The screenplay by Steven Conrad is based on the best-selling memoir written by Gardner with Quincy Troupe.
The film was released on December 15, 2006, by Columbia Pictures. For his performance, Will Smith was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Actor.
Chris Gardner realized his story had Hollywood potential after an overwhelming national response to an interview he did with 20/20 in January 2002. He published his autobiography on May 23, 2006, and later became an associate producer for the film. The unusual spelling of the film's title comes from a sign Gardner saw when he was homeless. In the film, "happiness" is misspelled (as "happyness") outside the daycare facility Gardner's son attends.
The movie took some liberties with Gardner's true life story. Certain details and events that actually took place over the span of several years were compressed into a relatively short time and although eight-year-old Jaden portrayed Chris Jr. as a five year-old, Gardner's son was just a toddler at the time.
Chris Gardner reportedly thought Smith, an actor best known for his performances in action movies, was miscast to play him. However, he said his daughter Jacintha "set him straight" by saying, "If Smith can play Muhammad Ali, he can play you!"
Gardner makes a cameo appearance in the film, walking past Will and Jaden in the final scene. Gardner and Will acknowledge each other; Will then looks back at Gardner walking away as his son proceeds to tell him knock knock jokes.