The Happy Show

 Posted by on March 17, 2013
Mar 172013


When I was visiting Toronto a couple of weeks ago, seeing Stefan Sagmeister’s The Happy Show at the Design Exchange was at the top of my list.

Sagmeister’s 2009 TED talk on “The Power of Time Off” probably singlehandedly shifted my perceptions of the meaning of work and what it means to have a job vs. career vs. calling.  I was super inspired by his lunchtime keynote speech at Alt Summit, where he talked about the intersection of work, risk-taking, happiness, psychology, design and his own background.

Plus he’s got music cred, having designed the album covers for The Rolling Stones,  Talking Heads and Lou Reed.  After Alt Summit, Jason and I were inspired to start a new series on the Spins & Needles blogCollect/Select, where we profile albums from Jason’s record collection that have amazing graphic design.

(By the way, did I mention I was one of the lucky few to get kissed by him at Alt in January? More on that below.)


Here’s some photo highlights I took on my iPhone at The Happy Show. Lots of interactive activities and visuals of course. And I loved finding the the messages he scrawled in unexpected nooks and crannies around the DX.

The exhibit engaged the other senses, too, like taste. I enjoyed the benign at first yet fiery aftertaste of the Singaporean candies (visitors were offered to “take one”).




Instructions for happiness on wallet-sized cards.


Based on the gumball levels, Toronto seems to be a really happy city (although I overhead one of the DX staff say #9 and #10 machines got stuck often so they had to play with the machines and lots of gumballs came out because of that). I took a #8.


To reveal some of his personal rules for happiness on the big neon installation, you had to get on a bike to power it. I pedalled just enough to reach the “seek discomfort” level.

The show ended March 3rd and is now at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles until June 9. If you aren’t able to catch the show, The Happy Film is scheduled for release next year. The story on how Sagmeister stands in the middle of the street offering a compliment and flower to passerbys is awkward, comical and endearing.

And if you weren’t at Alt Summit, you can catch some of the content in this other TED talk, 7 rules for making more happiness.


So speaking about happiness, comfort zones and risk-taking (at the risk of sounding stalker-ish), at Alt Summit I was lucky enough to get kissed by the man himself! Boys and girls who asked to take a photo with him got a peck on the cheek.



It wasn’t as easy as it sounded. The first time I saw him at the beginning of the night, I uttered something like “Inspiring talk” and walked away. Even though I had just posted him as my design crush at the Go Mighty Red Envelope party! At the end of the night, though, I guess I was feeling a bit tipsy, and had seen him speaking to other Alt attendees.  When would be the next time I would be 5 feet away from him?  Plus didn’t he mention in his keynote, “The only risk is not taking any risks“? so I went up to him and ended up speaking to him about his film, his designs and his sabbatical time in Asia. The kiss was just a bonus!

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