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Less Is More, Slow Is Beautiful and Circle of Simplicity and a founder of the Phinney Ecovillage, a project to build Sustainability and Community in her North Seattle Neighborhood. She has been a visiting scholar at Stanford University, where she received her doctorate in education, and an adjunct faculty member at Antioch University and Seattle University. A former community college administrator, she now works with community groups to explore the issue of living more simply and leisurely: how to live lives that are sustainable, just, and joyful. She is on the board of the Take Back Your Time campaign. She lives in Seattle Washington with her husband, former technology writer and current blogger Paul Andrews.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Funny films for happiness

LIVING SIMPLY | Funny films increase happiness, well-being

By Cecile Andrews

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 engage in 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.

Amusing, appropriate films
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 50 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 and saves a young man from suicidal depression.

In “The Big Lebowski,” we see three slackers whose main passion in life is bowling and hanging out.

In “The Castle,” we see a neighborhood fighting a big corporation.

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 nonachiever, the guy who hangs out instead of 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 ‘70s: As the baby boomers begin to retire, we need a new image of aging, of becoming an elder. Maude is 80 and fully alive. She is exuberant, rebellious and eccentric.

Building the Village
Again, a lot is going on in Seattle around this issue.

Even though the last place some of us think we’d be interested in is a senior center, the Greenwood Senior Center, 525 N. 85th St., is sponsoring — along with the Phinney Neighborhood Association — a program called Phinney Village, which is part of a new movement around the country called “Aging in Place.” It is 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 (206) 297-0875.

The Funny Films on Phinney series continues in August each Monday night. This time, it’s comedies with a political message: the British film “Girl in the CafĂ©” (Aug. 9); “In the Loop,” also British (Aug. 16); and “Dr. Strangelove,” the old classic with Peter Sellers (Aug. 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.

All the movies are free and start at 7 p.m., in St. John United Lutheran Church, at North 55th Street and Phinney Avenue North.

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