What one man learned from traveling the world and asking strangers, 'Are you happy?’

Video reporting by Jacquie Cosgrove

One man set out on a journey to break down barriers and start intimate conversations with strangers around the world just by asking the simple question: “Are you happy?” Now, he’s sharing what he’s learned about the human condition through his travels and the people he met along the way with a documentary series gaining viral attention on social media.

Atdhe Trepca tells Yahoo Life that he has long been interested in filmmaking, leading him to study it in school and pursue opportunities at Viacom and Warner Bros. Studio — where he met creators in the field whom he looked up to. But it was a French documentary from 1961 called Chronicle of a Summer that inspired his latest project.

“Two nonfilmmakers go into the streets of Paris in an attempt to get an honest, real conversation on camera,” he explains, noting that those conversations were started with the very question he asks his subjects. “I thought it'd be really cool to get that idea and just go around the world with it, immerse myself in different cultures of people all around the world.”

In February 2019, Trepca did just that when he got into his car and made his way from Los Angeles to New York, stopping to chat with strangers along the way. “Every state I would pass through, every person I ran across, I would ask them all the same question: ‘Are you happy?’” he explains. “And I didn't realize it then, but the question really serves as a window to the soul.”

The impact of the project struck Trepca immediately as he met a man in the Sand Hollow reservoir in Utah early on in the journey who invited the filmmaker into his world in a unique way.

“We ended up riding through the dunes together on his ATV. And then after we finished riding, he's like, ‘You know, if you really want to know what makes me happy, I'd like to invite you back to my house,’” Trepca recalls. “And then all my learnings, everything my parents ever taught me was ringing off my head, ‘Don't go, don't go.’ But, you know, I trusted this guy and I trusted in this documentary.”

The experience ended up being one of the filmmaker’s most memorable as it was one of the first times that he got to know a stranger so well from approaching him and asking a singular question. From there, Trepca went on to trust a number of other people he met throughout the U.S. and then India, which was his next destination. Although it wasn’t always that easy or comfortable with each person he came into contact with, Trepca explains that nearly every interaction ended up being fascinatingly vulnerable and honest.

“When you approach a stranger with that question immediately, all their personal stories, their entire life experience comes to the forefront and they start reflecting on everything that they've done,” he says. “The flood gates open up and you just have to give people a chance to speak. And I promise you that they will tell you their true and honest story.”

Some of Trepca’s most viral videos prove just that, as a woman from India now known as the “sunrise girl” quickly shared that she had run away from home, while another young woman in Connecticut opened up about having recently gone through a brain surgery — two things that a stranger likely wouldn’t find out about a person in a matter of minutes.

Although these two videos in particular seem to showcase stories seemingly worthy of the viral attention that they’ve received on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, Trepca is sure that everybody’s stories are worthy of that same recognition. “This documentary is basically endless. I think there are seven and a half billion stories available,” he says. “I truly believe that everyone has a story. Not only an interesting story, but everyone has a story worthy of an Oscar-winning film or a viral video.”

Most importantly, he shares, that the “happiest people I've met have not had the happiest lives,” which now serves as a reminder for people around the world dealing with hardships during the unprecedented times of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It's so easy to get caught up in everything that's happening in the world. But at the end of the day, the world is way too heavy for our shoulders. It's not ours to carry,” he says. “These world issues are very important, but if you were to add up every single good thing that happened today around the world and every single bad thing that happened around the world, the good would far outweigh the bad. The world is a beautiful place.”

Video Produced by Jacquie Cosgrove

‘Spread The Good’ is a series shining a light on individuals spreading positivity during the pandemic. Know someone who has been helping spread the good? Share in the comments!

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