Project Happiness: A Conversation With Randy Taran

Happiness. It’s something we all have within us. And something the world so desperately needs.

I have never been so inspired as when I watched the documentary, “Project Happiness”. In the film, youth (our future) from three different continents interview George Lucas, Richard Gere and neuro-scientist Richard Davidson on what their ideas of happiness are.

The group then takes that knowledge with them on a journey to India and an unforgettable encounter with the XIV Dalai Lama. Through their eyes, they gain a new perspective on how to expand happiness and live a more meaningful life.

I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Project Happiness founder Randy Taran about the movie and latest initiative – Hunger For Happiness. In just our brief conversation, her enthusiasm inspired me to believe that true happiness really is within our grasp. We all just need to look inside ourselves and take the first step. And then, spread the word!

goJimmygo (gJg): How did Project Happiness get started?

Randy Taran (RT): I started the project because I really didn’t have any answers for my own daughter who was going through a period of stress. She really wanted to be happy, but didn’t know how. I had been working with The Dalai Lama Foundation and have always been interested in these types of topics. but nothing I offered could resonate with her. I just thought, if only I had something she could relate to and grab onto, but  I couldn’t find  it. I asked myself, what‘s the best way to this? My background is in film so I said, let’s start with that!

gJg: How did the film come together?

RT: It happened organically. The fist challenge was to find some kids here in the U.S. who could grasp the message that we wanted to give, which has to do with opening up to the possibility of “What is this thing called happiness and what’s the nature of lasting happiness?”

I interviewed several different schools and kids and finally found Mt Madonna school. It was perfect. We were able to get a great group of kids and a teacher, Ward Maillard. The next step was to get a cross-cultural perspective to see if it was the same across cultures and religions.

We soon found out about Emmanuel Ivorgba from Nigeria. He came from a very Christian background but was very open to the universal truth that we were wanting to explore.

Next we thought, what if we brought in a Buddhist perspective? So we looked into the Dalai Lama’s present home town of Dharamsala, India and it was there where we found the Tibetan Children’s Village . We spoke to the Principal there and the kids were very interested, especially with the chance to meet the Dalai Lama. We gave everyone cameras to share video diaries and have online exchanges. We had very profound discussions going.

gJg: What made you decide to bring celebrities into the discussion?

RT: We wanted to bring into the film people who the kids resonated with. So we had the kids make a list. Luke, one from California school had written an essay on the similarities between the Jedi Code and the Dalai Lama’s principles. We sent that to George Lucas and that opened him up to the idea of sitting down and chatting with the kids. He was very kind to give us such a lovely interview.

Richard Gere was terrific as well and because of his relationship with the Dalai Lama he introduced a whole new perspective. He spent quite a bit of time with the kids and even stayed longer then planned.

We also wanted to bring some science into the discussion as well. Happiness actually has a whole scientific underpinning to it.  So we spoke with Richard Davidson. whom we had met at one of his conferences.

Then of course, we had the visit with the Dalai Lama, which was truly a life changing experience for them.

gJg: For me personally, when everyone was talking with the Dalai Lama you could literally feel the energy coming right off the screen.  It was as if  everyone had an epiphany.

RT: Being in that room, it was palpable. There was a real energy about it that knocks you over. It was unforgettable!

gJg: What has the reaction to the film been like?

RT: It’s been terrific. We’ve won many awards all over the US and around the world. The award I love the best is the “It’s Ok To Be Different” award from the Seoul International Youth Festival. We want everyone to feel that it is OK to be different and express yourself.

gJg: There is also a book to accompany the film as well. Tell me a little about that.

RT: The initial idea was to make a movie but also to challenge the kids to tell us what they felt were the most important things about happiness and what other kids around the world would want to know. The feedback we received, combined with some of the best thought leaders in positive psychology, neuroscience and mindfulness became a book to accompany the film. 

gJg: How has the project expanded?

RT: We’ve gotten requests to bring the program into schools so we started working with a group of educators to develop a curriculum and now it’s in all fifty states and fifty-seven countries. We give the program away free to educators.    

Randy Travan – Founder       Project Happiness

gJg: Tell me a little about your new initiative, Hungry 4 Happiness.

RT: It’s a cool way to throw a party for happiness. What you do is invite friends over for a screening of the film. After watching the film, you have dinner together. It can be anything from as simple as potluck to a cocktail party. At the end of the evening, everyone makes a small donation to Project Happiness. The idea is then for someone else to host a party and invite more people. This allows it to become a viral campaign to help spread the word and have more people become a part of this happiness movement.

gJg: What are your plans for the future?

RT: World Happiness Domination! [laughs]

What we really want to do is make these tools available to people all over the world.  Everyone can access the happiness that we were born with; it’s a skill set that you can practice. We want everyone to create a greater happiness within themselves and then spread it out to the world. That’s our mission.

gJg: What would  you like people to take from the Project Happiness movement?

RT: Three things:

1. You are an agent of happiness.
2. You influence people around you more than you know
3. We all have the power to make ourselves and each other happier and bring out the best in one another.

That’s how we change the world!

For More information on Project Happiness Click Here

For Information On The Hungry 4 Happiness Campaign Click Here

Article first published as Project Happiness: A Conversation With Randy Taran on Technorati.

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