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I am going to make a prediction about what key to happiness our documentary, Pursuing Happiness, will ultimately exemplify. Not that there’s any one key that magically unlocks the door to a happy life, but when I reflect on all the people we’ve met along our journey, there is one consistent quality that they all share: they belong to a community. Of course, everyone belongs to a community – even the unhappy – so I should go a step further and say that the key is to not just belong to, but to identify with and become engaged in your community.

There’s a great deal of literature to support the idea that people are happiest when they feel a sense of belonging. It’s no secret that we are the most social species in the world, and a great deal of our development and evolutionary path has been dictated by our incredible ability to socialize. Additionally, people want to not only feel a sense of belonging, but also a sense of importance and meaning; having influence in their community provides them with both. It also stands to reason that when people exert effort to better their community, they receive all the wonderful gifts that come from giving and improving the world around them.

What is most interesting about this idea is the word itself: community. Unless that awful party game/question came true and you’re currently marooned on a desert island with only your top five albums, you belong to a community. Therefore, defining your community is the first step in truly engaging with it.

While traveling for this film, we’ve been welcomed into a variety of different types of communities. Over the course of the next few articles, I’d like to share three of them in order to demonstrate how easily and creatively communities can be defined. While they don’t necessarily resemble one another in terms of size or location, what is true of all three is that the members derive a great amount of happiness from being a part of the community.

Hershey, PA

As we were traveling through Pennsylvania, we decided it was imperative that we stop at “The Sweetest Place on Earth.” We figured the land of chocolate would be the perfect place to find happy people. We were 100% right for 100% of the wrong reasons.

Randyland – Pittsburgh, PA

One man–armed with hundreds of buckets of free paint and endless creative energy and love–has transformed his home into a public garden that attracts thousands of visitors every year. Randy hasn’t been on vacation in 40+ years, but the world seems to come to him.

Lebowski Fest – Louisville, KY

When Will Russell and his friends decided to put together a bowling party in honor of their favorite film, The Big Lebowski, they could never have imagined there were 100,000 people waiting to be united, under Dude.

Adam Shell and Nicholas Kraft are traveling the country to find our nation's happiest people, all while filming the experience to share with audiences in Pursuing Happiness, a feature-length documentary.​  

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