Fake Smiles and Happy Place
I’ll admit it. I shamelessly paid $35 for a ticket to Happy Place, a pop-up interactive exhibition set up at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto from November until January. We’ve all heard about Happy Place through one of those oh-so tantalizing videos from BlogTO on Facebook and through all of our most Instagram-inclined friends who had undoubtedly bought tickets at the presale. My stormy Seasonal Affective Disorder, as well as my constant academic anxieties as a student, were both fatally attracted to Happy Place’s pomp and glitter and colours. Can visiting Happy Place really cure anxiety, depression, and senioritis? Good thing I checked it out, so you don’t have to (unless you feel like it).
To answer the aforementioned question in short: no. The bright colours and glitter were dimmed by long lineups and generally “bad” lighting. In fact, through the long, snaking lineups and the industrial pathways in Happy Place, I found myself on a rather philosophical journey. For $35, can you buy happiness? Can you enter happiness by visiting Happy Place? Can one place really suit everyone’s happiness? Presumptuously choosing to name the exhibition “Happy Place” definitely implies that it can. Does it fall short? Absolutely.
Now, a tangent. People will wait in line for hours to ride rollercoasters. (Because of my anxiety and control issues, I don’t.) With this experience, the thrill—or the chemical compounds that create joy in your brain—that a rollercoaster gives you weighs out the impatience of the lineup. The joy (if you enjoy roller coasters) you’re feeling when you’re slicing, spinning, and looping through the air is real—your heart pounding and the positive endorphins are proof. Waiting in line at Happy Place creates no such payout; your patience is rewarded by a photo op. Which leads me to my point that Happy Place does not create happiness—it gives you the power to construct the idea of happiness on your curated social media feed.
Think I’m wrong? Has anyone been to Happy Place without posting a single photo about their experience?
In fact, the idea that these interactive exhibitions are thriving solely on the purpose of providing photo ops terrifies me. We’ve all heard the phrase “Pictures, or it didn’t happen.” While this phrase started as an internet joke, this ideology is really turning into the backbone of our society. People don’t want to “do” as much as they want to give the appearance of “doing.”
Much worse, I can imagine how exhibitions such as this one can have a detrimental effect on someone’s anxiety disorder. Social media, in itself, is supported by humans’ natural need to be accepted and lauded by others. Social media gives users the opportunity to constantly perform for our friends, family, even strangers as well as ourselves; it contributes to our innate nature to be self-centred. However, this nature can be twisted when realizing that social media promotes comparing yourself to others constantly.
My issue with the Happy Place is that while waiting in line watching people take photos or plan to take photos, this comparison happens in real-time, everywhere you look. It is the environment you have entered and you cannot escape it until you’ve collected your coat after waiting in line (again) at coat check. I even realized that I was comparing my photos to the people I was seeing around me; most of the time, I felt that I fell short. In an environment where people are constantly either performing or spectating, I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
In truth, there is no one-size-fits-all to happiness. Perhaps the question “Can you buy happiness?” would be better translated to today’s society as “Can you capture happiness in a picture?” If Happy Place has taught me anything, it is that you can certainly make it look like it.