On a recent Awakin.org
call, hosts Yoo-Mi Lee
and Bela Shah
spoke with Randy Taran
. Randy is the CEO and founder of Project Happiness as well as a filmmaker, author, businesswoman and speaker. Project Happiness is a non-profit organization that offers educational tools and programs to both schools and their communities. "Project Happiness, specializes in emotional resilience-building programs that are used by people of any age and endorsed by public schools, private institutions and Universities around the U.S. and the world. Our purpose is to provide proven techniques to cultivate one’s own authentic happiness."
Project Happiness: An Inside-Out Approach
On the cover of the Project Happiness Handbook
by Randy Taran and Maria Lineger are seven doors in a rainbow of colors. On the Project Happiness website
, these doorways to happiness are divided into seven color-themed days:
These and other teaching tools are available through the book, film and web resources. In Project Happiness
, “…an award-winning documentary, youth from three continents interview George Lucas, Richard Gere and neuroscientist Richard Davidson on the nature of lasting happiness. Then, they travel to India for an unforgettable private audience with the XIV Dalai Lama.” Schools and communities can host a Project Happiness
documentary screening available through the website
During the Awakin call
interview, Randy listened carefully to each question posed by Yoo-Mi and Bela. Randy is soft-spoken and takes her time speaking. Her thoughtful answers powerfully conveyed the love and passion she has for her creative endeavor, Project Happiness.
The following are excerpts from the call:
Moment of Inspiration: “Mom, I’m stressed out. I want to be happy but I don’t know how.”
Could you share with us the initial inspiration for the topic of happiness? You said your teenage daughter brought you to the realization that some people don't know how to be happy. Can you share something about that?
We were sitting one night at the kitchen table and my daughter was pushing food from one side of her plate to the other, as people do. Suddenly she looked up at me, straight into my eyes, with an intensity I hadn't seen. She said to me, "Mom, I'm stressed out. I want to be happy, but I don't know how."
This was a big wake-up call for me. I started to look for answers. I wanted to help her in any way I could. I ached to help her. I brought out books from the Dalai Lama, from popular sources, any articles, any media that might help her, but nothing seemed to resonate.
I spoke to the experts. What I discovered was that this degree of stress and depression was not limited to my daughter's life or even to our community, where there had been a rash of suicides at a local high school. This was going on not only all over the country but all over the world. One statistic from the world health organization predicts that by 2020 depression will be the second-greatest cause of human suffering around the world. That is for all countries, for all genders, and for all ages. That hit home. Furthermore, they said that, by 2030, it would be the greatest source of human suffering across the planet. That shook me to my core. What kind of world are we creating and what kind of messages are we giving?
Child and Teen Suicide: Shocking Statistics
What are the numbers?
One in eight adolescents is suffering from depression. Only about 30 percent of those get any treatment. Suicide is the third leading cause of death, after accidents and homicide, of people aged 15 to 24, and the fourth for children aged 10 to 14 -- absolutely shocking! Bullying is a huge epidemic. It’s something that has come to the attention of the media recently, but it happens at all ages -- even in the workforce. These are things we can address at a root-cause level. The prescription of ADHD medication for kids aged 10 to 19 has had an 86 percent rise. We are missing something as a society. We have to address the inner lives of people and not just give pills for the symptoms. There is great hope and there are great things we can do when we learn to re-access the happiness, the peace, the wisdom and the guidance within us. That can be done in many ways -- through meditation, through nature, through sports, through creativity, and through connection with others. So many people feel disconnected and lonely. But there are ways we can re-connect on three levels: re-connecting with our inner guidance and our inner wisdom; connecting to other people in our lives, even people we don't yet know; and connecting with something greater. We all have that capacity. We just have to remind ourselves of it.
“What we practice can change the neural pathways in our brain.”
Can you talk a little bit about habit? Can you then talk about the programs you have in schools?
Most people know that whatever we focus on grows. If we focus on things that light us up and grow within us we can share that with others. If we focus, ruminate, and are completely enveloped by negativity, that becomes our world. What we practice can change the neural pathways in our brain. That's what neuroscience is telling us, so why not put these practices into day-to-day life? We have created a calendar where each day has a different theme. We have a Facebook page
that discusses all of these themes.
Monday is “Mindful Monday
.” It's all about injecting mindfulness into our awareness and doing that as a practice. We also talk about Motivation, because that's another aspect that sometimes comes into Mondays. (laughter)
Tuesday is all about gratitude; we call it “Grati-Tuesday
.” As people cultivate gratitude, they open up a fast-track to happiness. Not only does it connect us to all the little things we can be grateful for, but to the people already in our lives and to the things we can appreciate that are right around us but that we just have to notice.
is all about “Wellness
,” about practicing the things that make us physically well. Exercise increases the endorphins. Nutrition, what we take into our bodies, how we connect with nature -- all these things contribute to our wellness. As we practice that, those feelings grow.
” has to do with our belief systems - what we want to hold onto and what we are ready to let go of. And altruism --as a community, to feel
good, we can do
good. As we help others there is an influx of good feelings.
is all about “Freedom
”... what makes us feel alive, what connects us to our essence, to our authenticity, to our unique expression of why we are here and what we're here to experience.
is about Soul
. We check in to the idea that everybody is born with a purpose and gifts and talents; to express those brings us closer to why we are here.
is all about Stillness
, about checking in with that eternal part of ourselves -- because all the answers come from within.
Those are the habits we are having so much fun with. I believe that people are resonating with them. It's delightful to be able to offer these daily inspirations.
I want to ask you, Yoo-Mi, which one is your favorite?
It's practicing altruism and generosity. I can't say there is one overwhelming thing. These are all amazing and wonderful practices. We would like to have you work with us on a 21-day "Happiness Challenge."
That would be awesome! All these habits are interconnected. All of these are a portal to the others. It doesn't matter where one starts; it opens the door to immense possibility.
“…it’s never too late to start, and it’s never too late to reconnect with your own happiness.”
How do you let people know that they are the agents of their own happiness? '
We believe that it is never too early to start and it's never too late to re-connect with your happiness. We start in schools at the kindergarten level. We have a curriculum that is in 90 countries so far and we are reaching approximately 250,000 students. We did a partnership with Kiwanis International that reaches 5,000 high schools. In certain countries the curriculum is actually nationwide, like Trinidad and Tobago. We believe happiness is a human right and that everybody can increase their happiness.
We have a curriculum we call "The Happiness Curriculum," and we start with the acronym
"H" is for "Happiness
," long-term and short-term happiness - what the differences between them are, and what happiness has to do with your life.
" has to do with "Appreciation
" and gratitude.
”) We spoke about our incredibly powerful tools to connect to the blessings we already have "Present
," right now. That increases our happiness.
The other "P
" is for "Perspective
," how we choose to experience the situations in our lives. We can't decide what comes into our day-to-day life or the challenges we face, but we can influence how we deal with that. Even the young kids are saying, "I'm going to choose my happy place," or "My happy path." To know that they have a choice as to how they're going to frame a challenge is wonderful.
" is for "Inner Meanie, Inner Friend
." It's based on the work of Dr. Carol Dweck
at Stanford on mindset. She talks about a fixed and a growth mindset. We've put that into the language of kids. Your "Inner Meanie" is that inner critic’s voice that always tells you "You don't know enough, why even bother?” Your “Inner Friend” is that coach or dear helper inside you that will encourage you and say, "You can do it, just take one step, just try, and whatever you practice you're going to get better at. Kids will often say "Don't listen to your Inner Meanie." It's so cute - they're actually getting it in their language.
" is for "Ninja Mastery
." Ninjas are resourceful. They can master their emotions. We provide the tools to manage those big emotions that come up. How do we manage anger, how do we manage overwhelming sadness? This can be taught at a very young age.
" is for "Empathy
." That's our way of dealing with bullying at the root-cause level. To understand what it is to walk in another person's shoes - to imagine, to visualize, and then, ultimately, to help.
" is for "So Similar
." We use the image of a tree. The leaves are different colors, they could be different shapes, just as we are different in our backgrounds, in our holidays, in our languages, in our appearance. That's wonderful, that's something to celebrate. But at the core level, which is the trunk of the tree, we are all the same, we all want to be loved, we all want to belong, we all want to be heard. That's what unites everybody in the world. No matter the difference in background, socioeconomic history, or age, we're all the same.
Finally (for the final “S
”) is "Share Your Gifts
." Earlier we introduced the idea of identifying one's strengths. Even if someone is not a whiz in math, they're good at so many other things. They could be kind, they could have an affinity with nature, they could be wonderful speakers, and they could be creative. People can use those innate strengths to make a difference in their family, their community, and ultimately in the world.
What we offer is homework children can do with their parents. What we're after is systemic change. It's not enough to teach any one segment of society. We all have to work together; we all have to be on the same page. While we tell parents that this is to reinforce the skills that your children are learning in school, it's so they too can learn these things, because so many of us are burdened with our obligations: "We have to work, we have to take care of our families, we have to meet all of our obligations." They think happiness is a luxury or worse yet, that it is a selfish pursuit, when it's actually the opposite. When we tap into our inner happiness, we have so much more to give. In fact, it has benefits in health, it has benefits in generosity, and it has benefits in how we take care of one another as a society. It brings out the best in people. The idea is that you can be happier and that your happiness makes a difference in the world. It cannot help but ripple out and make a difference.
Randy, what you're bringing to schools and students is such an amazing gift.
How do you define happiness, Randy? What does happiness mean to you?
I really like the Gandhi quote, "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." It's living in alignment, and being receptive to the sparks of intuition, of guidance, that prompt us more fully on our path -- why we are here and what contributions we can make to those around us.
That's a beautiful quote.
Beautiful Stories - Powerful Transformations
Randy, you described using the days of the week and other prompts and guidance for people who join Project Happiness. You also described the curriculum you used in the schools. What's beautiful about it is that it's something that can be done by anyone. It's all about taking small steps to discover the happiness within. It's not overwhelming for anyone, particularly people who might be dealing with depression. Can you share more stories of students or anyone else who has been transformed through taking these small steps through the curriculum?
The whole project started with a film in which we brought students from three countries together to answer the question I wanted answered for my daughter, which is, "What is the nature of lasting happiness?" They interviewed George Lucas, Richard Gere, neuroscientist Richard Davidson, and ultimately went to have an audience with the Dalai Lama in hopes of getting the answer. The Dalai Lama in his incredible way caused many of them to become wide open to possibilities. Some of the students said, "He didn't give me the answer," but in effect he gave the most profound answer, which is that it's unique for everyone, and one finds it within and through life experience. We've been showing this film to schools, to NGOs and to different universities. It's been in film festivals around the world, and some of the reactions we've had from students have really stayed with me.
From Homeless Teen to Empowered Artist
In Colorado we were at a young girl's school which is actually a shelter for runaways. There was one young woman who was so poised, and planning to go to a university. She was interested in art therapy and she knew that she would do tattooing as a side business to finance her schooling; she was reading all sorts of spiritual books and was really together. Her parents were both addicted to drugs. Her father had sold her into prostitution at the age of 13. She was on the streets, and by the age of 15 she escaped and had found her way into this group home where she was able, through these social and emotional learning programs, to do a deep dive within. Because without awareness there really cannot be a prescriptive formula -- "You do ABC and you achieve happiness" -- it's not like that. One has to know one's self, to take little steps, and to practice. Then, anything is possible. It was so wonderful. She was so inspired. She became a blogger for Project Happiness.
An Inner-City Boy Healed by Hugs
Another story: At a school in the inner city in grade three, a young boy was already marked as a gang member. All the teachers were looking out for him. He was closed off, he had to be tough, and he was fighting with all the other kids. We were doing a lesson on peace and on inner peace, how we share kindness with others, and the value of a hug to show we care. He was resistant to that: "Boys don't hug. Are you kidding?" The next week he came back and said, "I hugged my mother and I hugged my dad, and it was okay, it was good." From that moment on, he softened. The walls came down. It was really wonderful.
Two Friends Reunited after Years of Bitterness
At another screening, a girl and her mother came up to me. They were crying. I asked, "What's going on? What's happening?" The young girl explained she had had a very dear friend growing up in elementary school. In middle school they grew apart and actually became enemies. There was "mean girl" bullying and there was so much hurt and betrayal going on. After the film -- it touches me just to think about it -- this girl came up to her former friend and said, "Life is too short. I want a friend. Can we put this behind?" They did. They were crying. The mothers were crying. It was an amazing experience.
Those are just a few of the many, many things that have happened beyond expectation as we encourage people to access their essence and the inner capacities that we all have but that we forget. This is a reminder that everyone can be happier. Everyone can touch the best within them and share it with others. Together, that's how we will all thrive and go forward.
Thank you so much for sharing these stories. They are so moving. We have a question from a caller, who asks about the power of one-to-one connection relating to happiness.
"I was going to commit suicide, I went to the bridge, but then this person smiled at me and that changed my whole feeling. I felt that I was not alone.”
One-to-one connection matters so much. I can remember having one teacher in high school who believed in me. It highlighted the potential that she saw in me the same way that Sarah's friend was able to reach into her life and highlight that she had more choices. Often we go through hardships, but there's a reason for everything, and that is to discover the strengths we have inside ourselves and to share those with others. It's often one person that sees us, that knows us perhaps better than we do ourselves at that moment. That one person can shine the flashlight to help us out of the darkness and to take that first step, then take another and another step. Eventually, anybody can make progress toward living authentically, then sharing that with others. There's great value in one person. You hear stories about how a person says, "I was going to commit suicide, I went to the bridge, but then this person smiled at me and that changed my whole feeling. I felt that I was not alone.” You never know. We all have the power to help other people, to see other people. Even something as silly, as simple as a smile can make a world of difference to someone else. I would like to leave people with the idea that we are all more powerful, more influential than we may know. We can light up a spark in someone else. Who knows who they will be able to influence in their lifetime? Every smile, every gesture of kindness, every interaction with another person can ripple out in wonderful ways. It's something to remember when people feel heavy in their loneliness or disconnection. That can be reversed and they can become a light for others.
How can we serve you, Randy? We have so much gratitude to you for doing the work you're doing in the world and for taking time out today to share with us. What can we do to support your work and your journey?
My greatest wish is that, by each of our thoughts and actions, we can open up to the idea of cultivating a greater happiness from within. This is a movement that we are all in together. By choosing happiness, kindness, peace, and compassion we change not only our lives but the world. It doesn't have to do with wealth or stature. We can all heal ourselves and create a world where everyone can thrive. That would offer the greatest support for my intention in the world -- an intention that many of us share.
Thank you, Randy.