Happiness is for Everyone

Puppeteer Judd Palmer offers her insight into Old Trout Puppet Theatre’s show Ignorance, coming to The Centre, March 20-22, 2014.

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Ignorance is not quite a play, exactly.  It’s more of a documentary – but with puppets.  We’re not sure whether anybody has attempted a puppet documentary before, but when we were creating the show, we were plagued by a very specific question – with some philosophical answers that only a documentary-style production could tackle head-on.  The question is posed to the audience in the first line of the play.  A voice-over narrator, the kind you’d hear in a nature show, speaks:

Are you happy?  Everybody should be happy.  Happiness is the whole point of our existence; it’s the reason we toil and strive and fight year after lonesome year – so that someday we’ll be happy.

The question is, when you think about it, pretty much the most important question you could ever ask.  Everything we do we do because we think it will make us happy.  Why get a new job?  Why go on holiday?  Why marry this person?  If I’m good, will I go to heaven?  If I’m bad, will it satisfy me more than if I sacrificed what I truly want for somebody else’s happiness?

How good are we at predicting what will make us happy, and what won’t?  (Not very good, as it turns out – check out Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, which uses neuroscience to demonstrate that we’re constantly deceiving ourselves about how we’re going to feel.)  Why doesn’t happiness seem to last?  Would we be happiest if we stopped striving and stressing ourselves out, or would be happier if we pursued our dreams, with all the fear and uncertainty that entails?  Is future happiness more important than present happiness?  How do you make that calculation?

There are a ton of self-help books on this subject, going all the way back to the Ancient Greeks, who had a branch of philosophy called Eudaimonics.  But the idea that happiness is the whole point of our existence is actually kind of new – other cultures held different goals as their highest: honour, glory, service, accomplishment, freedom.

Maybe the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness is a peculiarly modern, capitalist, industrial way of giving meaning to our lives.  Maybe there’s more to it than that – because we also have to ask ourselves: if happiness is the whole point of our existence, then what’s the meaning of all the time we spend in our lives where we’re not happy?

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Who else is intrigued? There are a number of similarly tantalizing entries to be explored on the Old Trout’s blog. Here are a few of our favourites to inspire you before the show.

The Birdmen of Saint Kilda

A Theory of Evolution

Prehistoric Architecture 

Come explore the road to happiness when The Old Trout Puppet Theatre presents Ignorance in the Studio Theatre from March 20 – 22. After all, the journey is the most important part.