Beauty as a Force For Change




The Global Climate Summit in Paris was followed by a breath-taking light of show of Louie Schwartzberg’s work projected upon the greater-than-life exterior of the Vatican in Rome.


Project Happiness Founder and CEO, Randy Taran, recently had the opportunity to chat with award winning cinematographer, Louie Schwartzberg, about happiness, purpose and opening up to the beauty of life.


Here is the transcript of that interview about Beauty as A Force for Change:


Randy Taran (RT): Louie, such a pleasure to be talking with you. Your Gratitude Revealed series is so compelling. One of the first things that struck me –in your mindfulness episode, you described that state as “being present always, ready for the light to strike, without preconceived notion or judgment.” Sounds kind of like a metaphor for your work.


Louie Schwartzberg (LS): Yeah, well, that’s what I’ve learned…that the art of filmmaking has become practice for me as meditation might be for some people, or yoga, because basically what I’m doing is I’m allowing my mind to be like film – and what a beautiful metaphor. Here is film sitting in the camera like total darkness, always in this state of readiness for light to strike, without any preconceived notions or ideas about subject matter, wide open to whatever comes in, and always in a state of conscious awareness, but with a blank slate. So, no preconceived ideas, no prejudgments, no attitude about being a know-it-all, but more in a sense of wonder and curiosity.


RT: Yes, that’s beautiful, and that allows you to do the profound work that you do…


LS: I think it enables me or anyone to basically connect with the deepest part of your soul because you are recognizing and identifying yourself with universal rhythms and patterns, which is what nature shares with you… like looking at the veins going through a leaf, or the veins going through your body. Those patterns and rhythms are synonymous throughout the universe, and they’re also happening inside of every cellular body, so you get that connection. You’re looking at something and recognize it as being real, truthful, authentic, and, guess what, it happens to be a part of you.


RT: Yes, just like we are a part of nature and something greater.


LS: Right, which is why I’ve been using my imagery as a bridge, not as an end-all necessarily, to get people to appreciate and experience nature. I’m using – I call it – visual healing, whether it can be used either in hospitals or in schools or on your i-Phone, to have a two-minute experience, like the short videos we did for Gratitude Revealed. I think that it’s one way to share that wisdom and sacred knowledge that we have become disconnected from, and so, that’s the gift I’m trying to share with people, because we don’t always have access – we’ve become disconnected and have forgotten that prior to the industrial revolution, everybody was living in nature.


…I think we need to reconnect, not totally, but at least a little bit, and now we have scientific evidence, that proves that, you know, a walk in the woods reduces your stress, lowers your heart rate, promotes creativity, better thinking, lower blood pressure. I mean, we kind of knew all this stuff before, but now we can actually measure it.


RT: How does nature change people?


LS: I’ve worked with the Nature Bridge program which brought over a million kids to national parks, children who grow up in inner city who are marginalized, and have never been to nature, kids in South Central LA have never been to the ocean. And so, they have a lot of fear, anxiety, and after a three-day trip in a national park with their friends, they are completely changed forever, and their attitude to, not only nature, but to life is totally changed. All it takes, I believe, is an immersive experience in nature, and I think it can happen overnight.


RT: And awe plays a really big role in your work – can you speak about awe as well?


LS: Well, I think – I mean, for me – awe is a glimpse, or portal, into the divine, and we all have a desire to be connected to that, and, whatever religion or practice one does, we all want to feel connected to a universal energy that’s about love, right?


RT: Right, right!


LS: So, it doesn’t matter what pathway it takes, or what your belief system is, or what the story is. We just want to feel it. And that sense of awe, for me, happens when I recognize something of extraordinary beauty in filming nature, whether it’s a flower, a hummingbird, a landscape. It could be, for many people, listening to a beautiful piece of music, or eating a delicious fresh-baked muffin, or practicing your religion. But, here’s, I think, the interesting part: in the videos I have online, most people say “Oh my God, it’s beautiful.” What is important is feeling the divine, is to be moved. It doesn’t matter how you get there. If it’s walking into a cathedral, wonderful. Walking into Yosemite, awesome. We all want to feel that in the moment, in the present moment. And we don’t have to argue about how we got there.


RT: What has been one of your most memorable experiences in filmmaking or even in creating the Gratitude Revealed Series? What stands out for you in your mind?


LS: Well, the most recent, amazing, emotional experience I have, I guess, – you know, your recent history is what you remember first – we recently had the honor to project some of my nature imagery on the Vatican during the Climate Summit in Paris to support the popes and cyclical saying we need to protect the earth. Wow, to see my images of flowers and birds and bees and mushrooms on the Vatican, oh my God, because then you see I’m crossing over into that more traditional form of belief, which is fine, and we certainly are grateful that we have a pope who is more enlightened and to be able to share the love and shine light on ane43f2d71115624ecdc0a16becf24380c institution that has not always been very imagesopen-minded. For me personally, this meant a lot because, as my parents are Holocaust survivors. Who would have thought that in one generation, the son of a Holocaust survivor would be shining light on the Vatican…

vaticanc4cfiRT: Well, I can feel one thing, is that your parents must be very proud of you, Louie, for what you’ve done…


LS: Well, I think so. They’re up somewhere. I mean, I’ve got survivor DNA, and what’s fascinating is that though my parents went through an amazingly horrific experience, they still had love in their life, and they still had joy and love that they shared with their children. And then, I know many psychologists now are trying to understand and study why is it that some people have the ability to bounce back better than others, which is called resilience. We all have bad things happen in our lives. I rolled through a stop sign this morning, and it’s okay, but for some people that could ruin their whole day. And it’s just being able to look at things differently and just bounce back. We’re all going to have bad things happen. Unexpected things, and people who are more centered, whether they meditate or whether they have that connection with nature, I think we bounce back a lot faster.


RT: Speaking of bouncing back, how do you define happiness?


LS: Wow, for me I think happiness means fulfilling my purpose in life. It’s not about being smiley or jumping up and down and certainly not buying anything that’s material. I was certainly overjoyed yesterday when I did my presentation at Big Sur – I felt the reaction from the audience with the applause and with tears. Because I feel like I’m sharing nature’s energy with them, so, it’s also interesting too, in the Gratitude Series, one of the ones we did was on “Purpose” and one of the scientific research findings has discovered that people who have purpose live longer. So, yeah, for me, doing my film and being able to share it with people, being able to share this interview with you, that makes me happy.



RT: If you were not the brilliant cinematographer that you are, is there a natural talent that you wish you were born with?


LS: Oh wow, I think being able to create music. I’m just blown away that people can sit down with a musical instrument and just play, not play by looking at a score sheet, but just play. That just blows my mind.


RT: Well, in a sense, the ideal is for everyone to play their own instrument, whatever that may be, right?


LS: Yeah, right. I’m just in awe that people can do that…like where did that come from? And that’s what I guess we’re all trying to do too. When you have found your instrument, how do you get into the flow? It’s like you’re the creator. It’s you allowing that creative energy to pass through you. And that’s true, you can hear it with great musicians, you can here it with even sports guys talk about it, about being in the zone, being in the flow. That’s what makes a Kobe Bryant a Kobe Bryant, you know what I mean? That he has just completely let go and is able to channel something that enables him to achieve perfection.


RT: Yeah, it’s an ideal state, it’s, personally, when I feel that, it’s where I want to live, you know?


LS: Exactly. That’s another maybe definition of happiness.


RT: Yeah! Yeah, it is, I think that’s definitely part of mine. You mentioned, I think in one of your recent films that we’re on the threshold of extraordinary advances born of our drive to unveil the mysteries of life. Can you say more?


LS: Yeah, I think we’re in an incredible time and place where we’re seeing both breakdown and breakthrough. Breakdown of government, economic systems, economy that isn’t working clearly, you know? But at the same time we have amazing solutions being offered by creativity and technology. Now we have scientific tools and evidence that can actually measure things like happiness and longevity, the healing power of nature, how wonder enables creativity, which enables better business practices. We have data that we can measure it and prove what poets and artists have known for thousands of years, like love makes the world go round.


RT: Right along with the simple things our grandmothers told us! Count your blessings…


LS: Exactly, right, so it’s in literature, it’s in poetry, it’s in art that goes back for thousands of years but it’s kind of interesting now because we can measure it. When you’re in the zone, when you’re in nature, when you’re in love, guess what, we have endorphins that are being released and oxytocin and all these hormones that are traveling through your body, which is great that we understand it from a western scientific point of view; but we always felt it in our hearts. We need to use our hearts to take advantage of the technological solutions that are present, use things in the positive way, not to control your life, but use it in ways to enhance your life. That’s what I’m doing with Moving Art: creating these little video shorts that people can watch or…meditate with. There are ways we can use this technology in a positive way.


RT: Take your time-lapse photography – doesn’t it change people watching it? Would you say that people somehow slow down when they’re watching a flower bloom?


LS: Well, what certainly is happening is that I’m breaking the constraints of how people are viewing life, I’m opening up your worldview. We have a very narrow world view, when we look at things from the human perspective, our life being at a certain metabolic rate, at a certain age range… When you look at a flower, it may only be opening up for a week, and then it’s going to die. Same thing is true with looking at a redwood tree looking at us. It lives 500 to 1,000 years and we’re just like here for a flash, so when you’re opening up this dimension of time, it’s almost like a dream state. It broadens your horizons, it opens up your worldview. It makes you realize that our concept of time is an illusion, that this wristwatch is only a click-click linear thing, a mechanical device that is not really the definition of time.


There are so many experiential portals of time that we need to be aware of. It’s kind of like when you’re playing the piano, a human being is only playing one octave. Well, guess what? There’s eight octaves above it and below it. You only see one narrow spectrum of light – the colored light spectrum – but there are wavelengths of energy above and below it – x-ray, gamma ray, ultraviolet, infrared – just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there, and just because we don’t see a flower open and close doesn’t mean it’s not moving.


So, I’m able to show people – not talk about it, but literally show people – what it’s like to be a hummingbird and what it’s like to be a flower from their point of view. And what that does is it opens up your heart. It does. I love the fact that the most common phrase I get is “Oh my God”, which is great because what does “oh my god” mean? The “oh” means it makes you present, the “my” means it touches the deepest part of your soul, and “god” is that universal connection we all want to be a part of.


RT: And it connects us to the mystery of life.


LS: And that’s really important to – I’m glad you said that word, the mystery – because that’s what I’m trying to do, is unveil the mystery of life and I don’t think there’s an answer. There’ll never be an answer. That’s the point. We’re on the journey. When they asked Einstein the mission of God, he said it’s a sense of wonder, so embrace the mystery. That to me is what I’m trying to do and that’s what I’m trying to share with people.


RT: That’s beautiful and much needed. If you wanted to share some words of wisdom with others, what are three things you would want to say?


LS: I’d say, especially with young people too, find your passion and follow your passion. That way you have meaning in your life and you’re serving a purpose for the greater good, and that will make you happy and very fulfilled. I think that’s the most important and I would say. In addition to that, live in harmony with nature, which, when you do that that also means the choices you make, what you eat, the energy that you use, the way you relate to people, it’s all about harmony, nature’s all about harmony. It’s all about symbiotic relationships and so, if you do that, and actually the same thing is said in the bible “do unto others as you would do unto yourself” right?


RT: Right.


LS: That is the essence of nature. Every ecosystem wants to flourish, and it flourishes by not being greedy, by not taking advantage of each other. Because, when one aspect dies, it affects everybody. So, for an ecosystem to work well, everybody has to work well, everybody has to flourish, everybody lives in harmony. So: find your passion, live in harmony, and then the golden rule: “do unto others as you do unto yourself.” Thank you so much for this really profound and sacred interview.


RT: Thank you, Louie. I’m so happy to share your amazing work.


Make sure to check out this video documenting the breath-taking light of show of Louie Schwartzberg’s work projected upon the greater-than-life exterior of the Vatican in Rome:



How to Expand Your International Day of Happiness All Year Long

IMG_0518 (2)This year, you have a choice. Though International Day of Happiness is a great excuse to celebrate happiness one day a year, why not use the day to kick-start your happiest year ever?

Sounds good so far, but the question is how? Well, the truth is that happiness looks different for everyone, both locally and globally. The Project Happiness team was recently invited by ReThink, Trinidad, to visit Guyana to hold a training on happiness and emotional resiliency. With Her Excellence, Sandra Grainger (the first lady of Guyana)’s support and attendance, the training was held in the Ministry of Education with 70+ teachers, public health personnel, social workers, and national administration. Having recently been identified as the country with the highest suicide rate per capita in the world, the Guyanese we met welcomed tools to create a positive impact and seed hope in their community. At the end of our time together, the participants reported feeling uplifted, energized and excited to implement what they had discovered.

Here are some inspirations from that trip to help you get your happiness in gear:

1. Start with Respect:

Emotions are like a boomerang; what you send out comes back to you. If you treat others with respect, chances are they will respond in kind. When we first got to the country, it was unclear if we were going to be regarded as just another organization trying to impose our “solutions.” When they understood that we were there to share ideas and actually learn from one another, it changed the tone to one of sincere communication. Self-respect was another aspect. In these all-too-busy times, we shared that it’s important to respect yourself too! This includes your time, your energy, and even your inner voice. It all matters.

2. Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes:

In order to have a real conversation with anyone, it helps to know what they are dealing with now and what challenges they have faced. In Georgetown, Guyana’s capital, there had just been a riot in the local prison, and it was burnt to the ground. Many people were enraged. Yet, the First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Grainger, who attended part of the training, spoke of empathy. “These men were someone’s son, or brother or friend. You never know what had happened to put them in that place, or what hardships they had to deal with.” Everyone was touched. The takeaway: even though we may come from different experiences, it is important to consider what lies beneath the surface. Empathy can go a long way.

3. Adults Like to Play Too:

Who said fun was limited to children? Research has shown that play is one of the best ways to recharge, restore and jumpstart creativity. Especially when times are tough, find ways to lift one another up and laugh. Music and dance are universal elixirs. When we asked the group to get up and break out into a happy dance, the enthusiasm was palpable. One of the fastest ways to shift out of a bad mood is to shake it! Music crosses all boundaries – let it be your fuel.

4. The Power of a Circle:

A highly effective strategy to bounce back from stress is to show and receive gratitude or appreciation. In Guyana, we had participants form appreciation circles of about 10 people each. They had to tell the person on their right, one thing that they appreciated about them: something that involved their character rather than their clothes. It was one of the most popular activities, so much so that we did another one at the end. People were laughing, crying, hugging… and opening up to their strengths. If you are interested in knowing more about the power of circles or starting one yourself, learn more here.

5. To Feel Good, Do Good:

There have been many studies that show that people who give to others end up being happier. Not only do we feel a greater sense of meaning, but this actually promotes long term happiness. Connecting to others is also something we are wired to do – we all seek to be part of something greater. When we offered the participants the chance to become a Happiness Ambassador, to help bridge the latest in the science of happiness for people in all walks of life, you could have heard a pin drop. The idea of working with them, to tailor our programs to be sensitive to the specific needs within the community, was much appreciated – it’s back to that respect thing… If this strikes an “AHA” chord in you, you can also learn more about bringing this movement for global well-being to your corner of the globe.

At the end of the day, well-being is not rocket science. It’s the simple day-to-day habits that we intentionally do that shape our brains to receive greater happiness. International Day of Happiness is just a reminder of all the resources you already have inside of you. Choose to use them, and better yet, share your gifts with others all year round.

Interview with Hector Estrada, Happiness Role Model

Hector and RandyHector Estrada is a true Agent of Happiness. Born in Mexico, he arrived in the United States with only a dream. He wanted to express his authentic self and create beauty. Against all odds, he started a life and step by step gained confidence, skills and a community. From the start he gave back, through volunteering. Dealing with his own early trauma and challenges only strengthened his desire to be there for others.


We are grateful to Hector for his passion to spread the message that everyone deserves happiness and that his new line of hair products which is helping support our programs in the U.S and globally.


Below is a transcript of Randy’s conversation with Hector about the launch of his new product line, the proceeds of which will benefit Project Happiness.



Randy Taran (RT): Hector this is such an exciting time. It seems like yesterday we were just talking about your hair product line and now they are here… so beautiful! What gave you the inspiration?


Hector Estrada (HE): My inspiration about the shampoo is simplicity, in design and in how you live your life, and elegance, which is about creativity and quality, and saving.


RT: Saving?


HE: Saving… since I was a child, I learned, to do more with less. I really want to dedicate these shampoos to my mother. She had 6 children, was a single mom with lots of stress, worrying, and she was always working hard for her kids. She never had time to take care of herself; she never was able to educate herself. I always wanted to work in beauty, and also to help educate people…because my family never had these opportunities. And now, I have my career that I love so much, and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to help Project Happiness educate so many people. This is my life that I am living now.


RT: What was it like – the relationship with your mother?


HE: When I was a teenager, she really did not know who I was. She was afraid for me to go out into the world and to be a hairdresser, and openly gay – she was so afraid that I would be hurt in the world. We didn’t really communicate much because she didn’t have the skills and I didn’t know how; I was too young.


RT: Recently your mom passed away, much too early from cancer. What did this whole experience open up for you?


HE: I couldn’t understand how it happened – I think that part of why my mother got cancer was so much stress, she didn’t eat well, she didn’t look after herself, she didn’t know how to be happy, she had no one to teach her about these things.


RT: Maybe that’s partly why it’s important to you. You really live these ideas of being a positive person, cultivating well-being, and being healthy mentally and physically. These are also the foundations of Project Happiness. So, what are some things that help you?




HE: The first thing when I wake up in the morning I drink hot water and lemon and honey, every single morning. I also feel grateful to have life, and also for what I already have in my life. This is the first thing I bring to my body and to my mind.


RT: What kind of food gives you vitality?


HE: I carefully select all my food, and everything has to be simple. After I drink the hot water, I run, do yoga or exercise. Then when I finish, I make a big smoothies – I put broccoli, spinach, half an apple, orange and I put in my blender, and I drink it every single morning. Then I make my oatmeal with almond milk and a little honey. This is my breakfast.


RT: And that keep’s you going?


HE: Yes! I make my own food, organic of course, I shop at Rainbow, one of my favorite places in San Francisco. I like to buy local, I like to support San Francisco and California. Because, now I am American – this is my life, this is my country.

For dinner, which is early, I eat something very light – things like my grandma made when I was a kid back in our small town. Though I live in San Francisco now – a very sophisticated city – I’m back to eating the way my grandma taught me…very very simply.


RT: So keeping it simple in your food is a wonderful way to give you energy. But in this society, it can be very complicated and overwhelming for people to live simply. May be it’s the addiction to technology, maybe people feel more disconnected. What are your thoughts?


HE: I don’t want to be negative about technology. Technology is important in life, but it’s not everything. I choose not to have technology in my house, because it’s not necessary for me. I really decided to connect with myself first, and then later I can connect with toys.

I think people feel disconnected because they don’t listen to their bodies. If you can have discipline in the morning, like when you wake up, you can make a choice not to reach for your phone first thing. Give yourself 5 minutes and feel that you have life, that you are healthy. Then it becomes natural to put good things into your mind, and into your body.



RT: Absolutely – being mindful about the way you live your life… Waking up with and starting your day with gratitude can set the tone for your whole day – it is a powerful practice. You mentioned communication earlier – why is communication so important to you?


HE: When I first came to this country, I was very nervous and I was so afraid to live the way I was living. I was illegal in this country, and the reason I came was to be free, to have a better life and to help my family. I couldn’t express my feelings – I didn’t know where to start.. When I first came here, I had no one, I didn’t know what to do, but I went to a therapist, a lawyer, I talked with friends, and the doors started to open. Through communication, step-by-step, I found how to live the American dream. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to become successful, and I’ve always had a vision to bring education forward. You don’t have to be a teacher in University, but I can be a teacher in advising on how to have better communication


RT: Yes, this was the first step in opening the doors; if you kept it all inside, nothing would have happened. Emotions point us to what we need to pay attention to. Part of that is being true to yourself – being authentic.


HE: Being myself has been very important. It has brought me more happiness, freedom and creativity.



RT: What does creativity look like to you?


HE: I have been challenged all my life, since I was a little kid, and it has been creativity that has saved my life. I had every reason to be a drug addict or an alcoholic; I had a very difficult life. Even though I was on my own, I talked to myself – I was my own father, my own mother, my own friend. At one point in my life I was so scared, so sad, and angry, but I worked very hard, and people started to see my creativity, and they came to me and wanted to give me a hand to help me to get to the next level.

When I was little, one day my grandma, who saw that I was different, told me, “Hector, you should learn to work with your hands, because when you learn to work with your hands, you will have something you can take wherever you go.” That’s when I started to learn the importance of creativity. It’s very important for every single kid to know their strengths, and to experience creativity.


RT: In one way, creativity was like a lifeline; it guided your life and may have even saved it.


HE: Creativity saved my life – 100%. It gave me passion, love, a way to rise above my circumstances. All the negatives that I went through brought me… beauty.



RT: What is your hope for young people? From the moment we met, we shared that passion to give them a way to take charge of their happiness and make life better.


HE: I hope for young people to feel very authentic, free, to feel grateful, to be independent in the mind.


RT: In the mind… because success did not just appear without any work on your part – you developed positive habits in your mind, over the years. That is so important – it’s a big part of what we teach.


HE: When you have positive habits in your life: to be healthy, eat well, exercise, it influences your brain. For me, after 5pm, I don’t eat a lot, because I like to sleep, and it helps me to sleep. Before I go to bed, I drink natural teas, like ginger and mint – I buy my mint and I make my tea. It relaxes me, so I go to bed with a clear mind. My dreams tell me so many many things. Every morning when I wake up, I remember my dreams, because I am really connected.


RT: So speaking of dreams, what is the secret to making your dreams come true?


HE: To be connected with yourself, to be positive, to have connection with people, to have communication with people, and to be honest.


RT: Honest with yourself first.


HE: Yes, and then I can be honest with the world.


RT: What are some of the lessons you have learned in recent years?



HE: To have patience, to listen to yourself, and listen to those people who want the best for you, to look in people’s eyes, absorb everything, to be focused. You know, for many years I was hiding my emotions, my creativity, my life, myself…and this is the beautiful thing I learned in this country – to have patience.


RT: And you also had the courage to be authentic.


HE: Because I decided to develop an independent mind – to listen inside of me.


RT: So your intuition is quite strong – is that something that you cultivate?


HE: Yes, and I think everybody has it. But they need to discover it… by the thoughts they think and how they live their life. My recipe is Project Happiness – it works really well – believe me!




RT: We do talk about discovering your strengths and using them to help others! In your life, you give back so much. Why is that such an important part of who you are?


HE: It goes back to my own family. In the beginning my mother had no idea who I was –I was a teenager when I left home. She just knew that I was sending money to take care of my family. Later she discovered that I had my own salon, and I started my own line of hair products, and she told me, “Hector, I’m glad you did what you did, to be yourself and to be openly gay and follow your dreams. I see the way you have lived your life. Now I am sick, and I’m going to go away, and I feel so peaceful, the way I see you – you’re happy and you are doing amazing things for the family, and for people. That’s the only thing you are going to take when you go – that peace in life. “

And my mom, when she passed away, didn’t have anything. The only thing she had was her family and what she wanted to do was to bring us all together – that gives you so much peace in life. And that’s what I want in my life – when I leave, I want to go very peacefully. This is what I learned.


RT: That’s beautiful. Inner peace, emotional resiliency, giving back – is that partly why you are so passionate about working with heart stampProject Happiness?


HE: To me, Project Happiness is about communication and education. Any education you have is power in your life. I don’t believe in happiness all the time, because we are human beings. I do believe in being consistent in life. Project Happiness gives you the tools to be consistent, and how you can practice, exercise that part of you.



RT: That’s true for everyone, and I know you have a special place for teenagers too.


HE: The teenage years are difficult for every single person. It’s difficult time for the parents. Teenagers don’t want to listen to their parents, including myself, but they are open to listen to someone else. I feel that I can share my life, my own experiences with them, inspire them. I have big hope for teenagers and some advice:


  • To have better communication
  • To connect more with themselves before they connect with technology
  • To listen to those who see their potential
  • To tune in to the deepest part of themselves, and strengthen their minds
  • Education is power, and a key to freedom
  • To save money for the future, don’t waste it on stupid things. Buy things you need and buy quality, its about beauty elegance and simplicity.


RT: This is a good reminder for most people!


HE: And it has to do with why I’ve created my own line of hair products. Because I’m talking about freedom, beauty, simplicity, elegance, and education.

hector blog


RT: You embody Project Happiness – it’s the way you live your life, it’s what you infuse in your products and in every thing you do.


HE: Every bottle I sell gives a portion to Project Happiness. My vision is to give a lot of money to Project Happiness to bring this project to more people – universal. I feel very fortunate to be able to do this. Simplicity, just like caring, is a powerful force.






5 Reminders to Make it a Happy Thanksgiving

thanksgivingThanksgiving is my favorite holiday as it brings us back to the important things in life… and we’re not talking about cyberweek or Black Friday specials! This is a time to take in the moment, slow down and connect in ways that linger long after the table is cleared.

Here are five reminders that help me see give thanks at a whole new level:


1. Be grateful for the small stuff: The small stuff is actually the most important, like sharing a smile, savoring a good meal, having the grace to wake up another day, or simply saying I love you. The beauty of everyday life is present all the time if we just notice. Take regular gratitude breaks – it’s worth it.


2. Live as if this year was your last: Often we only appreciate something when it is threatened. We value our health when we get sick, we appreciate the charm of a house just before we sell it, and we remember meaningful conversations when the other person is no longer around. What if we could reverse that and feel gratitude right here and now? What if we could be thankful for what is present in front of us, even if it is not exactly what we had in mind?


3. Lessons all around: In Man’s Search for Meaning, author Victor Frankl explored how we cannot change what life presents; we can however choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances. When challenges shock the day-to-day as we know it, two questions are helpful. 1) What did I learn from this situation?How has it made me stronger?It can take some time, acceptance and inner stillness to even ask these questions. When we’re caught in the escalating tornado of emotions, it’s hard to have perspective. But by looking back, everything becomes clearer. Clarity gives birth to peace. Another aspect is self-compassion. Consider replacing “If I had only…” with “I did my best under the circumstances.” That’s part of the lesson, too.


4. The human condition: One of the things that blasts open our humanity is that we all have to deal with the hard stuff at one point or another. It doesn’t matter what country you live in, how much money is in the bank or what job you have — life happens. Some people get their lessons earlier, some experience suffering later on. In all cases, it cracks open our hearts to know a new level of compassion for others (as opposed to being pre-occupied with thoughts like “Why me?”). If we remember that it is not personal — dealing with challenges is just a part of life — then compassion, even for ourselves, will grow.


5. There is a bigger picture: We are all connected to something greater, however that is defined. We all have a purpose/assignment in life. Often, that is fulfilling on a deep level and can help others, too. Trust that there is a bigger plan at work, even if it may not be visible yet. Try tuning in. Carve out some quiet time. Listen for the clues and connect. Expressing your authentic self, kindness, love, understanding and forgiveness all open the gates of gratitude.


This Thanksgiving, I am viewing things in a new way. I have a renewed appreciation for the little everyday moments that remind me of all the good in my life. When I make time to notice, there are a lot! I hope it is the same for you.

3 Triggers Every Parent Needs to Know



“Help me — I feel alone, trapped and my options are down to zero.” There isn’t a week that goes by without hearing that another teen has attempted or “successfully” committed suicide. In my own neighborhood, there have been at least 14 deaths since 2009. Even one is too much.

Though the situations may appear different, they all share some common issues:



• Trying to fit in and belong

• The urgency to live authentically

• The idea of being “successful”



1. Trying to fit in and belong.

“If these children had knives in their hands, my daughter, Dara, would have been dead a long time ago.” The feelings of isolation can start early. In a relevant CBS piece called Words Can Kill Dara, age 13, remembers being targeted in school as young as 6 years old with messages like, “nobody likes you, you’re ugly.” By fourth grade, she faced verbal knock-out punches like, “Oh you’re in class — we hoped you were dead.”

By that time, no matter how much she wanted to fit in, the online bullying had started as well. In Dara’s words, “People start to tell you these things about you, and you think, ‘oh is that what people think about you?’ and then you start to believe it.” The Mean Girls/Boys Syndrome is not just a phase. It is reinforced every year and perpetuated by fearful beliefs, like “If I support the outcast, will I become the next victim?”

Problems escalate when intolerance for differences coexists with a tolerance for hate. Cyberbullying can and does drive kids to death. The intent of circulating cutting remarks or hurtful photos is blatantly to deliver harm. If a student brought a weapon to school, there would be an uproar. Yet, anonymous social media sites not only fan the flames of hate, they actually normalize it; that is one of the most disturbing parts.

Is your child experiencing what feels like a hate crime, and are authorities saying, “That’s just the way it is?”


2. The Urgency to Live Authentically.

The pressures to fit into a certain mold are very real, and those who are different in any way (the way they look, dress, sexual orientation, or even their creative pursuits) often find themselves tormented by bullies.

On the last day of the year, Leelah Alcorn felt that she could not find another way. Leelah, a 17 year old transgender who was trying to build an authentic identity, posted a suicide note, before she stepped in front of a tractor trailer near her home. She is not the only one. One survey states that more than 40 percent of all transgenders attempt suicide. Her message serves as a wakeup call for compassion and change. Leelah’s final words were, “There’s no winning. There’s no way out… My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year, my death needs to mean something… fix society.”

Is your child someone who fits in or is she/he an individual who has a unique perspective on life? Can you help them express their innate strengths, and defend their right to do so?


3. Defining “Success.”

The need to achieve is often tied in with the need to keep up or make others happy. At Stanford University, there is something called the “Stanford Duck Syndrome.” It suggests that on the surface, students look unruffled, like they are gliding along smoothly, but underneath, the truth is that many are paddling frantically just to stay afloat. Keeping up appearances, while drowning inside from the weight of that stress, is not just an issue in the Ivy’s. A total of 50.7 percent of college students felt overwhelming anxiety within the last year, according to a nationwide American College Health Assessment survey.

It starts from a young age. In many communities there is enormous pressure to not only to do well, but to be the best. Kids are brought up with the expectation that they must go to top schools; it’s part of their “identity” and what their parents are expecting. So, they are loaded with far too many AP classes and extracurricular activities, which may be of no personal interest at all, except to enhance their resume.

The idea of building on your own strengths, finding personal expression or even exploring subject areas that do not have a large enough ROI (resume optimizing impact) is often looked down upon or vetoed. Many kids go through their formative years as “performance generators” feeling like their most unique qualities are not recognized or valued by those closest to them.

Internally, kids often believe that if they let up or cannot keep up, their parents would be devastated. Even more insidious is that these young people can be even harder on themselves, feeling shame for not living up to expectations and hating themselves for not “succeeding.” That’s when the options begin to narrow.

What is your definition of success? At the end of the day, what do you really want for your child?


Parents Role

After yet another suicide in my neighborhood, on January 24th, one student writes:

“School is not the entire reason, but it is definitely a large contributor to our deteriorating health. Yes, mental disability can be a part, but just think for a moment on how and why it develops… Good God, the things you put us through. It’s AP classes, it’s SAT prep from day 1, it’s punishment for less than a 4.0 GPA, and it fuels the tears that put us to sleep at night while you rest soundly… Quit coddling each other about your fears and how sad it is to deal with us and actually talk to your kids. Listen to us. I get our future success is extremely important and supposedly vital in a society like ours, but why is our mental health and emotional stability less significant? …I am so, so angry…We cannot wait for change. We need it now.” [sic]

Cause and Effects

Suicides are often blamed on mental instability, and that can certainly be a factor. TheWorld Health Organization predicts that by 2020, depression will be the second largest cause of human suffering. That said, it’s time to question: what are thecultural conditions we’ve created which breed this instability, pressure cooker environment, perceived lack of options, and depression?


Basic Human Needs

All of these stories highlight the needs that every human being shares — to be accepted, to belong and to be loved. Band-aid approaches, like adding an extra counselor after the fact, cannot address the source of the problem. It is encouraging that there are other ways.

When my daughter was facing depression, I began a journey to find tools that could help others too. Working with educators, we created the Project Happiness social and emotional curriculum, which works at the root cause level. I have learned that preventative wellness and developing empathy are at least as important as math or history. Programs like this create the awareness, strategies and the emotional resilience so kids can have a history. I know that with a good foundation in these skills, the best is yet to come.

These core needs show up in families too. Both parents and their kids want to be feel respected by one another and also by their peers. But as parents, let’s consider finding our own feelings of accomplishment, not living through those of our kids. With all best intentions, instead of putting them in a mold, let’s help them be inspired by their talents, appreciate their passions, and pave the way for their potential to emerge. Let’s help them see past a fear-driven mindset. It’s not about being the best, it’s abouttrying your best. It’s not about test results, it’s about curiosity and the process of learning.

Consider: what beliefs are you holding about belonging, authenticity and success that are shaping your children’s futures? What are we really asking of our kids?


Choosing Love over Fear

Instead of succumbing to the fear of not being enough, let them know that they are loved just as they are. The sheer acceptance and support from a parent is more reassuring and motivating than any accomplishment could ever be. Help them understand that being kind to themselves makes them stronger and serves as an antidote to the hurt. Help them to not believe the voices of doubt and hate, wherever they come from. Help them discover that they are here for a reason, and there are always choices and options, no matter what.




7 Qualities of a Happy Mom



The saying goes that when Mom is happy, everyone’s happy. But in this busy world, where the ultimate luxury may be a full night’s sleep, here are seven qualities that help moms not only keep it together, but thrive. Which ones would you want to share with the favorite mom in your life?

1. Know your strengths: Happy moms recognize that “effortless perfection” is an outdated myth. Being real, authentic and present is way more fulfilling and meaningful, not to mention a much better model for your children. Focus on your strengths, and what makes you energized, not on what is “missing.”

2. De-stress: Time to de-stress is not a luxury — it is fuel for going the distance. Even a few minutes during a hectic day counts. Whether it’s through laughter, exercise, hobbies or meditation, it’s important to have a way to let go of stress. Take time to return to yourself. You and everyone around you will be happier!

3. Be gentle with yourself: Happy moms try to show compassion for themselves and to others. Mothers who, even inadvertently, put themselves down (I’m too fat, too overwhelmed, etc.) demonstrate that belief to their kids. We are all in the process of evolving. When you choose to be kind to yourself, as well as to others, it will inspire everyone around you to do the same.

4. Know when to say no: Happy mothers set healthy boundaries. This can look like prioritizing quality time with family or deciding not to take on another project that would drain all of your energy. Pleasing people, whether it is friends, relatives or colleagues, can lead to spreading yourself too thin — invest your time wisely.

5. Empower your children to help: Kids feel better when they are a contributing part of a team. Happy moms find creative ways to engage their children in helping out, whether that is assisting in putting together tomorrow’s lunch or feeding the pets. “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” ~ Anne Landers.

6. Find time for friends: Friends help you laugh at your troubles, listen when you want to talk, and remind you of who you are. Being a mother is but one of your roles; real friends help you keep your identity and perspective, and remind you to reach for your dreams.

7. Have an attitude of gratitude: Happy moms know that gratitude opens the doors of the heart. Try having everyone around the table talk about one thing they are grateful for in their lives as well as something they appreciate about the others there. “People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou




10 Things Creative People Do




Have you ever wondered why some people are more creative than others? Did you ever wish that you had more of that particular gene? The good news is that research shows that happiness and creativity are not only related, they can be developed. Here are 10 ways to jumpstart your creativity, starting now:


1. Listen In: Listen to your intuition and capture your new ideas. Whether from your morning shower, nighttime dreams, when running, in the car, or in nature, keep an idea notebook and jot it down.


2. Mind Your Mindset: When you start something new, you can either choose to put yourself down and succumb to the inner critic (fixed mindset) or enjoy the process of creation (growth mindset).


3. Get in the Flow: Focus on the moment rather than the goal. When you are totally immersed in a creative activity, when hours feel like moments, you open to tapping into something bigger than yourself. Let it flow through you.


4. Let Your Senses Come Alive: Notice not only how things look, but how they feel in your hand, how they smell, the sounds surrounding you, even the nuances of taste. Don’t forget to listen to your gut — that’s an important sense too!


5. Happiness Spurs Innovation: Sadness inhibits innovative ideas, causing people to exercise more restraint, but happiness expands creative thinking, fresh associations and new perspectives. Remember to take a break and make time for fun! You’ll come back refreshed.


6. Gratitude Rules: Being grateful for where you’re at and “taking in the good” helps sculpt your brain’s neural pathways to receive more of it. Imagine what you are creating. Like an athlete training for peak performance when you visualize something special, your can embody it even more.


7. Seek Out Challenging Tasks: Just for fun, challenge yourself with projects that don’t have solutions, like how to make a horse fly (no — we’re not talking unicorns) or build a perfect model of a part of the body. This opens the mind for all types of strategies, which helps generate fresh ideas.


8. Surround Yourself With Interesting People and Things: Spend time with diverse friends, listen to new music, see new exhibitions to broaden your horizons. Having unusual objects around you also helps you develop original ideas.


9. Learn Something New: By taking a class outside your typical area of interest, you can have a wider range of ideas to draw from and interconnect. Research shows that connecting in new ways is the basis for all creative thought.


10. Know Your Strengths and Passions: Get to know what makes your heart soar, what makes you feel most alive and energized, and use it as fuel for the creative process.


By nourishing your creative side, you’ll bring happiness not only to yourself but to those around you. You’ll also know what you had inside yourself all along. What do you do to tap into your creativity?


Need Inspiration?

Try Project Happiness’ new Do What Makes You AWEsome Challenge 

to tap into your creative flow today.



Is Happiness a Choice?


So far, over 2.5 million people have seen the post, over 25,000 have shared it and the comments just keep coming. What’s up? The cartoon says: “Every single day you make a choice.” It features a guy sitting on one side of the bus looking out the window at doom and gloom, and his expression matches this dark perspective; another passenger on the opposite side of the same bus is looking out the window focusing on sunny skies, and his outlook is sunny too. Is happiness a choice? The question has sparked a wildfire of comments.

Support for “happiness is a choice”
Those who feel that happiness is a choice are deeply committed to that viewpoint. Many comments suggest that although we can’t control our circumstances, we can influence how we respond to them. “It’s not what happens to us, but the way we respond to what happens. Happiness is definitely a choice.” Do you agree?

Support for “happiness is not a choice”
The other perspective sees things entirely differently. “How can you say that every single day you make a choice when those suffering from depression have no choice — it’s bio-chemical.” And, “What about the death of a loved one — doesn’t this society even give you permission to feel your feelings?” Or, “There’s so much pressure to appear ‘together’ that it can leave no room for authenticity.” How do you feel about that?

The grey area
The truth is, this issue is complex — there are shades of grey. People think of happiness many ways. Some would argue that you are born happy… or not. That’s your lot in life. Some would suggest that it not just a state: Happiness is a skill set that can be taught. I’m firmly on this latter side and the science supports my own experience, that with certain practices, such as gratitude, happiness levels can increase significantly.

At Project Happiness, the non-profit I founded to teach kids practical tools for a happier and more meaningful life, we don’t try to force people to look through rose-colored glasses or drink the happy Kool-Aid. Rather, it is about building awareness for the importance of preventative wellness practices, and teaching skills to access more happiness as well as to better manage real challenges… both part of life. It’s about using scientifically proven strategies to develop emotional resilience within yourself, rather than looking to outside circumstances. It’s about learning how to identify and build on your strengths and regulate emotions.

Strategies That Can Help
Mindfulness is an important tool, as are self-compassion, forgiveness, and mindset. The latest research from neuroscience indicates that we can change our brain, actually reshape the neural pathways through the thoughts that we think and the practices that we adopt. With all the various tools now available, one thing is clear — the more we practice a certain mindset, whether positive or negative, the more we reinforce that tendency, and the more we lean into that direction.

One comment does a good job of highlighting the complexity of this debate:

I have dealt with anxiety/depression. Take medicine for it. I don’t think anyone is trying to downplay the struggle that people with depression face. There is no need to get offended. I do believe, however, that your mindset has a lot to do with how you face life. I made the choice to get help with my depression. I am much happier now that I’m getting help. We do have control over A LOT more than we think we do. Consider that.

Some people are open to the possibility of a choice for happiness even in the darkest moments. Some tend to argue for their limitations as, “that’s just reality — it is what it is.”

Another post said:

Barring mental disabilities, most people can do this, it may take some training but your attitude is one of very few choices we can make for ourselves each day, hour, minute, second, at a time.

The question for both sides is: Can you accept the reality of the moment, be open to a glimmer of hope that your experience can change, and then deliberately try to build on that? That too is a real choice. This is a heated discussion with passion on both sides. Depression is real, and yet… I’d love to know what do you think.




Kiwanis & Project Happiness Celebrate World Gratitude Day

I am thankful for today - positive words on a slate blackboard against red barn wood

I am thankful for today – positive words on a slate blackboard against red barn wood

09/25/2015 – Original Story via Kiwanis can be found here.

According to research by Key Club partner Project Happiness, “The more that gratitude and appreciation are practiced, the more this perspective becomes second nature. It’s a simple and effective way to shift a student’s mind to positive, which enhances learning and gets the day off to good start.”

So why not spread gratitude throughout your school this month? That’s what Stonewall Jackson High School in the Capital District did last year.



The Stonewall Jackson Key Club was busy selling “gratitude grams” during lunch periods and creating schoolwide “gratitude walls.” For US$1 each, gratitude grams include a bag of candy with a card so the sender can write a message to someone he or she is thankful for. Club members also created two gratitude walls: places where students can write down what they’re thankful for on sticky notes and stick them to a board.


10 Things That Real Friends Do



Some believe that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

This goes for friendships, too. Here are some of the qualities that I am grateful for in my friends. While different people have different qualities, just thinking about them makes me smile. Take a look and see which ones you can match to the people in your lives.


1. Focus on the good: You don’t have to impress real friends. That’s a lot of hard work. Real friends see past the surface, and appreciate the good qualities in you.


2. Being real: With your real friends, you can laugh or cry, be either silly or serious, and still feel the warmth of true connection.


3. Kindness counts: Fair-weather friends are fun when times are good. You recognize real friends who show an underlying kindness, especially when times are tough.


4. Mistakes are part of life: Real friends don’t condemn you for making mistakes; we’re all human, and mistakes, too, are part of life. We learn as we grow.


5. Balance of power: Real friendships are not about one person being the star and the other being the servant. It’s about being able to take turns: understanding and being understood, giving and getting support, and caring enough to listen for words unspoken.


6. F is for forgiveness: When conflicts come up, real friends have the courage to reach out directly rather than gossiping and letting irritations grow. Real friends understand, and because they understand they are capable of forgiving.


7. Loyalty, care and connection: In a real friendship, loyalty is key and connection is the currency. You know they have your back. Real friends look beyond the sparkle of personality to the essence of what makes each other tick.


8. Let each other grow: Life is dynamic and people change. Real friends give each other the space to grow, the time to recalibrate, and the open door to sharing insights that only come from experience.


9. Water the plant2014-08-03-sFRIENDSDNAsmall.jpg: Like plants, friendships need to be watered, too. Real friends check in with one another. Whether that is every day or on birthdays every year, it is always special.


10. Celebrate the good stuff: Real friends celebrate your victories. They want the best for you and have the caring and confidence to be genuinely happy for your successes. Your joy is their joy, too.


What other qualities are on your list? What is most important for real friendship to blossom?