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Can design help you be happier?

As I write this, it’s the first Monday in February, the day after the Super Bowl. But the day is becoming increasingly known as the infamous “National Sickie Day.” It’s the day, traditionally, when most people call in work to say they can’t make it. Despite their labored excuses to their bosses, its generally understood that they aren’t sick, they just need a day to escape under the duvet. Maybe it’s because January seems like a long month, or that winter has been particularly tough, or maybe it’s something deeper?

Life is becoming more complicated in every way. The pressure to enjoy life, in a more demanding world, is taking its toll. The search for happiness has spawned a whole industry of self-help books, events, and blogs. But cast your eye across this material, and you’ll see that whilst the message may be great, the presentation is sorely lacking.  Why do we have to wade through pages of well-meaning psychobabble? How come so many mental health sites look like they’re designed by the government?  Surely, there’s scope for the power of design to make this life-enhancing information, more engaging.

Graphic designers have often stepped up to help social causes with pro-bono work. It’s a powerful way to grab distracted minds and express an important message in compelling way. Through the power of ideas, imagery and words, design can tap into our deep-felt emotions. Some brands are recognizing the need for better way to convey their message of well-being, and using good design to connect.

Spanish magazine, “Perdiz”, is purely dedicated to the topic of happiness. It provides a wide variety of content; from a story about an ex-architect who found happiness as a bee keeper, to activist nuns who grow weed to heal the world. Each issue is beautifully expressed, in photography and illustration. Issue by issue, it builds into a growing source of guidance, that we can dip into, as and when needed. Perdiz is an exemplary piece of design, that we’ve come to expect from the Catalan design scene. http://www.perdizmagazine.com.

“The School of Life” is not literally a school in the conventional sense, although they do hold classes from their London base. Their aim is to improve people’s emotional intelligence, through a variety of topics from “How to be serene” or “How to find a fulfilling job.” These are not dry, self-help events. The School of Life is a smart, well-conceived brand, and like all strong brands, it uses great design to set itself apart. This builds into much richer experience, encouraging us to explore the wide variety of advice they provide. Check out their amazing gifts, such as their tote bags with “Emotional Baggage” emblazoned across them. It proves you don’t have to lose your sense of humor, when tackling mental-illness. https://www.theschooloflife.com/shop/

“Hygge” pronounced “HUE-gah,” is a Scandinavian philosophy, that promotes the enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life. Whether it’s stroking your cat, or savoring a meal with friends. These are moments, that accumulatively add up to better living. The Norwegians should know, Norway is regularly voted as one of the happiest places to live. If you’ve visited a bookstore lately, you’ve probably noticed that Hygge is a growing movement, with several books springing up on the subject. They’re invariably well designed, with exceptional photography, suggesting a simple lifestyle that could be within reach for everyone.

Stefan Sagmeister’s investigation into happiness in, “The Happy Film,” is an unflinching look into his search to capture his personal bliss. The renowned Austrian designer, characteristically bares his soul, as he explores Meditation, Therapy and Drugs to varying degrees of success. It’s hilarious and poignant in equal measure, and all credit to the man for putting himself out there, so that we can all learn from his fearless experiment. http://www.thehappyfilm.org

Good communication design is a way to bring attention to content, that would otherwise go ignored. It's a way to make the complex easier to understand and to create strong emotions. For decades, design has been a powerful political tool and fueled consumerism. Maybe, it can play a role in helping to ease one of the biggest social issues of our time, or at least spread some joy along the way. ;-)

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