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Stefan Sagmeister: 7 rules for making more happiness

June 11, 2010

Using simple, delightful illustrations, designer Stefan Sagmeister shares his latest thinking on happiness -- both the conscious and unconscious kind. His seven rules for life and design happiness can (with some customizations) apply to everyone seeking more joy.

Stefan Sagmeister - Graphic designer
Renowned for album covers, posters and his recent book of life lessons, designer Stefan Sagmeister invariably has a slightly different way of looking at things. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I spent the best part of last year
00:15
working on a documentary
00:20
about my own happiness --
00:23
trying to see
00:25
if I can actually train my mind
00:27
in a particular way,
00:29
like I can train my body,
00:32
so I can end up with an improved feeling
00:34
of overall well-being.
00:37
Then this January,
00:40
my mother died,
00:42
and pursuing a film like that
00:44
just seemed the last thing that was interesting to me.
00:47
So in a very typical, silly designer fashion,
00:51
after years worth of work,
00:55
pretty much all I have to show for it are the titles for the film.
00:58
(Music)
01:01
They were still done
01:08
when I was on sabbatical with my company in Indonesia.
01:10
We can see the first part here was designed here by pigs.
01:12
It was a little bit too funky,
01:15
and we wanted a more feminine point of view
01:17
and employed a duck
01:20
who did it in a much more fitting way --
01:22
fashion.
01:24
My studio in Bali
01:27
was only 10 minutes away from a monkey forest,
01:29
and monkeys, of course,
01:32
are supposed to be the happiest of all animals.
01:34
So we trained them to be able to do three separate words,
01:36
to lay out them properly.
01:39
You can see,
01:41
there still is a little bit of a legibility problem there.
01:43
The serif is not really in place.
01:46
So of course, what you don't do properly yourself
01:48
is never deemed done really.
01:51
So this is us climbing onto the trees
01:53
and putting it up over the Sayan Valley
01:56
in Indonesia.
01:59
In that year, what I did do a lot
02:02
was look at all sorts of surveys,
02:05
looking at a lot of data on this subject.
02:07
And it turns out
02:10
that men and women
02:12
report very, very similar levels of happiness.
02:15
This is a very quick overview
02:18
of all the studies that I looked at.
02:20
That climate plays no role.
02:22
That if you live in the best climate,
02:24
in San Diego in the United States,
02:26
or in the shittiest climate, in Buffalo, New York,
02:28
you are going to be just as happy
02:31
in either place.
02:33
If you make more than 50,000 bucks a year in the U.S.,
02:35
any salary increase you're going to experience
02:39
will have only a tiny, tiny influence
02:42
on your overall well-being.
02:45
Black people are just as happy as white people are.
02:47
If you're old or young
02:50
it doesn't really make a difference.
02:52
If you're ugly or if you're really, really good-looking
02:54
it makes no difference whatsoever.
02:57
You will adapt to it and get used to it.
02:59
If you have manageable health problems
03:01
it doesn't really matter.
03:04
Now this does matter.
03:06
So now the woman on the right
03:08
is actually much happier than the guy on the left --
03:10
meaning that, if you have a lot of friends,
03:13
and you have meaningful friendships,
03:16
that does make a lot of difference.
03:19
As well as being married -- you are likely to be much happier
03:21
than if you are single.
03:24
A fellow TED speaker, Jonathan Haidt,
03:26
came up with this beautiful little analogy
03:28
between the conscious and the unconscious mind.
03:31
He says that the conscious mind is this tiny rider
03:35
on this giant elephant, the unconscious.
03:38
And the rider thinks
03:41
that he can tell the elephant what to do,
03:43
but the elephant really has his own ideas.
03:46
If I look at my own life,
03:49
I'm born in 1962 in Austria.
03:51
If I would have been born a hundred years earlier,
03:54
the big decisions in my life would have been made for me --
03:57
meaning I would have stayed in the town that I was born in;
04:00
I would have very much likely
04:04
entered the same profession that my dad did;
04:06
and I would have very much likely married a woman
04:08
that my mom had selected.
04:11
I, of course, and all of us,
04:15
are very much in charge
04:18
of these big decisions in our lives.
04:20
We live where we want to be --
04:23
at least in the West.
04:25
We become what we really are interested in.
04:27
We choose our own profession,
04:29
and we choose our own partners.
04:31
And so it's quite surprising
04:33
that many of us
04:36
let our unconscious influence those decisions
04:38
in ways that we are not quite aware of.
04:41
If you look at the statistics
04:45
and you see that the guy called George,
04:47
when he decides on where he wants to live --
04:50
is it Florida or North Dakota? --
04:53
he goes and lives in Georgia.
04:56
And if you look at a guy called Dennis,
04:58
when he decides what to become --
05:00
is it a lawyer, or does he want to become a doctor
05:02
or a teacher? --
05:05
best chance is that he wants to become a dentist.
05:07
And if Paula decides
05:10
should she marry Joe or Jack,
05:12
somehow Paul sounds the most interesting.
05:14
And so even if we make
05:18
those very important decisions
05:20
for very silly reasons,
05:22
it remains statistically true
05:24
that there are more Georges living in Georgia
05:26
and there are more Dennises becoming dentists
05:28
and there are more Paulas who are married to Paul
05:31
than statistically viable.
05:34
(Laughter)
05:36
Now I, of course, thought,
05:38
"Well this is American data,"
05:41
and I thought, "Well, those silly Americans.
05:43
They get influenced by things
05:47
that they're not aware of.
05:50
This is just completely ridiculous."
05:53
Then, of course, I looked at my mom and my dad --
05:56
(Laughter)
05:59
Karolina and Karl,
06:01
and grandmom and granddad,
06:03
Josefine and Josef.
06:06
So I am looking still for a Stephanie.
06:08
I'll figure something out.
06:10
If I make this whole thing a little bit more personal
06:14
and see what makes me happy as a designer,
06:16
the easiest answer, of course,
06:19
is do more of the stuff that I like to do
06:21
and much less of the stuff that I don't like to do --
06:24
for which it would be helpful
06:26
to know what it is that I actually do like to do.
06:29
I'm a big list maker,
06:32
so I came up with a list.
06:34
One of them is to think without pressure.
06:36
This is a project we're working on right now
06:39
with a very healthy deadline.
06:41
It's a book on culture,
06:43
and, as you can see,
06:45
culture is rapidly drifting around.
06:47
Doing things like I'm doing right now --
06:50
traveling to Cannes.
06:52
The example I have here
06:54
is a chair that came out of the year in Bali --
06:56
clearly influenced by local manufacturing and culture,
06:59
not being stuck behind
07:03
a single computer screen all day long
07:05
and be here and there.
07:08
Quite consciously, design projects
07:10
that need an incredible amount of various techniques,
07:12
just basically to fight
07:15
straightforward adaptation.
07:17
Being close to the content --
07:20
that's the content really is close to my heart.
07:22
This is a bus, or vehicle,
07:25
for a charity, for an NGO
07:27
that wants to double the education budget in the United States --
07:29
carefully designed,
07:33
so, by two inches, it still clears highway overpasses.
07:35
Having end results -- things that come back from the printer well,
07:42
like this little business card for an animation company
07:46
called Sideshow
07:48
on lenticular foils.
07:50
Working on projects
07:53
that actually have visible impacts,
07:55
like a book for a deceased German artist
07:57
whose widow came to us
08:02
with the requirement to make her late husband famous.
08:05
It just came out six months ago,
08:09
and it's getting unbelievable traction right now in Germany.
08:11
And I think that his widow
08:15
is going to be very successful on her quest.
08:17
And lately, to be involved in projects
08:21
where I know about 50 percent of the project
08:24
technique-wise
08:26
and the other 50 percent would be new.
08:28
So in this case,
08:30
it's an outside projection for Singapore
08:32
on these giant Times Square-like screens.
08:34
And I of course knew stuff, as a designer,
08:37
about typography,
08:40
even though we worked with those animals not so successfully.
08:42
But I didn't quite know
08:45
all that much about movement or film.
08:47
And from that point of view we turned it into a lovely project.
08:50
But also because the content was very close.
08:53
In this case, "Keeping a Diary
08:56
Supports Personal Development" --
08:58
I've been keeping a diary since I was 12.
09:00
And I've found that it influenced my life and work
09:03
in a very intriguing way.
09:07
In this case also because
09:10
it's part of one of the many sentiments
09:12
that we build the whole series on --
09:15
that all the sentiments originally had come out of the diary.
09:19
Thank you so much.
09:22
(Applause)
09:24

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Stefan Sagmeister - Graphic designer
Renowned for album covers, posters and his recent book of life lessons, designer Stefan Sagmeister invariably has a slightly different way of looking at things.

Why you should listen

Stefan Sagmeister is no mere commercial gun for hire. Sure, he's created eye-catching graphics for clients including the Rolling Stones and Lou Reed, but he pours his heart and soul into every piece of work. His design work is at once timeless and of the moment, and his painstaking attention to the smallest details creates work that offers something new every time you look at it.

While a sense of humor invariably surfaces in his designs, Sagmeister is nonetheless very serious about his work; his intimate approach and sincere thoughtfulness elevate his design. A genuine maverick, Sagmeister achieved notoriety in the 1990s as the designer who self-harmed in the name of craft: He created a poster advertising a speaking engagement by carving the salient details onto his torso.

The original video is available on TED.com
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