Body Worlds: The Anatomy of Happiness

By Marianne Salza

Joy originates within us in Running Subway’s educational exhibition, “Body Worlds: The Anatomy of Happiness,” on display in its North American premiere at the Back Bay Hub. Preserved, human specimens and organs called plastinates, as well as interactive screens intrigue visitors, inviting them to learn how the emotion of happiness can influence the human body. “’Body Worlds’ is an exhibition about life and helping people understand what makes us human,” described Doctor Angelina Whalley, Director of the Institute for Plastination. “We have our bodies with us all our lives, but the lay person doesn’t have a chance to see what we are made of.” “Body Worlds” presents medical findings about the influence of happiness on one’s body and mind, and how positive or negative emotions impact the entire body. “Without your body, you couldn’t feel happiness because it’s generated inside of you. There is a stimulus and certain brain structures that expel neurotransmitters that make you feel happy or distressed,” Dr. Whalley explained. “These neurotransmitters are expelled into the blood stream and effect everywhere.” Doctor Whalley summarized that happiness is determined by one’s genes, circumstances, and actions; and designed the exhibition as a learning and emotional experience through the perspectives of anatomy. “On average, happy people will live longer, compared to others,” said Dr. Whalley. “There are good reasons to have a better understanding of what emotions do with our bodies. Everything comes from inside, and everything we do or don’t do has an effect on us.” According to Dr. Whalley, research indicates that people who are more frequently happy are more satisfied with their lives and less likely to experience heart infection or be afflicted with diabetes, cancer, or autoimmune diseases. She hopes that “Body Worlds” conveys the theme that individuals are the masters of their well-being. “I enjoy life,” asserted Dr. Whalley, whose healthy, balanced lifestyle includes flamenco dancing. “Optimism is important in staying healthy.” Research indicates that longevity is achieved with exercise, continued learning, spending time in nature, feeling purposeful, having a nutritious diet, and an abundance of laughter. The exhibition is separated by body systems, such as the nervous, locomotive, cardiovascular, reproductive, and respiratory, with organs on display to explain bodily functions. Complex specimens reveal the health effects of obesity, diseases, alcohol and tobacco consumption, as well as the mechanisms of hip and joint replacements. Full body specimens — in dynamic poses like playing soccer and guitar — allow audiences to examine muscles beneath the skin. “We like posing our specimens in life-like, dramatic poses,” described Dr. Whalley. “If we want to address lay people, then the specimen needs to fulfill an additional quality, not just the scientific part of it. Therefore, the specimens are in life-like positions. We make sure the pose resonates with the anatomical message.” “Body Worlds” is a unique showcase that displays specimens that were donated specifically for plastination by individuals during their lifetime. The bodies and organs are preserved by the technique invented by anatomist, Doctor Gunther von Hagens, in 1977 at the University of Heidelberg, in Germany. “We have a great team working with us in Germany at the Institute for Plastination. We have around 60 people working with us just in the huge laboratory,” said Dr. Whalley. “I’m sure these specimens will ‘live’ longer than the mummies because the water is replaced. Life is not only dependent on water; so is decay. The water is replaced, so there is no decay.” Doctor Whalley, wife of Dr. von Hagens, has been curating “Body Worlds” since its inception in 1995, when the traveling exhibit first displayed in Tokyo. Since then, “Body Worlds” has been presented in 154 cities throughout Asia, Europe, the Americas, Australasia, and Africa. Doctor Whalley graduated from Heidelberg University, Germany, intending to become a surgeon; but while continuing her studies in anatomy, she met her husband, Dr. von Hagens, and her career path changed. She worked in anatomy and pathology for several years in Germany before dedicating herself to the study of plastination. View Body Worlds: The Anatomy of Happiness at the Back Bay Hub, 343 Newbury Street, Boston, now through January 9, 2024. Visit to purchase tickets online or learn more. “My hope for ‘Body Worlds’ is that people leave this exhibition inspired. I’m a physician and feel most rewarded when people have a better understanding of their bodily needs,” said Dr. Whalley. “I know from experience that it helps them make better choices. If you understand intellectually, it won’t make a difference; but once you are touched, that makes a difference.”

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