What’s most surprising about Stefan Sagmeister’s The Happy Show, on display in Paris, is the earnest way the mostly young visitors look at the exhibition. Plenty of merriment on view, but hip Parisians take it all deadly seriously.

The Happy Show offers an overview of the study of happiness that Sagmeister has been working on for some years, and much of the material will be familiar to everybody who has heard the New York-based Austrian designer speak over the past decade. The exhibition features all those playful visualizations made by Sagmeister over the years from the aphorisms on his ‘Things I’ve learned so far’ list.

What’s more, just as he previously did in Philadelphia, Toronto and Los Angeles, he has made the most of the available space in La Gaité Lyrique, a theatre that’s been converted into a cultural centre, close to Place de la République. Nobody but the celebrated designer himself wrote the explanatory texts on the walls — and in French, a language he has little grasp of.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a long wall of big infographics about various facets of happiness, based on the findings of prominent psychologists and other scientists. To these, Sagmeister has added cheerful handwritten observations with a playful wink. Alas, the devout public scarcely seems to get them.

As Sagmeister notes is the attached short film, visitors will not become any happier just by viewing this exhibition, in the same way that they won’t get any thinner just by looking at a health club.

For happiness also requires training, and Sagmeister presents us with a disarming illustration of that in the first 12 minutes of The Happy Film he is currently working on. In it we see the designer as he tries to carry out a self-imposed assignment: get the telephone number from a random woman at a market. And the shy Austrian gets a huge boost when he eventually elicits a response from just one woman.

All the same, the exhibition design, the maker’s remarks and the occasionally astounding films can be a source of happiness for those who are alive to it. But young Parisians are evidently in need of a little training in this area.

The Happy Show, until 9 March 2014

La Gaité Lyrique

3 bis rue Papin

75003 Paris