Capturing happiness through the camera lens: The Happiness Project by Utkarsh Narang
Meet Utkarsh Narang, a Delhi based photographer who is changing people's lives through his camera lens. Utkarsh's Happiness Project is an initiative to ask one person every day for a period of 365 days, the most basic question of life - what makes him/her happy? Here is a brief interview of Utkarsh where he talks more in detail about the project.
1. What motivated you to do the Happiness Project ?
I want to be a billionaire - and I don't mean in terms of money but I wish to touch a billion lives! The human race is running in a sprint called 'Life'. We are not giving enough value to the things that really matter, happiness being one of them. We don't look within for happiness and I wish to change that.
2. What message does your project convey?
The project conveys that happiness is in little things. It can be as simple as the smile of a child to as complex as being a mathematical equation with numerous variables.
3. How do you think it can help people?
The project helps people in two different ways -
- Those who I meet and ask this question about happiness, get to think of happiness.
- My followers read about happiness and the feeling becomes infectious.
4. Were you inspired by someone to start this project? Is your Happiness Project a part-time initiative?
I work at the Institute for Personal Leadership as a Production Manager. I create and manage videos for our Online Leadership Training. The Happiness Project is not a part-time initiative but an everyday practice and commitment to bring smiles to people's faces and touch lives. It has been inspired by the founder of our institute, Professor Hitendra Wadhwa and by my experiments with life!
5. How did you gather the courage to talk to and photograph strangers?
I still find it hard. Some days I would roam around a park or a shopping complex for hours, gathering the courage to approach someone but return without even a single conversation.
But I believe I am a people's person. I love to meet new people and talk to them. Talking to strangers is taking it a notch higher and I think growth happens only when you push yourself out of your comfort zone. It is painful at first but then it helps you grow!
6. How do you develop the connection with a complete stranger?
I start the conversation by greeting them with a smile and a positive body language. I keep distance and take a stance which does not seem imposing. Then I introduce myself and tell them that I am not stalking them but wish to know their views on happiness for a project I am doing. And I add a disclaimer that if they don't want to be disturbed then I will just walk away.
I give my 100% attention to that person. In that moment when I am having a conversation with them, they are the center of my universe. I look deep into their eyes with unwavering attention and try to get into their soul! I believe it is all about the energy I reflect.
7. Any message to our readers?
I want to tell everyone that life has too many beautiful little things. They need your full attention. Your relationships in life are invaluable. Each one of aspires to grow financially and in position, but that is not where the real value lies. Do something that first brings a smile on your face and then to others. Your time on earth is limited so live each day inspiring yourself and others!
And all of us have a choice - a choice to change at least our lives. Just take the first step!
8. Any future plans of expanding the project?
I don't live in the future nor in the past. I enjoy the present. And as Einstein said, "The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion." I simply live in the NOW!
9. Any memorable moments?
Initially, it was difficult for me to get through people, particularly girls would say no. Maybe thinking that I am some kind of stalker but it is getting better.
Here are some of my memorable moments -
- Day 66: When I met a person at a mall in Delhi. We had a 20-minute long conversation and at the end we hugged each other and were moved! He even wrote a poem for my project on happiness.
"When you help a person in need, then the smile and satisfaction that comes on their face is happiness. A few years back, I was coming out of a temple, I had some sweets in my hand that I gave to an old lady who was begging outside. And I touched her feet. The blessings and the pat that she gave me on the back, will stay with me forever. That moment is what I call happiness."
- Day 82: When a cleaner at the Delhi airport shared his happiness with me and a very positive one. And then as I was walking away, he told me how a few months ago he lost both his children. I was moved - speechless!
"Happiness to me is in my work. I am in-charge to keep these public restrooms clean and I find joy in it. Meeting people like you is happiness.
There is only one unhappiness sir... A few months ago, both my children - my son and daughter - fell from our roof and died. But we are still managing through life. Working. Striving. Living. Smiling."
- Day 84 was my first day in New York. I saw this girl sitting on a bench in the middle of Broadway. I approached her and a beautiful conversation followed. It was really special.
"Happiness is being quiet within even when you are surrounded by chaos!"
- Day 89 was again special. I met my idol from the photography world - Henry Grossman. I had the opportunity to take his picture. His happiness is in all things beautiful. And he said that as a photographer, all we see are beautiful things!
"Happiness is in a baby's laugh. It is in seeing beauty. And I am blessed that as a photographer, I see beauty all around, in all the little things I see..."
- And the best one was on Day 101 when I met this girl Tanya. Her happiness was to ride a bicycle, but the irony was that she did not own one. I initiated a crowd funding campaign and we raised Rs 6000 (approx. $100). We bought her a bike for Diwali and she was touched!
Tanya: "Happiness to me is in riding a bicycle. I enjoy it the most."
Utkarsh: "Do you ride it daily?"
Tanya: "No, not daily."
Utkarsh: "What color is your bicycle?"
Tanya: "I don't have a bicycle. Whenever I can, I borrow it from my friends."