What is Happy? Kickstarter Banner
What is Happy? Kickstarter Banner

We’re challenging society’s ideas of success and happiness on one of the toughest treks in the world.

You’ve heard of Shangri-la, that mythical paradise lost in the Himalayas. If the legend of El Dorado tells about a vanished city of immense wealth and Ponce de León’s Fountain of Youth is the search for immortality, then Shangri-la is a story of total, blissful Happiness—heaven on earth.

But what if we told you that Shangri-la wasn’t a myth at all? What if there is a real place in this world where Happiness is the most important measure of success?

And what if we told you we found it? In the Himalayas, right where myth said it would be? 

What is HAPPY? The film.

Hi! I’ve teamed up with fellow Canadian adventurer and filmmaker, Kendra Slagter, from Hamilton, Ontario to hike one of the toughest treks on the planet. As women of two different generations, we’re on a mission to turn society’s definition of ‘Happy’ on its head, while contemplating what can be done about women’s declining mental health here in the Western World.

Where does Happy live?

Until 1974, Bhutan was almost a mythical country of its own, cut off from the Western world. Although it has opened up a little bit, Bhutan is still one of the most difficult places on earth to reach. Which is a metaphor in itself, because we know this little country is where elusive Happiness lives!

Bhutan is a progressive country that measures Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product. These beautiful people and their remarkable culture created a whole new way to look at life – and imagined a whole new definition of success. What better place to find Happiness than in a country that strives for it every day!

Crowd of happy Bhutanese.

We want to bring that idea of Happiness back with us for everyone to share.

Let’s Get Real for a Moment

Yes, we’re trying to keep it light here. But women’s mental health is an issue we take very seriously. The reality is, our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, cousins, and friends all struggle with their mental health in a world that demands too much. We have seen (and experienced) firsthand the toll it takes, not just on the women themselves but their family and friends.

Our goals with this documentary are:

  • to help women readjust their thinking about success and happiness
  • to reduce societal stress
  • to celebrate the transformative power of adventure
  • to embrace the link between better mental health and outdoor activity
  • to share the stories and wisdom of the beautiful Bhutanese people
  • and to bring more Happiness to everyone’s lives.

Mental health emergencies, depression, and suicides are at all-time highs in North America. Globally, death by suicide is one of the leading causes of premature death according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Women are particularly impacted by mental health issues. Although more men die by suicide than women, women are actually more susceptible to the causes of suicide including depression. Not only that, women and girls attempt suicide about twice as often as men.

Sad woman sitting in the corner. Women and girls attempt suicide about twice as often as men.

The Problem is Getting Worse

The news is rife with stories of wars, political unrest, and climate change. But that’s just the start. In the Western world, we are constantly pushed to work harder, climb higher, achieve more, and do better. Women in particular are expected to do it all: have a successful career and be the anchor for the family at home. Our mental health is seriously suffering, and we don’t know how to fix it.

News clippings from social media about women and depression.

Part of the problem is that our definition of success is so twisted now that it’s an unattainable ideal. For most of us in the modern Western world, finding this impossible level of success is about as likely as finding those lost, mythical cities.

It’s time we redefine what “success” should mean. Maybe burning the midnight oil, putting in 80-hour work weeks, and missing our fifth family dinner this week shouldn’t be the badges of courage our society makes them out to be. Maybe we need to:

  • Search for more Happiness in our lives
  • Be together as a family, not work apart for the family
  • Adjust our goals and reach for different achievements
  • Get off society’s treadmill and be more grounded in ourselves

We believe that there is a strong connection between our Western definition of success—and the stress it induces—and rising mental health issues. We need to find a better way, and we need to do it now before it gets worse.

We want to shoot a documentary that explores how the Bhutanese look at Happiness, and how we in the Western world can change our ways for the better.

The Mighty Snowman Trek

Hikers crossing a river on the Snowman Trek in Bhutan.

But the path isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Happiness isn’t found in a mountain spa. This October, we’ll travel through stunning Himalayan vistas on the Bhutan Snowman Trek, a trek widely considered one of the hardest in the world. It’s often referred to as the “Mount Everest of Hiking” given that more people reach that iconic summit than complete this journey each year. 

And with good reason! The Snowman is a high-altitude grind, I mean, er, adventure! Requiring mental and physical stamina. A healthy respect for cold and wet weather. And the kind of endurance most of us need to dig deep to find. We’ll walk:

  • A trail along the spine of the Himalaya between Bhutan and Tibet
  • About 349 km (217 miles) on rugged, often muddy terrain
  • Crossing high-altitude pass­es among 22,966-foot / 7,000-metre peaks 
  • While exploring the most remote region of Bhutan. 
Bhutan gallery - mountains and monastery

Success rates for completion are pegged around 50%. 

We will push our bodies and our minds to places they haven’t been before— both literally and metaphorically. It’s going to kick our asses! But we know it will be worth it. We know we’ll come out the other side with a better appreciation of who we are, what we can achieve, and what Happiness really is… Then, we’ll share it with you through our documentary.

Serendipity Comes Knocking

Hiking the Snowman has long been a dream of Sam’s but until recently, she was convinced it would remain one of those lofty vision board ideas. That is, until serendipity showed up and whispered in her ear: “Hey Sam—didn’t Bhutan open its doors in 1974? That means you’re both having a 50th this year! And isn’t your all-round favourite backpack company also celebrating 50? 

Indeed. With the stars aligning, Sam reached out to the maker of said kick-ass backpacks (Osprey) and shared the idea to partner both in celebration of all this wild serendipity and in the launching of a broader vision to address the state of women’s mental health today. 

Osprey, Samantha Plavins, and Bhutan opening up to the West all happened in 1974

Kendra and Sam are grateful to their friends at Osprey who believe wholeheartedly in the film and have generously come on board as Title Sponsor, helping to fund 1/3 of the $28,900 USD project. As adventurers and loyal fans of this internationally renowned brand, they could not be more stoked! It’s a very big deal to have this kind of buy-in.

Your Support Means the World!

We are feisty, independent, go-getter women. Both of us are investing our own time, money, and energy to make this project the success we know it can be. Through the generous support of our backers, our Kickstarter Campaign reached 100% funding in less than 48 hours! We set out to raise $7,000 CAD to help us overcome the financial (and bureaucratic) burden of obtaining the Bhutanese Film Permitand our generous backers helped us shatter that goal!

The Bhutanese care deeply about intrusive and gratuitous filming of their land and people. As such, they carefully screen who they allow in to capture footage and what’s more, they review the finished project before it is rubber-stamped to go out into the wider world.

Our film would not be green-lit without securing this permit! 

We continue to seek partnerships from other aligned outdoor brands, focussing predominantly on women-owned and operated. We invite you to join us if you’d like to support our bold vision. Please reach out HERE if you’d like to help in any capacity.

Here is a breakdown of the bulk of the costs to bring this vision to life:

What is Happy? Documentary project costs breakdown.

Other ways you can help!

ENGAGE: Our mugs will be all over social media during the campaign. You can help by boosting our posts through comments, likes, and most especially by reposting them and replying to the comments. We hope to go viral and reach as many people as possible!

SHARE: Use #whatisHAPPYfilm hashtag on social media to help spread the word and tell everyone you know!

We intend to submit this film to some of the larger international film festivals, as we believe STRONGLY in the messaging, anticipated content and overall impact it can have on society. There is also a significant void in the “internets” on authentic storytelling along the challenging Snowman Trek. It simply is that demanding of a hike, and the film permit often stymies would-be content creators from putting anything professional together. 

What is Happy? Banner for upcoming documentary by Kendra Slagter

With your help, Kendra and I will shoot hours of digital footage as we hike along one of the hardest mountain trails in the world, The Bhutan Snowman, in search of enlightenment.  

We’ll travel to Bhutan, the country that measures Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product, and talk to a wide range of Bhutanese people to hear what they believe is important in life. 

If you or a woman you love— your mother, your sister, your daughter, your friend—have been affected by mental health issues, please, support our What is Happy? film by following our journey, subscribing to our social channels and inquiring about financial backing.

Then please reach out to the women in your life and let them know you’re there for them, anytime they need it. It’s amazing how powerful this small gesture can be.

Thank you for your support!

Meet Kendra

Kendra Slagter is an adventurer hailing from Ontario, Canada. As a Freelance Outdoor Adventure Writer, Photographer, & Filmmaker, Kendra’s passion for crafting captivating narratives seamlessly intertwines with her love for long-distance hiking and exploration. Beyond the thrill of adventure, Kendra’s mission transcends the screen, aiming to create stories and films that not only mesmerize a diverse audience but also contribute value, foster community, and ignite a call to action. When Kendra’s not dreaming up her next adventure film, she’s typically taking to the trails alongside her dad or exploring a new country with her partner Marcelo. 

Kendra Slagter, Freelance Outdoor Adventure Writer, Photographer, and Filmmaker.

Meet Sam

Sam Plavins is a Canadian adventurer, entrepreneur and staunch advocate for taking back lost time. A former workaholic, she set out in 2019 to walk all 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago, where she had the epiphany that her career in finance was killing her. So, she decided to follow a new path and launched She Walks the Walk in 2020. Sam helps women rediscover themselves through her Global Walking Adventures. She urges you to step off that treadmill, because life is NOW. Not in some fantasy future. She’s lead her clients on epic journeys to Norway, Tanzania, Guatemala and Jordan. When not adventuring, Sam is typically looking for her lost phone or dispensing unsolicited advice to her daughters. 

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