The Relationship Between Happiness and Gratitude
by Susan Leem, associate producer
How we feel about where we are today affects how we remember and regret the past. The question illustrator Hanan Harchol is trying to understand: what is the relationship between happiness and gratitude? If you can feel gratitude for what you have, it can render those bad decisions unimportant, even not so bad.
And what does this do for regret? It can help you move on and stop ruminating about the “one that got away” or the job you should have taken, and make better decisions in the future.
In this animated video, Harchol shares a Jewish folktale in which a farmer complains about his home being too small. The cagy, local rabbi advises the farmer to bring goats into his small home for a while. Then, the farmer sees how small his home really could be.
Thankfully, we can replicate this advice as a thought experiment. This may sound like a grandma reminding us, “Oh, it could always be worse.” But it’s easier to realize how good life is once you imagine how hard it could be. Isn’t it easier to see a bronze medal as a gift rather than a failed attempt at a gold if you imagine that you might’ve come in 4th place? If the ability to feel gratitude is like building a muscle, maybe the workout starts here.
Animated Shorts on the Lessons of Forgiveness and Repentance for the High Holy Days
by Susan Leem, associate producer + Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The son of an Israeli nuclear physicist, the artist Hanan Harchol moved to the United States with his family when he was two years old. And it’s his father’s accent that Harchol impersonates and argues with in these two humorous and enlightening animated shorts for the High Holy Days.
But, these illustrated videos mining a deeper understanding of the Jewish concepts of teshuva (repentance) and slicha (forgiveness), Harchol says, weren’t inspired by a personal sense of devotion or religiosity. Just the opposite, in fact. The requirements of the project stipulated that he immerse himself in the texts, and through studying them he reevaluated the essence and spirit of Jewish teachings he had ignored or rejected for many years:
"I spent my life gravitating towards, and making, narrative art that explores the human condition from a psychological, philosophical, and existential perspective. While Judaism offers thousands of years of wisdom on the human condition, I avoided it as a source because of what I perceived to be its preachy, judgmental, and shaming tone.
Then, in 2009, I was commissioned to create a short artistic animation that interpreted the eating of bitter herbs during Passover. As part of the project, I was mandated to participate in a monthly Jewish study group under the leadership of a dynamic and brilliant rabbi named Leon Morris. To my surprise, I discovered that the human themes we were discussing and wrestling with in the study group were precisely the kind I had always been exploring in my personal artmaking. Even the process itself of sitting around a table, debating and wrestling with these human concepts (a process I did regularly with my friends and in my artmaking) proved to be a fundamental part of the Jewish study and learning process.
I became filled with questions about how much my Jewish heritage had influenced how I was raised, how I behaved, how I thought, and even who I was as a person and an artist. What I discovered was a wealth of wisdom. Within the Jewish texts were crucial teachings and lessons that applied as much to our contemporary lives as they did when they were written. By avoiding the Jewish writings because of their religious nature and tone, I was missing out on thousands of years of deep thought and study on the human condition itself. I had thrown the baby out with the bath water.”
Love is brightest in the dark.
OK. I’ll admit it. My two sons have sucked me in to watching this absolutely riveting cartoon series from the Nickelodeon network. Netflix paired with AppleTV is a dangerous combination.
The writers embed lots of fun, humorous, and, yes, wise moments of truths and paradoxes. And I heard the quotation above quite differently because of something civil rights leader and theologian Vincent Harding said: that, rather than try to banish or ignore the darkness, we need to teach our children to be “sources of light” within that darkness.
I love this idea. It’s real and forces us to acknowledge our capacities for all the flaws we have as human beings, and our even greater inherent abilities to transcend them. Possibility.
And, if you’re wondering, here’s the Wiki description of the scene:
"After traveling for about three hours, Aang and Katara encounter a large tomb designed for the two lovers spoken of in lore. By reading script around the walls, they discover the true story of the two lovers: a man and a woman from feuding towns met at the top of a mountain. Although it was dangerous to meet, the loving couple found a way to continue their relationship in secret.
After learning Earthbending by observing the natural skills of badgermoles, they created a labyrinth which only they could navigate as a place to be together. However, one day the man did not come; he had been killed in the war between their two people. While the woman’s fury was initially expressed in a display of Earthbending prowess which could have potentially destroyed both of the warring towns, she instead declared the conflict at an end.
The two villages later created a city to honor the couple’s love, which eventually grew into the city of Omashu (the names of the lovers are revealed to be Oma and Shu, whose names were joined together). Aang and Katara then turn around and see a statue of the lovers, with a slogan in the middle stating: ‘love is brightest in the dark.’”
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
History Written in Charcoal & Sand
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
The video above made its way into my inbox last week, apparently after making the rounds through the rest of the internet. It’s a performance by 24-year-old Ukrainian artist Ksenya Simonove, first prize winner of the TV competition “Ukraine’s Got Talent” in 2009. She creates and transforms her images by manipulating sand on a light box, in this case telling a story from life in the Soviet Union during WWII. From the wet eyes in the audience, Simonove seems to have tapped into a part Ukrainian history that is still emotionally raw for those connected to it.
Simonove’s continually transforming images reminded me of another artist — South African filmmaker William Kentridge. Rather than drawing with sand, Kentridge is known for using charcoal and pastel on paper. But his animations have the same sense of “history.” Rather than using a fresh image for each frame, he continually erases and adds to his drawings to make them come alive on film.
Many of Kentridge’s films also carry with them a painful story from a difficult national history — in this case, apartheid in South Africa. From the Tate Modern’s description of his animation, History of the Main Complaint (video below):
”[History of the Main Complaint] was made shortly after the establishment in South Africa of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It was set up to conduct a series of public hearings into abuses of human rights perpetrated during the apartheid era. The hearings, in which individuals told their stories of personal suffering, were held in order to make reparation for abuse and in the hope of creating reconciliation between peoples.
The underlying theme of this film is a (self) recognition of white responsibility. This is played out through a ‘medical’ investigation into the body of Soho Eckstein, the white property-developing magnate and greedy-capitalist protagonist of most of the preceding films, which provides the starting point for a revelation of conscience.”
The Human Scale
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
This December, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) turns 60 years old, and the video above was released in preparation for that celebration. The UDHR (listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Translated Document” in the world) was drafted by the United Nations in response to the Second World War as a means of clearly defining what the UN hoped to protect — namely, the “equal and inalienable rights” that “all members of the human family” are entitled to.
I thought it was worth mentioning on the blog because the issue of human rights is a pretty important one at SOF; so much of what we do here is about taking larger ideas and bringing them down to the level of individual lives. Often issues that seem irreconcilable in their abstract form seem more managable when you hear the stories of those affected.
Case and point: our recent feature "Between the Polarized Extremes of Abortion." Looking through some of the thoughtful and heartfelt responses we received on this topic, I realized that for all of the rhetoric I’ve heard on this subject, I’ve rarely seen it dealt with on such a personal level. Your responses turned out to be refreshing and much-needed antidote to the political and cultural battling this issue tends to invoke.
It seems that if there is going to be any reconcilliation on the issue of abortion, it will probably come through an understanding of the individual lives that are affected by it. And while the UDHR has its critics (I imagine anything claiming to be “universal” would), to me it’s an important step in the right direction — a larger way of acknowledging the need to understand the world on a more human scale.
While doing a little research on this, I discovered that there is also an older (much longer) animation about the UDHR, sponsored by Amnesty International. The tone seems a little different in Amnesty’s video, and I thought it was worth including because, while it is pretty dated, it also strikes me as being a little bit more … well, human.
When the Day Breaks
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
This weekend I came across this beautiful animation created by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis at the National Film Board of Canada, which somehow seems especially fitting for a Monday morning. What begins looking to be a cute and clever animals-behaving-like-humans story (I especially enjoyed the first character’s hat) takes a suddenly darker and more contemplative turn. I have to say, I’m quite amazed that the film’s creators were able to attain this kind of emotional depth in a story where all of the characters are anthropomorphized barnyard animals.
Note: If you have a faster Internet connection you may want to check out the higher-quality version.