Graduate Mark Quinn creates ‘The Happiness Scrapbook’ Photo Source: The Happiness Scrapbook.
Lewis Sloan, Features Editor
It is no secret that the mental health of people in Northern Ireland leaves a lot to be desired. Almost half of young people here say they have experienced a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety. Those alarming statistics, published in a report by the Prince’s Trust last month, sent shockwaves through the country. The response was unanimous: something needs to change.
This follows a previous report from the Mental Health Foundation and the Royal College of Psychiatrists which found that more people died of suicide in Northern Ireland after 1998 (approx. 4,400) than during the troubles (approx. 3,600). This gives NI the highest suicide rate in the UK.
One young man from Omagh has set out on a mission to combat this prevalence of mental health issues in Northern Ireland. Mark Quinn, a recent graduate of Digital Media Communication at the University of Ulster and English and Film Studies at Queen’s, developed the concept of a social media campaign to “create a more positive online experience for all” in January 2017. In June of that year, ‘The Happiness Scrapbook’ was born.
“I have found social media to be one of the most negative impacts on mental health – particularly for people my age”, says Quinn, 23. “Accepting the fact that it is unlikely to go away, I decided to do something about it and create a more positive atmosphere online – for all.”
“I have loved travelling around and taking people’s photos but I am most grateful and encouraged by people’s answers. Of course a pattern begins to develop with responses but what I love most is getting a quote that is so unique and personal it surprises me. I am immensely proud of how the project has grown and how much happiness I have gained – and hopefully created along the way!”
Following in the footsteps of photography projects such as ‘Humans of New York‘, but adding his own unique twist, Mark speaks to neighbours and friends of all ages in his native Omagh, as well as strangers he meets on his travels, most recently around the USA. He asks them one question: what makes you happy? The beaming faces of the people he interviews, and their uplifting and often idiosyncratic answers, offer a beacon of hope in a sometimes depressing online scene.
The Happiness Scrapbook, which has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram has been gaining attention in the media. Cool FM and the BBC have taken notice of Mark’s mission.
While there remains a lot of work to be done to combat the widespread mental health problems in Northern Ireland, projects like Mark’s offer a glimmer of optimism in a dark time.
If you would like to add some uplifting content to your newsfeed, or simply need a pick me up on a low day, follow The Happiness Scrapbook on social media or keep up to date with Mark’s travels on his website. Enjoy some examples from the project below.
Omagh: “If you asked me this 5 or 6 years ago I’d have said having a song I wrote played on the radio or touring Ireland with my band but now as a father of two young kids, those achievements can’t compare to just making my kids smile. There’s no feeling I’ve experienced that is close to hanging out with my family and acting goofy just to make them laugh. And when I get a hug at the end of the day from my daughter I know I’m a happy man.”
Omagh: “I think music has the greatest power to evoke emotions. With it’s vast range – from classical to jazz to pop – it can make you want to sing. It can transport you to another world, bring you back to an exact moment in time. And you can listen on your own, enjoy the craic of a sing song, the buzz of a concert or just carry a lovely tune around in your head that makes you smile”
Dromore: ”It makes me happy when my friends encourage me to do weird stuff! We live by the motto; ‘Be Good Craic’, and it leads to all sorts of stupid things that will make us laugh. I also love books”
Omagh: “I love my wee caravan. I’ve had it since my youngest was born twenty years ago. It makes me happy because it brings me back lovely memories from when the girls were wee. Mullaghmore is one of our favourite places and we still go. Now though, the girls are all over the world. When we’re in the caravan we’re all so close; within touching distance of each other at all times. I love those memories.”
New Orleans, LA: ”Shooting pool makes me happy. Shoot pool not people down here in New Orleans, Louisiana!”
Austin, TX: “Weiner dogs”
Belfast: “Laughing, lunching and living are the 3 things that make me happy and make me who I am. Laughing – it’s infectious and immediately sends a rush of joy in my body and uplifts my spirit. Everyone laughs in the same language – that’s the beauty of it. I spent my time in Africa not being able to speak one word of their language but spent the majority of the time laughing with all the locals. It brought us together in such a joyful way. Lunching- there’s nothing I enjoy more than going to quirky coffee and brunch cafes with Sinéad. Healthy food makes me feel good. When I feel healthy – I feel happy. If it makes me feel happy then why the hell wouldn’t I drive to the far side of Wicklow for a bite of lunch (that I do not have the money for)? Living – We all can make a living by what we get, but we make a life from what we give. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is your time. When I give, I give something of myself whether it’s a helping hand or a listening ear. Also, why not wear your Sunday clothes on a Tuesday or eat the delicious cake? Why not use the good China or pay the toll for the person behind you? Why not get up early, grab life and do everything you want to do? Oh and also don’t choose to do something that doesn’t make you happy… Ain’t no body got time for dat. CHOOSE HAPPINESS.”
Santa Fe, NM: ”It’s pretty well known if you ask someone if they’re happy they’ll answer yes – but we have a very shallow definition of happiness. Now my definition would be inner contentment and peace. That comes and goes for me totally and it has to do with my spiritual centeredness – having a good sense of my place in the world and the universe. That comes through stripping away a lot of ego stuff continually. Our ego is never happy. Always wanting more. I spot when I’m in ego and wait it out as best I can. Happiness and contentment is just an unpredictable bi-product in continuing to work on myself. I had to do therapy and deal with abuse issues in childhood. That was unconsciously making me very unhappy. Being in a recovery programme; staying away from alcohol and drugs and going deep spiritually makes me happy. But again, it’s not predictable. I call it in the zone. When I get in the zone I’m just totally cool with everything. I’ve been doing this for 27 years and only recently I feel like I’m a walking no-drama-zone. That’s cool because I used to latch on to that – that ego stuff. The problem: I can have this stuff in my head; but it has to travel to my heart and become real and that’s nothing that I can force. I just have to patient and persistent. One of my favourite sayings is one of the longest journeys we will ever take is from our head to our heart. When it travels to my heart that makes me happy. To think we’re going to get any long term pleasure from things or a sweetheart or drugs or sugar or whatever is absolute delusion. We’re taught in this society that we need these things. Well, in a spiritual sense, I’m whole and complete on my own.”
San Francisco, CA: ”Well I guess you just have to enjoy yourself, right? Life is like that. You worry. You’re sad. You’re just you. But if you feel it’s a happy day then it’s happy”
NYC: ”Being able to explore different places, cultures, adventuring. Just being able to live life colourfully I feel like”
Omagh: “I like helping people who need my help and are younger than me. I like making friends with people. That’s what makes me happy”
Omagh: ”Footering about with my old tools. Searching around for old tools to pick up. Collecting them, for me, is like going back in time. It takes a lot of stress away and I feel quite content with my projects. I come out here and if the radio is going I’ll be singing along with it in my own way. My father used to say, ‘Be nice to old people cause if you live you’ll soon be one’. Time flies. It’s only a blink really. It makes me happy to look back.”
New Orleans: “I’m the Dance Lady of New Orleans so dance makes me happy. And when I’m happy I make other people happy. I design all my costumes and dances. I like to think I’m still rocking it. My own programme is Dance for Peace. Everyone should do the New Orleans dance – it welcomes diversity. It doesn’t matter who you are, when you hear that music…you’ve got to move. I lost my sister, my mother, my brother then my father within 12 months. Then came Katrina and I got the call to do Jazz Funerals and parades. It took all of those life experiences for me to rise from the ashes like the phoenix to show the power of my Faith, my family, my legacy, my calling, my mission. That makes me happy cause nobody can take that away from me.”