Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Is happiness the new business of museums?

Picture from the Happy Show exhibition.

Diane Drubay, Is Happiness the New Business of Museums?, Medium, 19 August 2018

While technology and data overload, anxiety, depression and social interaction disabilities are common things to spot within our social environment, we are racing for Happiness even more than before. Wellness therapy, mindfullness workout, detox, remote destinations, sleep-well or headspace apps, a feeling of oneness, Ayahuasca retreat, microdosing, food as prescription, … these are the magical words of our time.

At the same time, we are in a world where we begin to glimpse a future drawn with machine learning changing the rules of the labor market, CRISPR gene edition starting to get discussed at court, the new generation fully integrating technologies into their life, and where a lake have been discoverd on Mars. We are living in a very exciting time but also very frightening one, where futures are multiple and unclear.

The question “How to Be Human?”, get in touch with our reality, our body, our emotions, our vulnerabilty, seems now, more than ever, fundamental! And like the Danes use to say: the key to Happiness is to lower our appreciation of life to the small things and to enjoy them with good people (read about the Hygge culture).

How to Access Happiness

When we talk about Happiness Economics we go further than the classical quantitative criterias such as wealth, ownership, social security, and we try to evaluate life satisfaction and the quality of it.

So, what makes people “feel good”?

Neurochemicals or “happy chemicals” are giving you the feeling of happiness when you do something good like finding what you seek or achieving your goal, being part of a group, having a daily physical practice or challenge, relaxing and feeling this sense of calmess with meditation, contemplation, self-awarness, creating social bonds which will increase trust and generosity but also make you appreciate your community even more.

The World Happiness Report 2018 lists “income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity” as the main criteria to measure happiness but gives also a great value to the migrant acceptance and the warmth of family and other social relationships (read the full World Happiness Report 2018 via this link).

How Art Can Make You Happy?

That’s the title of Bridget Watson Payne’s book where she describes that art, museums and galleries are fundamental places for happiness as they help you see the world around you in a new way touch human endeavours and get a feeling of oneness, but also take you out of your mondaine life and access the greatest part of yourself by shaking you up, producing emotions and deep introspection.

Today, some museums understood the new role they have to play in this society and are searching meaningfull ways to contribute to the evolution of Humankind.

We see beautiful examples of museums changing their identity since few years. For instance, some museums decided to be useful to people, some are made by for or about the local communities, some are turning into schools or fighting against prejudice and racism. But some others turn their mission into wonders, enjoyment and discoveries.

Include Happiness Into Your Museum’s Values

Following the strengths that art can bring us, the recently opened Dutch Museum No Hero includes these benefits into its mission. This museum doesn’t wish to highlight the name of an artist, a collector, a curator or an architect, it wishes above all to make art available to visitors for their good, and more precisely, to bring them happiness. The “About” section of the Museum No Hero website is more like a manifesto listing the three factors that allow us to reach the state of happiness. The museum therefore wishes to focus on the establishment of a collection and a program of activities in order to create a sense of community, facilitate human interactions, value the individuality of the uniqueness of each visitor and guide them into a self-introspective journey.

Explain Happiness

I believe the first sign that our society was desesperatly looking for Happiness and how museums could contribute to this journey is the well-knowned touring exhibition “The Happy Show” produced by the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister and its agency after the artist’s ten-year exploration of happiness. Back in 2012, the studio used a right mix of video, infographics, sculptures and interactive interactions which make us reflect on our daily on a background of challenge, humor and provocation.

I remember this picture of the “How Happy Are You” gumball dispenser being spread everywhere around 2012/15 and asking myself the same question again and again.

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
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