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Indigo’s No. 1 toy this holiday season is the Poopsie Slime Surprise Unicorn. The toy kit, which sells for $79.95, comes with a “surprise unicorn” (there are four in total, you don’t know which one you get until the kit is opened, you might get Rainbow Brightstar or Oopsie Starlight, for instance), food, magic and sparkle packets, and various unicorn accoutrements (a bottle for feeding, clothes for the magical beast, a hair brush for its mane). Oh, and it comes with a toilet – sorry, a “glitter potty.” The point of Poopsie, you see, is to feed her so that she poops out sparkly slime, which can then be played with.

Indigo's No. 1 toy this holiday season.

“Indigo continues to sell, and sell out of, unicorn-themed products,” a spokesperson for the company says. Search “unicorn” on the company’s online shop and just shy of 1,500 items come up. Poopsie may not be the toy we think we want this Christmas season, but she’s the toy we need: something so utterly ridiculous, over the top and inane that you can’t help but laugh about it.

Frankly, we could use a bit of cheer. While Canada ranks seventh on 2018‘s World Happiness Report issued by the United Nations, it’s forgivable to think our national mood was much more sour. After all, it’s been a year: from the sexual-assault trials of Bill Cosby and Larry Nassar (to name just two) to B.C.’s wildfires and the summer’s deadly heatwave in Eastern Canada; from Donald Trump toying with world order and Doug Ford inserting himself into Toronto’s municipal election to privacy breaches at Facebook and a panic-inducing climate change report from the UN.

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“It’s probably true, when there’s a lot of negativity about, that it’s a lot harder to sustain your happiness,” says John Helliwell, one of the editors of the World Happiness Report, senior fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver School of Economics. “You have to be a little more deliberate about crowding out what’s not so central to your life but is nonetheless negative. To live in a general air of bad news of one kind or another, even if it’s someone else’s bad news, probably requires more thinking to keep your own life on track and to keep you thinking about improving life for others.”

So, how do you get out from under the weight of oppressive bad news? In a recent episode of the Baroness von Sketch Show, a patient tells her psychiatrist she feels overwhelmed by world affairs. The doctor calls these “the Garbage Times” and prescribes a Netflix marathon of a “gentle, cooking-based reality show” (I recommend Nailed It!). The women sigh in relief after watching a scene from the show.

This isn’t so far off from what Helliwell’s peer Ed Diener, also known as “Dr. Happiness,” calls an “intervention” for happiness and improved well-being. Diener has researched several listing and labelling interventions one can use to steer oneself toward happiness, Helliwell explains. “Identifying your strengths, counting your daily blessings, recognizing other people’s kindness and listing values and goals,” he says. “The idea there is that when you think about things and make them explicit, you’re more likely to pay attention to them.” For some, the ability to binge on a mindless television show is a daily blessing.

There are also social determinants that can affect mood, such as altruism, forgiveness and social interactions. The latter may be why pop-up experiences such as Happy Place, an interactive exhibition filled with colourful installations and themed rooms including a giant ball pit that sits under an inflated rainbow, are finding success (well, that and Instagram). Happy Place has appeared in Los Angeles and Chicago and arrived in Toronto in October.

Happy Place arrived in Toronto in October with colourful installations and themed rooms including a giant ball pit under an inflated rainbow.

Melissa Tait

“Our inspiration for Happy Place was to create a space where we are surrounded with all things happy and able to forget our problems for at least an hour,” says Jared Paul, the exhibition’s founder. Admittedly, some aren’t happy about the $32.50 price tag for a visit.

When I describe Happy Place to Helliwell, he laughs. “Well, obviously, the ‘happy place’ that is set up by the neighbourhood and for the neighbourhood, as in Halloween block parties where they welcome other people, they’re much preferable for creating happiness, both for the people who provide the bouncing toys and for the people who use them,” he says. “Once it starts getting to be part of a money-making venture, it doesn’t create the same good feeling in any of the parties.”

Still, he finds some merit in the initiative. “You might well find that this will have some positive spinoffs in that people notice how much these possibilities for getting kids together to let their hair down and play together in a friendly environment is something that they can copy in their own ways and in their own places without having to put up a paywall.”

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As we head into the holidays, combine the season’s hopefulness with whatever interventions work for you as a mood boost, even (or especially) if they come in the form of magical pooping unicorns.

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