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How to be happy: Seniors, children give advice in TTC subway art project

TORONTO – “Lots of sex, lots of lovin’, lots of hugs, lots of everything,” says 91-year-old Lillian — her advice to more than a million subway riders on how to be happy.

“That was one that stood out,” says Laura Mendes, co-director of Labspace Studio. “She was just full of humour and enthusiasm.”

Starting Monday, this advice will play in subtitled videos on 300 TTC subway platform screens every 10 minutes until July 28. The project is part of Art in Transit, a year-long arts and culture programme, by Pattison Onestop.

“The subway can be a pretty cold place,” says Mendes. “I consider this project an opportunity to bring some humanity to the subway system.”

“We wanted to really capture people’s attention by presenting them with something that they could actually identify with.”

The project is Advice for the Living — tidbits of advice on how to be happy given by children under seven and seniors over 70.

“Often these demographics in society are not valued as much for their intellectual contributions.”

“Who better to ask questions about happiness to than seniors? Seniors who have lived a very long life and we tend to think children don’t have much wisdom but some of the things that these kids were saying were just so genius.”

Mendes and co-director John Loerchner — the artist duo who created the subway art project Confessions Underground last year — travelled with a wooden “advice stand” (including a miniature version for children) to Georgia, North Carolina and Florida and to several Toronto seniors’ residences and kindergarten classrooms, to seek advice.

“We asked everyone the same question and that one question was: ‘If you could give us one piece of advice on how to happy, what would that piece of advice be?’”

Some advice is cheeky.

“Eat breakfast after bedtime,” says a little girl.

Other advice hints of regret.

“Learn to forgive your family … and love them deeply,” says an 85-year-old man.

“Some of them are full of regret. Their advice was more telling us what we shouldn’t do,” says Mendes.

“I hope that when people encounter these snippets of advice on the subway, they’ll be able to see that emotion.”

Mendes says there were striking parallels between the advice of the children and seniors — “being social, playful and staying close with your family.”

“We all want to be connected.”

She hopes the nuggets of wisdom — some 100 of them — will encourage transit riders to reflect on their lives.

“These are real people, offering real advice, to real people on the subway. These aren’t spokespeople, these aren’t happiness coaches.”

“These are just real people.”

Advice for the Living Trailer from Labspace Studio on Vimeo.

What is your key to happiness? Let us know in the comments section below.

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