In 2006, documentary filmmaker Andrew Shapter was on a tour promoting his first film, "Before the Music Dies" when someone asked him what he planned to do next.
Shapter laughed. He had quit his 20-year fashion photography career to look for more meaning in his life, and this film and subsequent tour had taken over all of his time.
"The next subject I do for a movie, I'll have to live with it the rest of my life, so it better make me happy," Shapter had joked.
But then Shapter got to thinking. Had anyone really done a documentary on what makes people happy? He knew there were movies that showed people overcoming obstacles or instructional videos on how to change your life to be happier. But had anyone investigated how Americans choose to find happiness in their own lives?
The Declaration of Independence has endowed us with "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
But Shapter wanted to know what that last bit, "the pursuit of Happiness" really means in America today. How are people pursuing happiness in their own lives? Is happiness really something, as humans, we can actively pursue? So he and a small crew piled into an RV, and over the course of the next three years, drove across America to find out.
"I asked people, 'what is it that makes you happy, what is your pursuit of happiness and how do you achieve it?' I looked for people that are really satisfied with what they are doing in their lives," Shapter said.
"The more I went around and had these soul-searching conversations, I realized the people who were happiest were those who tried to make their community better. Those were the happiest people around."
Shapter's new movie "Happiness Is" documents his journey and the people he found along the way who believe they have found a way to pursue happiness. Shapter also interviews celebrities and leaders -- the Dalai Lama and Willie Nelson both make brief appearances in the movie.
But most of the documentary is dedicated to happenstance; recorded moments where the filmmaker and his crew stumble upon scenes where people are celebrating the act of giving back.
Shapter provided us an exclusive clip of one motorcycle gang's pursuit of happiness he discovered while stopping for gas:
Making this movie, Shapter said, has affected his life in significant ways. "I don't have an agenda, there are no political issues. It's about a common bond to help people out -- there's no call to government action, just a call to stop what you're doing, get off your butt and help somebody. You'll have a better day. My life is a lot happier now that we're touring this film and motivating people to get up and help in their own neighborhood."
Like the film, the screening tour is a bit unconventional: Shapter plans screenings across the country at venues provided by nonprofits in need. Then, he donates all the ticket proceeds to benefit the charity that hosts the screening. Production and tour costs are paid for through the purchase of DVDs and downloads, available at the screenings and on the film's online store.
At the very first screening, "Happiness Is" raised $10,000 for CapCityKids in Austin, Texas.
"I plan on touring this film as long as people need it, as long as benefits need to happen," Shapter said. "I don't see an end to this. I hope that nonprofits that are hurting will get a venue and bring people together to raise awareness and money. It's a long journey."
"Happiness Is" has screenings scheduled all around the country. You can find one near you on their interactive map.
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