Tag Archives: happiness

Last December 1st, I held my first draw-a-thon. (You know what a marathon is, right? It’s just like that, except that you’re drawing.) It was at the Museo Pambata (Children’s Museum) of Manila, Philippines, for their Children’s Advocacy Program. I brought in two of my projects, DrawHappy (a global art project on drawing your happiness) and Rorsketch (a visual perception project where you draw your interpretations of clouds). After showing them some current sketches and making them warm up their hands, we got to drawing.

Kids, I have to say, are not only talented and completely open to new experiences, but also insatiable when it comes to pouring their imaginations on paper. The terror of a blank canvas doesn’t apply much. Here are some of the sketches:



And some photos of how it rolled:

Then we had chocolate ice cream, fudgee bars, and grape juice. Oh, to be eight years old again!

Thanks so much to the Museo Pambata for hosting me! Visit them on your next trip to Manila. And do emaill me at theperceptionalist[at] if you’d like to do a draw-a-thon in your school or organization.

Last week, Jesse, an American soldier in Afghanistan, sent me a sketch for DrawHappy, a project I started in December 2010 where people can draw what makes them happy. (Sheesh, that sounded redundant. How about “embody their sources of joy and elation through illustration?” Better?)


In his email, he wrote, “I know the scan doesn’t meet the requested requirements, short on resources out here.” (I usually ask for jpegs, and he sent a pdf.) I screamed to my computer, “Oh who cares about my requested requirements?! You drew a bluebird in the barracks in Afghanistan! And you sent it to me!” Hurray!

I know this is a piece among the many amazing drawings sent to me, but I will remember this (among numerous others) because of the timing. In the past two months, I’ve been neck deep in grant proposal writing, an activity that I find only slightly more agonizing than a root canal. My shotgun-like prolificness that were the two years at SVA, which seem like five years instead of five months ago, has slowed down into pockets of dreaming that have not been helped by tropical inertia. Because that is what these applications are: dreams. Intangible ones where you have to know what you want to make and how long and what it’s for and what are the things you previously did for them to even consider you and how your project is going to be amazing so please for the love of all things wonderful, pick me! These are pricey dreams, which require time, willpower, and a considerable FedEx allowance. They are infinitely less rewarding than actually going ahead and making them, but alas! you need the powers that be to say yes so you’ll have time and resources to actually execute them. And so this nail-biting process continues.

These are dreams that have yet to be realized. But still, they are the only things I have right now.

I’ve had times like these before—the downtimes and the in-between stages. I’ve learned to appreciate them because they are the spots when new ideas come and poke you and they sound crazy but you’re unstructured enough to do them anyway and realize that you do want to keep them and they become a part of you. But still, there are acute moments of suckiness and despair and isolation and un-belongingness.

I’m glad I’m on the tail end of this stage, and I’m so excited for the next step. (Eee!)

So in these last few months, few things can perk me up such as another human being reaching out to me (or at least a community I’ve built). Especially from one who is probably away from loved ones (although hey, I can only guess since we’ve never met). Whatever low points I feel, here in the city that I at least know, is nothing compared to what soldiers go through. Looking back, I’m happy that, stickler as I am for context, I asked people not just to draw, but to describe the moment of drawing. It makes me imagine the situations they are in, and realize that insightful and creative reflection can come out of any moment, be it favorable or not.

Like most creative people will tell you, the best projects they do are the ones they do for themselves. Whether they touch others or not, the first thing that happens is that the project sustains the creator herself. While this remains a side project, it’s probably the one that will throw me curve balls and surprises for years to come.

I love that the Internet can just cheer you up with a bluebird and give you perspective, just like that.

Thanks, Jesse.

P.S. And to you who are reading this, go draw what makes you happy! Visit the site here.

I have been invited as a speaker at the inaugural TEDxNewHaven conference at Yale University. The theme of the conference is “The Art and Science of Happiness”, and it will take place on April 28th from 10am to 6pm. I will give four talks / exercises of most of my thesis projects as well as some other projects I’ve made in my two years here at SVA, along with 12 other speakers who will explore the theme of happiness through the lens of their respective research and work. Topics will be drawn from a diverse set of disciplines, ranging from positive psychology, entrepreneurship, education, politics, media, culture, technology, and art.

This conference is designed to inspire people and make them happy. Its primary goal is to foster connections among the diverse audience which will consist of Yale students and professors, New Haven residents, and a global online audience. To that end, the primary aim of the conference is to spark a deep conversation about individual as well as the community’s collective well-being. It is the first time that a TED event specifically presents the theme of happiness, so this conference promises to be very interesting!

I hope you will be able to join me! It will take place in the Sudler Hall auditorium, in William L. Harkness Hall (WLH) on 100 College Street, on the Yale University campus in New Haven, CT. You can apply for a ticket here.

Currently, I am neck deep in my thesis and making 200 sense kits for the TEDxNewHaven audience. This week, I’m defending my thesis on Friday, then catching the train to New Haven to get some sleep in a hotel then wake up to do my talks and learn more about a subject I hope to be fascinated with for the rest of my life. Did you catch all that caffeine in that run-on sentence? I’m excited for it all; I hope you do come!

(I wrote this post as an update to DrawHappy, an ongoing art project where I ask people to draw what makes them happy. The full text of it is below.)

Well, almost. I returned from my trip to Iceland on January 10th, bringing with me a hundred sketches, a sea of stories, and a now-heightened tolerance of the cold that is quite useful for one who grew up in the tropics. I never thought I’d continue DrawHappy, as I’m usually doing other projects and have a really short attention span. But the post-Iceland sketches came in sporadically, and I’ve realized that it was the occasional email or package with a happy drawing that helped sustain me—and I hope those who follow the project—throughout 2011. It didn’t even have to be a fancy sketch; many I’ve received were beautifully simple. But I think it was this simplicity that made these drawings a joy to behold. Others were more elaborate, and I’ve been speechless at the amount of time and effort it must have taken to do some of them.

But first, hurray, we have a logo!

(A little late, but grad school has kept me busy.)

I used a stick figure jumping for joy, since in Iceland quite a lot of people drew that, handing their sketch tentatively and apologetically because their drawings weren’t a da Vinci. But I think the simplicity of it brought about clarity, which was the reason I asked you all to draw instead of write. I loved the sketches, stick figures and all. Thank you for all of them.

Remember the visualization I made after the 100 sketches? Honestly, I did that to pass a class, as I felt I had no other interesting data to use for my final project. But I loved what I learned from the analysis of these sketches, especially where happiness may be plotted on other standards of happiness. It made me ask questions. Why draw? Why record the moment of drawing? So what? Now what?

Why draw?

Drawing is one of the earliest skills we learn; its basic elements are comprehensible to people of all ages, cultures and nations. No one is judging how good the drawing is; the lone requirement is that you embody your definition of happiness by taking a pencil to paper. To draw is to make clear to yourself. The project forces you to dig deep into your memory and pull from its recesses that which sustains you as a human being.

I believe most of us lose opportunities to draw. Our lives are run on devices, which I love and use eagerly; this project would never have had this global reach without technology. But while we can externalize some abilities to our machines, I hope that we don’t forget some of the basic skills that are not just universal, but critical for self-reflection and growth. I consider it a minor triumph to get people unplugged, if only for a few minutes.

A more practical reason for drawing is that while the aspiration for happiness seems to be universal (although I suppose there will always be a lot of masochistic grumps in the world), our definition of it is not. Moreover, there are times when it is difficult to label it; this is why the labeling of the sketch was not required. (I still believe it shouldn’t, though it might help me entitle your post! In these cases, I’ve done my best to simply describe what I saw, and not interpret them.)

Why the moment?

I am a scientist by training; this has given me an analytic stance when doing any project. Our definition of happiness as well as the quantification of how happy we are is dependent on what we are doing in that specific point in time. If you were riding horses that day and were still feeling exhilarated, then naturally you will draw horses. What makes other human beings happy also affected what we think makes us happy; hence, the company you kept at the time of your sketching was also recorded. I recall a time when two friends I asked both drew food. One sketched pie and the other, Pinot noir and grapes.

What I wished for

I hope that this project has made the participants want to pursue their happiness because of this brief moment of having to have considered it. There were some people who told me no one ever asked this of them before, which made me both do a double-take (Seriously?) and a cartwheel (Yes! About time!) I, too, have learned so much about the universality of happiness and how, despite our different zip codes, we all aspire for similar things in life.

Other things I’ve learned

1. Brazil is a very happy country. I hope to physically take this project there one day. Obrigado for the shout out, Super!

2. Beauty comes from boredom. Another reason why it was interesting to examine the moment of drawing:  many drew while they were bored in school, a meeting, a conference.  It must feel very satisfying to take that moment back for oneself. I loved it.

3. One should participate and not just observe one’s projects. I drew my own happiness, too!  It also inspired a lot of sketching projects, such as this and now this. It has also been a great reference to my lifelong obsession with human perception.

Now what?

I really want this project to go on forever. It would be interesting how this would look like in 5, 10, 20 years. I’m not expecting to receive hundreds of submissions a day (though that would be awesome!). I am  fully aware that drawing is asking a lot from people. I hope to take this project many steps further. It’s not just because it’s such a joy to do; more broadly, I want to ask, “Is it possible to have a record of what sustains humanity?” And once we know what does, will we take steps to ensure that we, our community, and our society make it easier for us to grasp them?

Thank you for supporting this project! In the meantime, please do keep sending me your sketches. Or  let me know how this affected you, if it has.

More updates soon!