For 25 years Sara Fiedelholtz has thought about and researched the idea of our inalienable right for “the pursuit of happiness.”
But the idea of happiness really hit home after Fiedelholtz watched a 1999 Oprah Winfrey show in which the TV personality admitted she overate because she was unable to feel fully content.
“And I thought to myself, if Oprah Winfrey cannot be happy, the rest of us should just chuck it now,” Fiedelholtz said. “She had the fame, power, access and means to be happy, and yet she still wasn't.”
Then Fiedelholtz, at the time a reporter with the Chicago Sun-Times, interviewed Holocaust concentration camp survivor and writer Elie Wiesel in 2001 a few weeks after 9/11.
“I said to him, 'After everything you have been through, everything you have experienced in life, everything you have endured, how can you be happy?'”
Wiesel responded, “Happiness is about moments.”
And Fiedelholtz has studied those moments and concepts ever since.
Last month she opened an exhibit called “[hap-ee-nis] definitions,” which runs through Oct. 23 in the Allen County Public Library's Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery. The exhibit highlights 18 Fort Wayne residents from different races, creeds, genders and identifications and presents what it means to them to be happy.
Fiedelholtz is an editor, reporter, media entrepreneur and something of an outside observer of Fort Wayne after living in Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York before coming to Indiana in November 2019. After serving as editor of Fort Wayne magazine for three years, she's now the host of a Public Access television show “& Good Company” and will soon start a magazine called “Hub 260.”
While building her exhibit over the last seven months, Fiedelholtz found common themes among her subjects' definitions but also unique and personal trends, built through their own process.
Architect Zach Benedict, 50, suggests, “There is a distinction between happiness and joy. Joy is more immediate; ... there are joyful moments. Happiness is about contentment. And for me contentment is about being productive, adding value and contributing. My wife's definition of happiness is to have limited responsibility and to relax. Mine, on the other hand is to be doing.”
Ready2Go founder Jo'Male Collier, 25, has undergone 12 corrective surgeries for osteogensis imperfects, a genetic bone disorder also known as brittle bone disease.
“But I don't chase happiness. If you focus on being happy every moment of the day, you will never get anywhere. It is joy that you want to achieve. Happiness is the little moments, but joy is the feeling that doesn't go away. It is permanent.”
It's a fascinating topic, especially during the time of COVID when so many used the extra isolation to examine and reevaluate their lives and goals.
That process of examining happiness is distinctly American, Fiedelholtz says, part of our DNA from the Declaration of Independence, which includes “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
“We are driven to this idea that we deserve to be happy and are entitled to pursue whatever makes us happy because the idea of the pursuit of happiness is presented in the Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right along with life and liberty,” Fiedelholtz said.
“But if you examine the true intent of Thomas Jefferson, including the concept of the pursuit of happiness in his writing, it would surprise many to learn it was not what we have come to believe is part of the DNA of our country – our right to be happy.”
Through the exhibit, Fiedelholtz wants to encourage people to think differently.
“If you just chase anything just to achieve that, you're not going to achieve it,” Fiedelholtz said. “You're better off if you focus on what you can do versus it's something that is going to be done for you or to you. Then you have a better shot.”
Working with photographer Steve Vorderman, Fiedelholtz's original hope for her passion project was to present the exhibit last year, but the pandemic changed her plans.
Talks will be presented at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays at the library's gallery, including MKM Architecture + Design founder Zach Benedict today and WBOI arts and culture reporter Julia Meek on Oct. 21.
“The whole purpose of it is to get them to explore their own definition of happiness,” Fiedelholtz said, “this elusive thing that we're all chasing, but we don't normally know what it is.”