Our Aladdin company is awesome. They are fiercely talented, funny, warm, and just a blast to see every day. Since day one, they’ve made a foreign girl feel totally welcome with their smiles, their questions to check in on how I’m feeling, sharing their snacks and their stories… I’ve been overwhelmed by the warmth and presence of Australians. They always seem to be going out of their way to check in and see if your happy.
And I mean that literally. One thing that I’ve noticed here is how often Aussies use the phrase “are you happy?” to check in, or to finish up a conversation or a rehearsal. I think that question is actually their generic phrase for when Americans would simply say “Alright, that’s the end of this meeting, do you have any questions?”
I noticed this one night when my friend Kaye Tuckerman (my Aussie friend who lives in NYC) messaged me to see how I was getting along in Sydney, and she asked “are you happy?” In that moment when I read her quick one-line message on my phone, I thought about how that’s such a loaded question. People in America rarely ask that question unless you’re sitting across from a friend at dinner and you’ve been catching up after not seeing them for ages… and eventually, after a few glasses of wine, and a long discourse of what your life has been like, what you’ve been up to, what you’ve been focusing your energy on… someone will ask the other “but tell me, are you happy?”
Meanwhile, here in Australia, that question is often used nonchalantly, in order to wrap up a meeting or a music rehearsal. At the end of a private work session with my music director, he asks me “Are you happy?” Or after addressing the entire cast at the end of a company meeting, our company manager wraps up his speech with the same phrase, directed to the crowd of actors in front of him… “are we happy?” That’s the Aussie way of saying “All finished, any questions?”
And I LOVE this. I love that Aussies use this phrase to wrap up a conversation. I love that it includes the reality of the other person’s feelings, instead of simply saying “that’s all I have to say, do you have any questions?” I love that it allows you to check in with yourself and really see if you are unsettled about anything. And it encourages you to share what that might be.
In America, you have to speak up if you DO happen to have concerns or confusion, or feel unsettled about anything you’ve talked about in a meeting, or practiced in a rehearsal. You have to “rock the boat” and tell the person that you’ve got questions or that you’re not happy (whatever that means to you). And not wanting to “rock the boat” can often be the reason why we don’t speak up at all. We sometimes let ourselves walk away from a conversation without feeling complete. However, when someone asks “are you happy” as a wrap-up question, it allows you to be honest in your response, without seeming confrontational just because you’re not content or satisfied.
The question “are you happy” is such a wonderful one in general, because it implies that happiness is the priority. This year, Australia was in fact rated as one of the top ten happiest countries in the world.
I’m not sure if Australians know that their choice of phrasing can be helping to increase their citizens’ happiness level. Maybe they do intentionally focus on the National Gross Happiness level of its citizens, just like they do in Bhutan. But regardless of whether they are doing it on purpose, I think it makes a difference. I see how it encourages one to inquire about their own happiness. And I appreciate that.
So the next time that I’m with someone and sharing a conversation of any sort, I intend to ask that question more often. “Are you happy?” doesn’t have to be a scary or daunting inquiry. That’s just what we’ve been taught in America. That’s been the model that we re-enact. However, it’s okay to ask the question in relation to anything. It can mean “are you feeling settled about this conversation or this work session?” or it can mean “are you feeling happy in your life and the direction it’s going?” And whether you’re responding about a meeting or about your life experience— it’s totally okay to say unequivocally “Yes. Yes I am happy.” Because you don’t have to be unhappy in order to be real, or to be engaged in the human process. Being happy can co-exist with figuring out your life or what your next steps are going to be.
By checking in with each other and asking “are you happy,” we are reminding each other that happiness is the goal. Not winning, not dominating, not looking good… None of that matters if you’re not happy.
Thanks Aussies for checking in on everyone’s happiness. Thanks for playing as a team. And for picking me to join yours.