Saying no is not the same as selfishness. To Thomas Jefferson, the pursuit of happiness was a vital human necessity worthy of inclusion in the Bill of Rights. Jefferson made enjoying one’s life sound downright patriotic.
Working on Everyday Happiness, a six-part public television documentary, has kept a smile on the face of Providence filmmaker Lisa Delmonico in recent months. The series consists of half-hour discussions with ordinary people and scholars on the state of happiness in Rhode Island.
The latest chapter, set for broadcast Friday, January 6 at 7:30 pm on WSBE-TV (Channel 36), looks into finding happiness through religious and spiritual faith. In October and November, the series looked into the pursuit by seniors and immigrants, respectively.
As for Delmonico: “My happiest moments are when I’m right in the present with what I’m doing. Like if I’m editing and that flow thing that happens with artists happens — I’ve been editing for 12 hours and I don’t even know it’s been 12 hours, I haven’t even gotten up to brush my teeth — that’s the happiest. When you’re right in the moment.”
A Zen master she interviewed for the January 6 program — her favorite so far — reminded her of that, she says. The program includes conversations with 15 people, with nine religions represented. Contributions are sometimes unexpected. Wiccan High Priestess Lorna Buffam tells of feeling the presence of God in nature. Western Rite Abbot James Deschene says it’s sometimes natural to be angry with God. Rabbi Alan Flan says not knowing is more understandable than religious certainty.
Delmonico, 43, grew up in the Mount Pleasant section of Providence. In New York City, she worked in publishing and made her own small films for 10 years before returning for a graduate degree at Rhode Island College. The Everyday Happiness project was sponsored by Hera Gallery and funded by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.
In March, the series continues as Rhode Island consumers discuss to what extent shopping at the mall brings them happiness. The April broadcast will get seventh graders talking about the subject. The series concludes in May, for contrast talking about people Rhode Islanders dread, such as dentists, morticians, meter maids, and so on.
Delmonico wonders whether the yet to-to-be-shot interviews with consumers will find anyone honest enough to admit that buying things brings only superficial happiness. So far, says, “No one will say that they’re unhappy. Every single person that I’ve interviewed will discuss happiness. I’d like to interview someone who opens up enough to say ‘I’m not happy.’ No one’s given me that.”