Food, Color and Happiness


Truck Image from:

A blogger from Tasmania, Australia, Harry wrote an entry entitled The Happiest City in the World that referred to Rajshahi, Bangladesh, voted the happiest city on earth by the World Happiness Survey in 2006. What accounts for the happiness in such a difficult social, political and economic context? He asked. His blog entry was again published in The Bangladesh Reader (Duke, 2013) for its vivid description of his dinner and travel experience in Bangladesh. For me, hungryphil, the association of dinner and colorful trucks with general happiness supports my suspicion regarding the inherent sociality and creativity of consumption, both food and design. Here is an excerpt from Harry’s blog:

Dinner last night, had at Aristocrat roadhouse halfway between Rajshahi and Dhaka, was a perfect illustration of this. After my favourite Bangladeshi meal, dhal makhani, was served I watched as each of my Bangladeshi colleagues served each other before serving themselves and, having noticed the plate of the person next to them emptying, stopped eating mid-mouthful to add yet more naan to their culinary neighbour’s plate. Such displays of caring and gentleness cycled around the table throughout the meal, naturally amongst the customary pleas of ‘No, no, that’s too much.’ But it would be rude to deny the friendship and, after approaching proficiency in eating with my hands (right hand puckered into the shape of a badminton shuttlecock as it gathers up the food and elephant trunks it into your mouth; left hand avoiding direct food contact but used to spoon yet more dhal onto your plate and the plates of those around you) we rolled down the ornate Aristocrat stairs and into the waiting minibus. It was time to see more of Bangladeshi’s colour, and the road was as good a place as any to observe it.

Bangladeshi trucks must be of the most colorful in the world. With a framing coat of canary yellow, each panel is painted with utopian scenes of snow-capped mountains, meandering rivers, enchanted forests and fairytale palaces; verdant greens, royal blues, crimson reds and burnt oranges. No pastel shades for vibrant Bangladesh. Even the central hub of the rear differential is painted, usually mimicking that of half a large soccer ball. Whereas the trucks are simply glaringly colourful, the passenger rickshaws are both colorful and ornate. Gold, silver and bronze are added, as is the standard shocking pink. The flat-tray rickshaws don’t escape colour either: the slatted sides are painted in alternating blocks of yellow, red, blue, green and orange. Even the twin-light Victorian-style Rajshahi lampposts get the colour treatment with one bulb shining pink, the adjacent one green.

I wonder how I might conduct a study that attempts to find correlations between food sharing, use of color and happiness. In a land of poverty, sharing transforms into a self-negating and revolutionary act. The performance of serving and attending to fellow diners is both an obligation and right of the host. One always offers to fill up another’s plate. If only this sentiment translated into all our actions. Similarly, the brightly decorated trucks attempt to ameliorate the confusion of Bangladeshi roads and aggressive driving. As if the well dressed deserves the right of way. Hmmm. Color masks and highlights the threat of the Bangladeshi roads, just as dinner gestures of sharing masks and highlights scarcity. Is this another expression of what Dan Gilbert names synthetic happiness? The willful construction of joy. Synthetic happiness, Glibert argues is as potent as the natural happiness we experience when we get what we want.

Could it be that food and design are both activities of synthetic happiness through which we fabricate shared joy despite our human condition? Is that the lesson of the World Happiness Survey?



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