Sages of all traditions and times have asked that question. They tell us we’ve been given five tools for the journey: body, feelings, will, mind, and soul. When people use their happiness tools wisely, in ways that increase health, love, strength, wisdom, and joy, their smiles grow wider. When they narrow their awareness, becoming selfish and self-involved, they grow ill and unhappy. It’s an ancient and timeless formula that will never go away, because it’s rooted in human nature:
Expanding awareness = happiness. Contracting awareness = the blues.
Now imagine a small town where the people know this simple formula. They’re intent on practicing it themselves and supporting one another in their common quest. Let’s give our new town a fanciful name—we’ll call it Ananda, a Sanskrit word that means “bliss.” We’ll buy a gold rush–era farm in the foothills, 80 miles from Chico, and we’ll begin our happiness experiment. And if we’re successful, perhaps 45 years later we’ll make an inspiring film about our long and happy experiment (now our happiness experience)—to show the world that the eternal-bliss formula still works today.
That’s the story behind Finding Happiness, an inspiring new film starring Elisabeth Röhm (award-winning American Hustle, Law and Order, Miss Congeniality, Heroes, The Client List). Röhm plays Juliet Palmer, a fictional magazine journalist in New York City whose editor assigns her to write an investigative piece about Ananda. Founded in 1968 on a 67-acre parcel, acquired as part of a group purchase with iconic counterculture poet Gary Snyder and Zen Roshi Richard Baker, Ananda now has 200 residents who live, work, and raise families on 1,000 acres about 12 miles north of Nevada City.
Finding Happiness is somewhere in the ballpark of a docudrama, but not quite; it’s a visually rich travelogue that follows Juliet’s encounters with the real-life Ananda members—an idiosyncratic bunch of young and old organic farmers, solar engineers, software developers, environmental scientists, web designers, mothers, doctors, architects, nature guides, and writers—whose unscripted words and happy smiles tell the story. Included is some of the last-filmed footage of Ananda’s visionary founder, Swami Kriyanada, who left the body at age 87 in April 2013.
Much of the movie was filmed at The Expanding Light Retreat, which is Ananda’s spiritual retreat for yoga, meditation, and health. Open year-round, the retreat welcomes “truth seekers” from many paths. For more than 20 years it has been a place where residents of Chico, Paradise, and the region go to renew and learn more about living a happy life.
Finding Happiness is a stunningly inspiring movie and a highly enjoyable theater experience for its soaring music, interesting people, and wonderful visuals. Probe deeper, and the subtle message of Ananda is clear: The secret of finding happiness is the same now as in ancient times.
Finding Happiness is coming soon to the Paradise Center for Spiritual Living—7pm on Friday, April 11, a $5 donation. The movie is also available on iTunes, Yekra, and for purchase on the movie website.