Friday, August 6, 2010

Funny films for happiness and wellbeing

Everyone wants to make a difference and have a good time. But it’s not always easy to do either one, let alone find ways to do both at the same time. But I’ve found a way! Have a funny films festival for your friends!

Sure this sounds fun, but how does it make a difference? Studies have found that social relations are one of the biggest boosters for happiness and health and that they have a profound affect on people’s involvement in community. People who have a lot of social interaction tend to vote more, be better environmentalists, and are better workers and parents. So, almost any social activity makes a difference to individuals as well as to the wider society. And since the essence of community is laughter, funny films are made to order.

What should you show? Let me tell you about the films I’ve shown at our Funny Films on Phinney series, part of our Gross National Happiness initiative sponsored by Sustainable Greenwood Phinney (

First up was Harold and Maude . A lot of you have seen this film many times since it came out in 1971. (Some of us have seen it more the fifty times!) Next was The Big Lebowski (1998)— a Coen brothers film, and then The Castle , an Australian film (1997).

I won’t give away any plots, although many people have seen the first two because they’ve become cult films. In Harold and Maude we see an audacious old woman who loves to dance and speak her mind save a young man from suicidal depression. In The Big Lebowski we see 3 slackers whose main passion in life is bowling and hanging out. In The Castle we see a neighborhood fighting a big corporation. (Obviously a perfect film for Phinney — a few years ago the Phinney Ridge Community Council fought the Zoo over a big parking lot and won!)

All three films are hilarious, but above all they have a common theme: they are a critique of life in our ruthless corporate consumer culture and a testimony to the importance of joy and caring. Harold is redeemed because he loves Maude. The guys in The Big Lebowski stick by their buddies. In The Castle , the neighbors inspire each other to speak truth to power. Each film shows that wealth, fame, and status don’t make you happy — relationships do.

And the Dude in The Big Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) becomes the epic anti-hero for our times — the non-achiever, the guy who hangs out instead trying to get ahead, the guy who’s not worried about money and status. It’s a critique of the careerism in this country — the idea that you are what you do. As someone said, in America we live to work, while in Europe, they work to live.

Harold and Maude is even more relevant today than it was in the Seventies —as the Baby Boomers begin to retire we need a new image of aging, of becoming an elder . Maude is eighty and fully alive! She is exuberant and rebellious and eccentric.

Again, a lot is going on in North Seattle around this issue. Even though the last place some of us think we’d be interested in is a Senior Center, we have an incredible center in Greenwood. It’s sponsoring, along with the Phinney Neighborhood Association, a program called Phinney Village that is part of a new movement around the country called “aging in place” — a program for elders to work together, watch out for each other, and to help each other live fully. To find out more about Phinney Village call XXX XXX XXXX [see original]

The Funny Films on Phinney series continues in August each Monday night. This time it’s comedies with a political message: Burn After Reading , another Coen brothers film, (8/2), Girl in the Cafe , British, (8/9), In the Loop , also British, (8/16), and Dr. Strangelove , the old classic with Peter Sellers, (8/23). They all show that war is madness and that we must build a more caring culture in which we realize that we’re all in this together. Kindness instead of cruelty needs to be our national motto. They’re free, at 7 pm, in St. John United Lutheran Church at 55th and Phinney, main floor.

Cecile Andrews ( is the author of Circle of Simplicity, Slow is Beautiful, and Less is More.

Living simply: Finding real happinessSears, Kmart will sell downloadable movies

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