Sometimes it’s natural, and
sometimes not. But what stands
out when a photographer captures
the essence of happiness? Who are
these joyful souls, and what are
their secrets to a life well lived?
Mountain Outlaw searched
for the happiest people we could
find to discover the secrets behind
It is our hope with this feature to
spread a little wisdom and joy by
sharing with you these stunning
humans and their stories.
“When I have a bad moment I think about my family and my friends because they are the reason for my life.”
Simplicity is key for locals on Anaa Atoll, a small dot in the middle of the Pacific with a population of 80 and little tourism or commerce. Tea Rai, who grew up on the atoll but now works in Tahiti due to job scarcity on Anaa, views life with a clean simplicity.
“I’ll tell you about my smiling often; my laughing,” she says. “Happiness is loving my life. When you see someone sad … you have to smile to give [them] the smile.”
Tea Rai beamed as she showed us hidden jungle caves, shell-strewn beaches and new faces. When she’s home, she enjoys the Sunday tradition of attending church followed by patia fa, a game where locals compete by throwing spears at a coconut suspended high on a pole.
Life on Anaa has its own challenges, but Rai isn’t willing to let her smile slip. “When I have a bad moment I think about my family and my friends because they are the reason for my life.” – Jess McGlothlin
“In my photography, I noticed a shift—that’s when I started doing portraiture. I was more interested in other people and their stories.”
Happiness has to start with yourself—with your attitude and your approach. I’d never experienced anything so stark as when I was diagnosed with cancer in my 20s. I was living on the road in my van, traveling the West with my dog, taking pictures and establishing my career as a photographer. At the time I was enamored with athletes at their peak, climbing the hardest routes, surfing the biggest waves.
After being knocked flat by cancer that all changed. It made me realize what really matters in life: interactions with others, who we love and who loves us. And being grateful for what we can do instead of wishing it could be better.
In my photography, I noticed a shift—that’s when I started doing portraiture. I was more interested in other people and their stories.
I said years ago that all I really wanted was to work with people I care about and on projects I find inspiring. It’s been working for 15 years. I keep thinking it’s all a dream, but it’s the most sustainable business model: do what you truly love. – Ben Moon
Giving to others increases endorphins, leading to experiences of trust, pleasure and social connection.
Tsering Dolkar Lama is a woman who exudes peace, happiness and compassion. A devout Buddhist and mother of two, Tsering takes very seriously her faith and duty to others, especially the poorest and most vulnerable among us. It is a natural act, and she expects nothing in return.
Also a successful businesswoman, Tsering finds tremendous happiness in helping others because she can. Her organized charity Tsering’s Fund helps educate girls from poor families, and Tsering takes great pleasure seeing these young women succeed and flourish.
Tsering leads a life of compassion and grace. I was recently late arriving to meet her at a nearby Monastery in Kathmandu and I smiled as I got out of my taxi—instead of staring at her phone or pacing impatiently, Tsering had bought several kilos of guava from a local street vender and was handing them out to the homeless people gathered there. Just because she could. – Peter Schmieding
Happier people have stronger immune systems and healthier hearts and are less likely to suffer from long-term health issues.
While traveling on an assignment to the Tusheti region of Georgia—not “Dixieland,” Georgia—we encountered this shepherd herding his cattle across a river we were exploring [for a fly-fishing documentary]. You could just tell the guy wakes up with a smile on his face. I couldn’t understand a word he spoke but offered him a piece of watermelon.
You knew he lived a hard life, but he was so peaceful, and he was where he was supposed to be. The people in that region live in a special place not touched by the 21st century. They live off the land and have plenty of food. His happiness comes from his contentedness.
That’s the thing—we have access to anything we want—new shoes, a new set of skis. That guy just wants to herd his cattle and put food on his table.
We were slipping around in our wading boots and he thought it was so funny. He just rolled up his pant legs and walked across barefoot with his watermelon. – Dan Armstrong
There’s absolutely nothing like the innocence of a child. When we’re born it’s a clean slate. Cole is the youngest of three. He smiles all the time and feeds off everyone else’s energy.
Everything he’s picking up [on] is a reflection of his surroundings. If somebody yells and startles him you can tell it’s a new experience for him. Innocence can be supported, but it can [also] be broken down. It’s the raw truth.
Cole loves music and dancing and his family. And he eats like nobody’s business. If I break out a banana he acts like it’s Christmas morning. It’s the little things that can change somebody’s entire state. As we grow older we lose sight of those bananas and the little joys in life.
Every night at dinner we say three things we’re grateful for. When Cole was first born, we said we’re happy he’s with us and healthy. Now we’re grateful for other things—we have food on the table and know not everybody has that. – Karen Sperry
What Lucy says makes her happy: “School and our family and our love.” She loves playing with her friends and telling jokes, and spending time with her Gramma and Papa and Nana and Grandpa. What brings her joy: “Eating snow, scrunching leaves, doing tricks on my trampoline and being outside.”
Lucy has a tremendous capacity for joy and the present moment. We think her ability to feel every type of emotion and express how she truly is—sad, proud, angry, excited—actually increases her capacity for experiencing joy.
Just as she has big smiles that melt your heart, she also has big tears and big feelings of all kinds. Our deepest wish is that it never changes. – Karen and Mike Lum
People with a meditation or mindfulness practice report increased feelings of optimism, relaxation and overall awareness.
Mariane and I talk about the positive, contagious nature of smiles and kind looks then reflect. We try to keep it light around the house with Theo and Bodhi (pictured above)—being cool and relaxing. Some of that is nature, but it’s nurture, too.
We minimize media input and screen time, and try to consciously choose our role models—artists and thinkers and audiences that have some intelligent discourse. When it comes down to it, really simple things make us happy, so we remind ourselves of that. You can always compare and wish for something different, but humility and self-deprecating humor is key.
To be happy, you have to give it back, you know? If you don’t give it back or pay it forward, you can’t keep it. – Joel McBurney
What makes me happy is striving to be authentic and genuine—striving to be our best self, but being flexible and not so rigid. Also connecting with the natural world. Doing things with people you love enhances it all.
Whether it’s creating a nice space or a garden or art, happiness is seeing beauty in someone’s eyes. I love to compliment people and connect with like-minded people in the community. – Mariane Desjardins
“My smiles come easy when I’m chasing the burning passions: the wild, freedom, life itself.”
To me, happiness is an open road and no plan, a new day on the horizon and wild, unfettered, open country ahead. I’ve found that my smiles come easy when I’m chasing the burning passions: the wild, freedom, life itself.
If there’s a wide sky overhead, solid ground to walk on, I’m happy to listen to the music in the wind. Some days I’m content to breathe clean air and admire the slow journey of the clouds across the sky. I find a momentary haven in the open expanses of sage. It’s all I need to keep my heart from shattering into a thousand tiny ceramic pieces.
If it’s happiness you pursue, all you have to do is ask yourself every evening what you loved most about the day that just passed. Then wake up and make it happen again tomorrow. Adopt that as a daily ritual, and soon you’ll be living the life of your dreams. – Kit Whistler
associated with happiness like dopamine,
serotonin and oxytocin.
Interacting with animals can increase
oxytocin levels, which help us feel happy
and trusting. In the long term, oxytocin
helps us heal and grow new cells.
“There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery.” – Charles Darwin