happiness is… research note #8

Here’s a lovely map by Max Fisher, based on new data from Gallup, from the Washington Post and brought to my attention via ET:

Emotion Map, by Max Fischer, based on Gallup data. // Source: Washington Post.

Fisher explains:

Since 2009, the Gallup polling firm has surveyed people in 150 countries and territories on, among other things, their daily emotional experience. Their survey asks five questions, meant to gauge whether the respondent felt significant positive or negative emotions the day prior to the survey. The more times that people answer “yes” to questions such as “Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?”, the more emotional they’re deemed to be.
Gallup has tallied up the average “yes” responses from respondents in almost every country on Earth. The results, which I’ve mapped out above, are as fascinating as they are indecipherable. The color-coded key in the map indicates the average percentage of people who answered “yes.” Dark purple countries are the most emotional, yellow the least.

Max Fisher, “A color-coded map of the world’s most and least emotional countries,” The Washington Post, November 28, 2012

The data is based on research described by Jon Clifton on Gallup’s website. The post also outlines the five questions used in the survey:

Did you feel well-rested yesterday?
Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?
Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?
Did you experience the following feelings a lot of the day yesterday?
How about (enjoyment, physical pain, worry, sadness, stress, anger)?

Note that no question asks, “Are you happy?” Nor does it focus particularly on pleasure or cheerfulness, the most popular and basic associations of happiness. Instead, these questions get at more nuanced emotions and experiences explored in positive psychology—subjective well-being, enjoyment, competence, etc.


Happiness Is… Research Note #7

Positive psychology is not the same as positive thinking.

This ribbon text, which I made last year, appears to promote positive thinking, but I had more in mind.

Christine Wong Yap, think good thoughts / fortify good attitudes, 2011, ribbon, thread, pins, 30 × 40 × 1 in / 76 × 100 × 2.5 cm

Christine Wong Yap, think good thoughts / fortify good attitudes, 2011, ribbon, thread, pins, 30 × 40 × 1 in / 76 × 100 × 2.5 cm

In my readings, numerous positive psychologists explained that the unfocused mind’s natural state is chaos. When we don’t focus our attentions, our minds drift, and unhappy memories arise. Regrets, slights, and petty grievances beg to be reviewed. Engaging in rumination—unproductively mulling over negative events and emotions—can lead to anxiety and depression.

Rumination can be habitual, but people can learn to recognize and interrupt it.

I thought about this process of shifting one’s thought patterns away from chaotic, unfocused, and negative toward intentional and positive. Early steps—”thinking good thoughts” in place of bad ones—might seem forced, but with persistence, they can create a positive longterm habit, and “fortify good attitudes.”


Happiness Is… Research Note #1

To wake up and know that the day is dedicated solely to art making is one of the greatest luxuries that residencies afford. In residence at Montalvo Arts Center.

To wake up and know that the day is dedicated solely to art making is one of the greatest luxuries that residencies afford.

I’m currently in residence at the lovely and pastoral Montalvo Arts Center, preparing for an exhibition called Happiness Is…, which opens in January at the Montalvo Project Space Gallery.

It’s a great opportunity for me because I’ve explored optimism and positive psychology in my work for many years. Yet the idea of making art that defines or instills happiness sets off red flags (and not of the exuberant variety) in my mind. It’s because happiness is a vague term, which has popular and common meanings.

I hope to acknowledge and grapple with happiness’ personal specificity, elusiveness, and complexity. 

I am working on four projects for the exhibition. They are related to happiness, but more specifically, are attempts to concern themselves with:

  • The numerous aspects or components of happiness, or happiness’ complexity;
  • Subjective well-being, positive psychology’s theoretical and research-based knowledge about happiness;
  • Purpose, perhaps a lifelong challenge and key component of happiness;
  • And finally, also, exuberance and sentiment, or in other words, pleasure.

While I’ll focus on production, I will also be reviewing my past research and conducting new research. As I go, I will post notes that seem worthy of sharing. Here’s the first one. It speaks to me because residencies are tremendous opportunities for artists, and Montalvo is especially lovely, and I’m feeling terribly grateful, humbled, and somewhat embarrassed by the riches afforded me.

We must appreciate our core self, who we really are, independent of our accomplishments; we must believe that we deserve to be happy; we must feel that we are worthy by virtue of our existence.

—Tal Ben-Shahar, Happier (2007)

Off Cuts, Part 2

Some more odds and ends to mull…

In my London art trip, I was intrigued by about two collection-based venues; both in Camden and both new to me. The current shows were interesting enough, but I am more intrigued by the spaces and the ambitious, cutting-edge contemporary art they will show.

David Roberts Art Foundation is “an independent, non-profit foundation” founded in 2007 and seems to aggressively collect and exhibit contemporary art, including the work of younger artists. I really loved the experimental, questioning nature outlined in the exhibition pamphlet:

a museum is a production site, a site that not only presents and describes an existing context, but generates new contexts, a site where artists, curators, critics and other stakeholders can produce, share, discuss, act and interact, where visitors are co-producers, and where the machinery of exhibitions produces prototypes, experiences, catalysts for thought….

I liked this too:

An artwork is a system that cannot be reduced only to an object or an index (certificat, instructions, etc.). It also includes the histories (material and conceptual), the trajectories (physical or virtual) and the narratives (past or to come) generated by the artwork: this is what this programme will research.


Study is not an attempt to capture or seize but a methodology of encounter and the insistence on the provisional as both form and content within the process of research.

Read more here (click on A House of Leaves. First Movement).

Gerhard Richter Fuji, 1996 Oil on alucobond. David Roberts Collection // Source:

Gerhard Richter, Fuji, 1996 Oil on alucobond. David Roberts Collection // Source:

Small but stunning Richter on view in A House of Leaves as of two weeks ago; it’s an ever-unfolding exhibition so who knows what’s on now?

While DRAF is housed in an industrial brick warehouse in an alley off of the high street, the Zabludowich Collection is sited in an imposing church in a residential street.

Founded in 1994, the Zabludowich Collection “exhibits in venues in the UK, USA and Finland” and “actively creates new opportunities for audiences to engage with emerging art.”

Matthew Darbyshire, Showhome, 2012 // Source:

Matthew Darbyshire, Showhome, 2012 // Source:

The current exhibition by Matthew Darbyshire featured sets made of printed vinyl CG streetscapes. I was most interested in the Showhome installation, involving mass manufactured chairs and high-end interior design decorations. It was familiar yet preposterous and sad. There’s something interesting in packaging showrooms’ theatricality in art exhibit’s pretentions of perfect, timeless viewing experiences. The exhibition as a whole expressed some of the suffocation of consumer culture, and I couldn’t help but feel some of that coldness and repression as I left the show.

This detail of The Tempest (~1862) by Peder Balke. It’s a seascape, maybe one of the most unlikely genres of painting I’d be attracted to. But the elegance, brushstrokes,  simplicity and evocativeness is what gets me.

Stephen Chambers’ gold leafed potato print, on view now at the Royal Academy of Arts in the Artist’s Laboratory.

Two faces, carved with simple marks. Maybe a man and a woman. Despite the elemental form, I still read the faces as deeply empathetic with each other, united in the way that lifelong couples are.

Potato prints are a basic form of printmaking, one that could be the first type of printmaking children experience. The idea of gold-leafing a potato print is so absurd it’s brilliant.

The show features a 70-part screenprint mural, nice stuff, interesting timeless narrative vignettes.

Richard Artschwager’s Tower II (1979)

A theoretical device for communication. Nice pairing with Demand and Opie. Plus a daringly bright aqua wall. Go Tate!

Richard Artschwager, Tower II, 1979 (center), with a photo by Thomas Demand (left) and Julian Opie's You See An Office Building 4 (1996). Tate Liverpool.

Richard Artschwager, Tower II, 1979 (center), with a photo by Thomas Demand (left) and Julian Opie’s You See An Office Building 4 (1996). Tate Liverpool.

San Francisco or London?

Notting Hill.

Notting Hill.

Love this message.


Text: ESPO in Shoreditch.

Jason Evans‘ photo/installations.

By chance, I stumbled into The Grange Prize exhibition at Canada House.

It was a group exhibition featuring the work of four finalists for a major international, contemporary photo prize. I was most attracted to Jason Evans’ work; it was the most playful and mixed-media, using wall graphics, texts, objects, and loud colors. The combination unfolds in a way that I think asks the viewer to engage the experience in a more multi-sensory way.

Here are some of his casual, snapshot-like photos. I think they work better en masse.

Jason Evans. // Source:

Jason Evans. // Source:

Jason Evans. // Source:

Jason Evans. // Source:

Jason Evans. Installation view. // Source:

Jason Evans. Installation view. // Source:

Curiously, I couldn’t bring myself to cast a vote. The show seemed too small; there’s not enough work on view to get a sense of each artist’s scope and capacities. (The winner was announced; her work seems to demonstrate photographic skill the most apparently, but with the least compelling subject matter and use of materials for me personally.)

Research, Sights

Feelgood art and Jeremy Deller retrospective

Wow! Isn’t this grand? Vanessa Thorpe’s article, “Feelgood art: the pick-me-up to get us through an age of anxiety,” appeared on yesterday.

She cites artists encouraging positive emotions: Michael Landy’s kindness-on-the-Underground project, Tracey Emin’s “trust me” neon, the title of Jeremy Deller’s upcoming retrospective at the Hayward.*

But wait, I think all of these artists aren’t so one-dimensional that their work could be considered “feelgood.”

I’m thrilled to bits to hear about artists considering psychology from non-negative attitudes, as well as the influence of positive psychology expanding into the arts and humanities, but Thorpe’s article is not that. I think Thorpe set up an annoying happy face in the headline and lede only to slap it down in the article. It’s simple-minded to call artwork concerning positive affect “feelgood” and “pick-me-up.” It’s a misinterpretation of Deller, whose work has been consistently class-aware and courageous. Thorpe acknowledges as much, after rankling readers into mild outrage in their aversion to unabashed sentiment. Desparate, newsworthi-fying journalese.

*Actually, this is grand:

February 22 – May 13, 2012
Jeremy Deller: Joy in People
Hayward Gallery, London

Deller’s a brilliant artist, I love his work and thoughtful approach to developing projects and working with people. Plus, the Hayward is an amazing space. I really wish I could pop over to the Southbank Centre this spring for this!

Art & Development

2012: grow your intelligence

Psychology professor Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton shares a nice thought about the optimism and pessimism of learning to carry into the new year. (Via Greater Good Science Center)

A key aspect of the “grow your intelligence message” is the implications it has for the experience of difficulty. If one believes that abilities and intelligence are fixed or wired in us, then experiencing difficulty on a task can only mean one thing: that one must not have the correct wiring, genetic makeup, or inherent ability to succeed at that task. It’s very easy to come to this conclusion in the face of failure: I received a message from a student of mine the other day who apologized for not doing well on an exam, and she remarked, “I must not be cut out for this.”

However, if one believes that intelligence is malleable and can grow with practice, then the very psychological meaning of difficulty changes: It now suggests you are activating your intelligence, that you are flexing and practicing your skills. Difficulty is to ability like water is to a growing plant; as such, you become resilient in the face of trouble.

[Note to self: Practice making art. Experiencing art. Having patience. Being kinder. Enacting principles. Reaching goals. Taking risks. Embracing adventure. Being grateful.]

Art & Development

Jonathan Haidt on the uses of adversity

In The Happiness Hypothesis (New York: Basic Books, 2006), psychology professor Jonathan Haidt explores the uses of adversity. His points seem to validate my issues with pundits’ declarations that the recession would be beneficial for artists (elaborated in “Portrait of an Artist, Wily and Engaged” on Art Practical). Haidt explains:

People need adversity, setbacks, and perhaps even trauma to reach the highest level of strength, fulfillment, and personal development

However, we oughtn’t

celebrate suffering, prescribe it for everyone, or minimize the moral imperative to reduce it where we can.

Based on numerous studies, Haidt concludes that some conditions for the uses of adversity can be inferred:

For adversity to be maximally beneficial, it should happen at the right time (young adulthood), to the right people (those with the social and psychological resources to rise to the challenges and find benefits) and to the right degree (not so severe as to cause PTSD).

To refine my position by way of paraphrasing Haidt, it’s inappropriate to celebrate the adversities that artists endure during recessions, especially considering the artists who lack the social and psychological resources, or find the adversities too severe, to continue practicing art.