Reporting by Temenouzhka Zaharieva. Images by Michail Novokav and Dimitar Dimitrov.
"Can happiness be manipulated?" was my natural question after Stefan Sagmeister, one of the most interesting guest speakers at the Sofia Design Week 2012 Professional Forum. "Yes!" Sagmeister answered, "Happiness can be trained like we do with fitness training."
Austrian by birth, based in New York, the designer has had his own agency, Sagmeister Inc., since 1993. Last month, all of this changed when Sagmeister Inc. relaunched as Sagmeister & Walsh with an eye-catching announcement (warning, NSFW) to prove that "we'd do anything for design." Using his own body to make a design statement is not new for Sagmeister—he also employed this tactic with his famous AIGA poster from 1999 advertising a speaking engagement at Cranbrook by carving the details onto his torso.
With a stellar list of clients, including Lou Reed, the Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, The Guggenheim Museum and Levi's, Stefan Sagmeister certainly needs no introduction. He explains that he is trying to stay small and to work only on projects which he finds interesting, but they include a wide range: the design of magazines, advertisements, posters, installations, films and books. His work often involves experiments in which the main protagonist is himself.
Sagmeister has an established tradition: every 7 years he closes the studio for experiments—a year-long sabbatical in exotic places. "The sabbaticals are the best strategy that I have come to in my life", said he. On the last such leave in Bali he began working on a feature length documentary that explores happiness and that seeks to prove whether people can consciously increase their own happiness. [Editors Note: See the review from Sagmeister's screening in New York City last fall] The film is still in production. The organizers of the festival explain that Stefan Sagmeister agreed to speak at the forum of Sofia Design Week provided that we contribute to its implementation.
The theme of his lecture was "Design and Happiness" and was directly connected with his Happy Film from which we saw about 12 minutes. During the lecture he shared some of his famous personal maxims, published in Things I have Learned in Life So Far and the paths of achieving happiness as a designer. Some of them are:
- thinking without pressure;
- travelling to new places;
- using a wide variety of tools and technologies;
- working on projects that matter to me.
- getting feedback from people who see our work
- designing a project that feels partly brand new and partly familiar
- working without interruption on a single project.
He showed his scale to measure happiness—from 1 to 10, with 10 being the happiest and discussed factors that influence happiness—short term and long term happiness. Some of the conclusions: almost half of the reasons for people to be happy are genetic. The majority of the cases are related to activities that are not repeated, and things that do not adapt easily. Different activities play a much larger role than the circumstances in life such as gender, race, wealth, etc.
For the film, Sagmeister narrows the big overall theme of 'happiness' by concentrating on his own happiness, and is trying to find out if it's possible to train his mind in the same way it is possible to train the body. For the purpose he is going now through three months of meditation, three months of cognitive therapy and three months of taking psychopharmaceutical drugs to find out which (if any) of these methods lead most effectively to the state of happiness.
When asked if he has already found which of these is the best one, the answer was that he has not yet finished with the experiments "and it is too early to tell, but I feel that from these three cognitive therapy was most effective for me."