have been thinking so much about this lately for all the reasons you spell out. Living in CA the pressure to keep up with the neighbors can be so overbearing and in your face that it eclipses those happy moments we should be savoring. We have a unique living situation with my husbands brother and his family living next door. The best things that happen in our life are because of our interaction with our family, in spite of what we “should” be happy about. My last blog post is really about this on a basic level. The happiness I got from the cousins simply playing together was priceless. I try to savor those moments.

  6. What a great idea! I am a woman at the junction of change – almost 50, divorced, my only child in college with a job (not career 🙂 that I have kept to pay my bills and send that child to college.
    What I sacrificed along the way – not always with regret – is that sense of wonder, being in the now, etc that you describe above. I am also an artist who put that part of me aside, like the women in your movie describe. I do not own a home, have a used car, and find myself averse to the usual trappings that money brings my peers today. Most importantly, I sort of feel like I don’t belong in my own generation, because it has become so money/stuff/appearance driven. With my boy successfully navigating college, I have been given this amazing opportunity to decide what to do for the next half of my life.
    I am hoping that it will include the kind of community or lifestyle that celebrates a good life which isn’t defined by what I have or will get, but more by the joyful songs birds make those first days of spring.
    I look forward to your next project!

  7. This is the time for re-thinking our past and re-visioning our future. “Forerunners” are people who are intrinsically motivated to build, create, innovate, and reform – we believe THIS is the Forerunner Generation. Forerunners naturally think and live “out of the box” – they have one foot in the present and one foot in the future and unfortunately, are often criticized and marginalized. The Forerunner Project is currently planning to build the first Forerunner Living and Learning Community in Costa Rica where we will create a sustainable community that will serve as a model where people’s talents and gifts are honored, a place where “forerunner” young people are mentored by those living in the community, and an environment of creativity and synergy for forerunners from around the world. The brainwashing’s over. Our vision is to create a community where happiness can and will be measured daily – not by the size of our cars or bank accounts, but the joy we receive by honoring, loving, and giving to others. My husband (film writer and forerunner) and I (retired teacher and song writer) would love to connect with you to discuss ideas about happiness.

  8. If you havent thought of her already, you should talk to Katrina Kennison, who used to live in Winchester and now lives in NH (Mitten Strings for God, An Ordinary Day).

    Im a Winchester Mom and writer — thank you SO much for Who Does She Think She Is?

  9. I left a full time $11+/hr job three and a half years ago in order to focus on and prepare for our upcoming wedding. When I went back to work a year after the wedding, it was to work part time in childcare for only $8/hr. During this time, my husband went through a 9-month period of time where he was averaging 50+hrs per week, 6 days/week, and I was averaging close to 40hrs/week. The money was great, but outside of eating and sleeping we barely saw each other. We spent money in order to save time. We struggled to pay the bills and cover living expenses, often letting the gas tank run dangerously low because the bank account was depleted (or overdrawn) and payday was just around the corner.

    Now he works for a different company. He earns $1 more per hour but only averages 40hrs/week which works out to an income reduction of approximately $400/month. I am only working an average of 20hrs/week, meaning my paychecks have been cut almost in half. Our new income levels balanced with our reduced time commitments provide adequate funds to pay bills, cover expenses, give to those in need, host company in our home, take an occasional weekend excursion out of town, and still have money in the bank from previous pay periods when the next payday comes around. My husband has taken up running again and I have returned to writing.

    I just discovered WDSTSI a few minutes ago when a friend of mine posted on Facebook that there would be a screening tonight at Montana State University.The trailers alone have made an impact, and I hope my husband will join me at the screening this evening. I also look forward to a film of similar quality made with a similar focus. We need more of these to shape and impact our culture.

  10. scrapsandsass Says:

    I have been pondering these things for an eternity and so happy to see that you are working on this.

    Six years ago, I was running a statewide home healthcare company. It was chaotic and adrenalin-pumping crises all of the time. I wanted to quit, but couldn’t justify leaving behind that paycheck. I was lucky to be fired (the owner of the company is paranoid and randomly fires people for no reason). I was thankful for the opportunity. I went back to school, took a job closer to home making less than half what I was making before. I still wasn’t really happy with the job I took. They kept beating us with the ‘you’re so lucky to have a job’ message while they refused to pay what we were worth and kept us working harder. While I was employed there, I finished my BA and started my MFA in poetry. My heart was happy, but my employer was not. I didn’t care. People made fun of me for pursuing a degree in poetry. I ignored them.

    Fate stepped in again when my 21-year old daughter became pregnant and had her son. She had a good opportunity for a job, and offered to pay me a small amount each month (to cover my basic bills) that she would have had to pay a daycare, so I left my not-so-thrilling job to take care of the baby and finish my degree. I finished my MFA and am now working on a M.Ed. One of the things I’m working on in my current program is focusing on adult women who want to create but don’t, which is why I revisited your site and was so excited to see this post.

    I am now thinking about opening a preschool because it makes my soul feel all happy-squishy when I think about it.

    I just really feel like our consumer-driven culture is now becoming a monster, and corporate media is also helping to create an atmosphere where people are afraid to do much more than keep their heads down and work.

    We need more happiness. You must make the movie!!! 🙂

    • We have been filming since April and are really excited about our new project. Check out our new website ( where we will be posting about our new project!

      Thanks for sharing your story and good luck with your new preschool!!

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