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Can living smaller and simpler make you happier?

“Why don’t we look at the changing American dream, the old (Gatsby) and the new (Obama)?”, I asked in an IM chat with my husband one day. We were discussing our documentary, nowadays practically a daily event in our household.

“Real value vs mercantilism,” my husband shot back, adding to a long list of comparisons of our current pursuit of happiness vs the old one: optimism vs pessimism, Jefferson vs Hamilton, greens vs. new rich.

My husband is a bit of a maven (someone who is the first to pick up on a trend, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point), or at least he acts like one, and for the past couple years he’s been insisting that something is going on in America with our pursuit of happiness. He doesn’t proclaim to have the answers- after all he is European-, but he, as an outsider, has noticed things are changing.

Something is happening in the way we consume. “20th Century: owners of ‘goods’ and ‘stuff’,” he explained in another IM- the way we communicate across our apartment-, “21st Century: we don’t know 100%, but stuff is considered ‘cheap’ and ‘ugly'”.

After that he hurled a bunch of one-liners at me about the “essence” of things, Thoreau, Prince Charles, Richard Branson and something about a war to redefine capitalism. And of course, his beloved Internet got its due with something about Web 2.0, the spread of ideas and how now it’s becoming more difficult to misinform people.

An open source documentary

Now after more than a year of intra-family discussion, I’m drawing upon hundreds of videos I’ve shot for our site to try to start creating a documentary on the new pursuit of happiness in America. There does seem to be something new in this eternal search, with the Tiny House People, neo-homesteaders, Slow Foodies (and Slow Parents, Slow Fashionistas, etc) and downshifters, to name a few.

What I’ve posted here is just the beginning of our investigation into this new, perhaps greener, pursuit of happiness. We want to make this an open conversation so we’ve decided to make it an open source work.

We’re asking you to submit your thoughts on whether living sustainably (whatever your definition) makes you happier? You can upload a video to our site, send us a video or simply email us (faircompanies@faircompanies.com) with your thoughts and we can arrange some sort of videoshoot (maybe we’ll be in your town, or we’ll just record your image via the Internet).

And of course, feel free to disagree with anything we’ve said. We want this to be a discussion, not a lecture. Though we do plan to solicit interviews from happiness researchers to see what the data shows.

Hopefully, by at least talking about consumption and happiness, it might get us thinking about just what it is we’re looking for and what we need to be happy.