When creatives are asked to talk about their own sense of happiness it doesn’t really matter which corner of the globe they call home, there is a familiar tone to where or at least how they hunt for it. They all seem to emphasize human curiosity and ingenuity, and equally they sound intimately aware of change and how fragile the moment can be.

Happiness. The following exercise takes us to distant shores with a cast of strangers to see how creative endeavours and future dreams are shaped. A status quo where collected moments forge different paths that end in interlacing two inextricable threads: the longing for community and fellowship woven with the promise of belonging and becoming.

JAPAN—Kosuke Oho, Chief Creative Director of WOW (2002)—Beyond the Predictable

My office is located in Shibuya and this place transforms day by day. I am always surprised by the speed of this transformation, which goes beyond anything predictable, and yet stimulates me much farther than anything I can imagine.

We, Japanese, have lots of long and historical cultures and habits. In contrast to those unchanged things, cites and modern culture are changed and born on a daily basis. These contrasts could be the good and better aspects of Japan. And yet I do expect that new and unpredictable culture could actually be born by blending both the new and old, and I am willing to produce that. I feel a great sense of happiness in the reactions that exceed the imagination of the people who are touched by these projects.

When I try to make something new and when it brings unexpected results, as opposed to processing things accurately in order, is for me about keeping the blank space in which unknown possibilities might manifest. These circumstances could bring about a bigger happiness in the end. In my future dreams, the key is how much I can accept the difference of what I had pictured, in a good way, and as long as I am able to penetrate this belief in which I accept while keeping a blank space, I will go towards the future with a rich multiplicity of feelings that I believe will contribute to society.

Hare to Ke Exhibition by WOW Factory and Fantasy by WOW

INDONESIA—alvinT by Alvin Tijtrowirjo (2006)—Culture of Individuation

There’s a lot of suppression of progressive expression – in culture, religion, and also in design – in Indonesia. People are refrained from challenging the way of things and are even afraid of the necessary changes. I’m encouraged to set an example that there other options to living, creating work, and also running a business.

Jakarta like many societies predetermine wealth on capitalistic levers of financial success, and this is something I have wanted to move beyond. Since the pandemic, I have tried to understand the long but rewarding process of consciousness. There’s a certain type of reward and joy in creating our own original thoughts, to reach towards the authentic. To mindfully brush off superficial values and dig deeper into the process of self-discovery through creating works is not just a path to contentment, but also freedom.

The conflicts between beautiful nature and a rich traditional culture, coupled by the lack of innovation or political corruption, forces one to create a distance where preconceived notions can be challenged and values can be developed within a personal cultural framework. Happiness or contentment should not be bound by location, possession or surrounding traditions, but move towards a state of mind, where the beginning of a lengthy journey into making reality, commerce, passion and time, work simultaneously towards a happier space of being.

The artisan approach at AlvinT Alvin Tjitrowirjo, Loop, 2019, natural ratan

KOREA—Eungbok Chang, designer (1986)—Risking Happiness

My creativity comes from my struggle to find a very elusive thing that can be called ‘happiness’, which if I found perhaps I would no longer be creative, but then again might be a reward, and not the end of the struggle.

For me, a particularly rich source of such triggers is the natural world. I often borrow motifs and designs from Korean traditional culture. In pre-modern Korea there was the concept of total happiness: subok kang-ryeong. It was believed that happiness comes from a combination of securing basic human needs: health, a long-life, many offspring (preferably, male), academic and professional success, peace and security. Much folk art (minhwa) was intended to embody these sources of happiness through symbols and aesthetic style. The basic human needs of Koreans today haven’t changed. But now, Korean culture has absorbed ideas of happiness derived from Western, especially American culture, which emphasizes that happiness comes from individual or self-fulfilment rather than from collective intimacy. The materialistic consumerism of American culture also offers us all a very dubious source of happiness: possessions.

The quest for happiness can lead to compromises. I think that early on in my career my idea of how to achieve happiness was conditioned by social values that I slowly stopped believing in. I thought happiness could be mine if I was materially successful, had professional status, and was admired and loved by my peers. At an important point in my life I realized that I was on the wrong path. In fact, I realized that the things I thought would make me happy actually made me unhappy. A big mistake, but not an uncommon one. I therefore experienced a deep personal and professional crisis. But from the ruins of my previous ideals I can now see differently, and less obvious paths to happiness have emerged.

So yes. Happiness changes. Or rather, the experience of happiness doesn’t change because it’s biological. Chemical. Instinctual. But the goals that we believe will bring happiness, and how we understand the path or journey in relation to happiness, definitely change. But how we experience true happiness depends on adaptability, on being able to change goals and paths in response to novel circumstances. This inevitably involves risk.

Eungbok Chang, Hidden Flowers, photo: Yul Kim Eungbok Chang, Hidden Flowers, photo: Yul Kim

ICELAND—Studio Hanna Whitehead (2011)—The Saga of Place

I live and work in the countryside in an old farmhouse in south- east Iceland. The next town is 7 kilometres away. In the whole region, which spans quite a large area, there are only 2,418 people. Here things are simple. The simplicity of the environment gives you more time. No red lights, no traffic jams. When I lived in Reykjavík I worked mainly in a small storage room. Here I can have a bigger atelier. Happiness is in the simplicity of life here.

Happiness comes into my creative endeavours when process meets manual work, watching things take shape in my hands. To create something and to overcome the problems that come about along the way is enjoyable. It is really nice seeing ideas that you have had in your head for a long time suddenly materialize. The objects then might be able to dialogue with other people, which continues into their home. To share the ideas and talk about them. The whole process is a happy one.

In the future I would like to be contributing to my community here in a creative way by using my way of working and thinking. Teaching and sharing knowledge. First I feel I still have a lot to learn, yet being able to continue to be creative and make things would be the ultimate happiness so that it might have a positive effect, make consequential change. Iceland is quite supportive of creatives. We have a long tradition going back to the old Sagas in storytelling. We enjoy a good story. In the old times in bad weather and long dark days they were an important part of our physical well-being, [just] as wool sweaters are to the quintessential care of the sheep that they come from.

Weaving DNA, cape, collaboration between Hanna Whitehead and Claire Anderson Weaving DNA, cape, collaboration between Hanna Whitehead and Claire Anderson

THE NETHERLANDS—Holly Krueger, design student (2020)—Fast Forward

As an American abroad for over 20 years, I am just so very happy that I can live and work here. I like to work hard, not all the time, but when I am playing or working, I like to really go at it, give it my all.

I am one month into the Social Design Masters at Design Academy Eindhoven and it has been fantastically filled with workshops, hackathons and lectures with world-class design instructors on the leading edge of criticism, theory, design research and unique practices. I’m gobbling it all up, all of it so very new to me. And no one seems to give two flips about my age. I’ve found my herd, my peeps. Feeling engaged with a group of like-minded creative people is so wildly reassuring and comforting and whackadoodle fun. In our first ‘making’ project, our group designed a tech wearable, that emits light when bumping with a friend, and provides ultraviolet rays and Covid blocking properties, making relatively close proximity, safe, while allowing you the physical sense of connection through safe bumping, without actually touching.

Everyone has a basic need to be understood and have something to look forward to. Fulfilled basic needs provide most folks the juice they need to forge ahead. When I don’t have something to look forward to – for myself – I ain’t so happy. Having future dreams, is and always has been the key to my happiness. I am much better in the now, when I am working on the development of those future dreams. Right now, I am so very happy in the present, because I am living a future dream, of getting my Masters at DAE. I’ve always wanted to continue my education. It was prohibitively costly in the US.  For a decade, I had my own vey time consuming fashion company – and yet another decade thereafter, small children, and it all seemed so stacked, counter to that possibility. The very best option was part-time freelance in fashion design and creative production. And then I saw that Louise Schouwenberg, Head of Masters Contextual Design DAE, had accepted a 50-year-old candidate two years ago. And I thought, maybe it is not too late?

I am very excited to be learning more about how to frame up my ideas with new exposure to theory, modern tools of expression and technology. Making things happen, getting them going, rolling and then flying, is the second part of my happiness. And so, when I am in the rolls of doing that, I am happy. I liken it to the ominous super clickety-clank you hear, when a roller coaster jerk/engages on the initial ascend track pulling heavy Gs, up to the first big hill. Time flies and I find I am much more forgiving of all the annoying, or meaningless distractions of the day. There’s no turning back just the thrust of the rush forward speeding through.

 Holly Krueger at the DAE

by Earlwyn Covington