Whether you call it educational, fun, entertaining or amazing, the New York Hall of Science deals in happiness.
Opening to the public today, July 8, for the first time in more than 16 months, the exhibit “The Happiness Experiment” offers scientific and social insights into what happiness is, and what causes it.
The exhibition opened up for a preview last week to NYSCI members and their families. As always, there are well over a dozen interactive and family-friendly displays. There are even small hills allowing children to run up and down to their hearts’ content.
Dana Hemes, NYSCI’s exhibition content developer, said the time from talking about an idea around a table to opening to the public was longer and more complicated than usual.
“We first started planning this in 2019,” Hemes said. “Then things changed a lot in 2020.” The pandemic, she said, got them to rethinking and tweaking some of their original plans. And with the city and the world suffering the worst the pandemic could offer, there were even questions as to whether an examination of happiness would be appropriate for the center’s reopening.
“We decided it would be more important than ever,” said Brian Avenius, chief marketing officer for NYSCI.
The results at the July 2 preview spoke for themselves.
Masks still are required, as young children largely have not been vaccinated against Covid-19, but one of the first exhibits inside the gallery featured a number of different mirrors challenging visitors young and old to show various emotions clearly even with masks on.
And do you have an opinion on whether lizards can experience happiness? Just cast your vote.
The exhibit, sponsored by bubly sparkling water, does go into the science. Tackling the question about happiness being universal, the exhibits suggest it depends.
“There are consistencies in our responses to positive emotional experiences, but variation in what triggers them,” according to one display. “For example, people smile all around the world, but not always the same amount and not always for the same reasons.” It continues that researchers have found 35 facial expressions shared around the world and that 17, or nearly half, were related to happiness.
The exhibits also deal with social and environmental causes, as well as neurological and other factors that happen within the human body.
And this being NYSCI, they do so in ways as fun as they are instructive.
Is laughter contagious? A display challenges children to find out. Another simply asks them to write down things that make them happy and hang them on display from pegs on a wall.
Another shows a series of pictures ranging from a birthday cake to a spider and asks children to turn corresponding dials to indicate how happy or sad the image makes them feel.
Another presentation on the more universal qualities of happiness contains a cabinet with 24 drawers, each marked with a different word from a foreign language.
“The words don’t really have translations in English,” Hemes said. But the contents of the drawers need no translation to make a child smile.
Admission to the exhibit is included in the cost of a standard ticket. The New York Science Center is located at 47-01 111 St. in Corona on the western edge of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Further information can be found on its website at nysci.org.