In the flourishing age of social media and progressive film-making, Ron Parida is hoping to make a difference and change the way we smile and view happiness. The Los Angeles based creative director wants the world to know about his latest venture, The Happiness Project—a video series that looks into the lives of people fighting incredibly difficult circumstances, yet still choose to fight and maintain a positive attitude through it all.
“The whole concept started when I saw Grandma Betty’s Instagram,” he recalls. “I remember it was around the time the song ‘Happy’ was blowing up, and being a huge Pharrell fan, I saw he had just posted about her.”
Upon seeing her dancing and smiling in a video sporting boxing gloves, it was then that Parida decided to look up the gregarious grandma who would soon win him and an entire online community over.
“Here was this woman fighting cancer, knowing she didn’t have much longer yet she still chose to smile every single day she had left,” he says. “That’s a truly brave thing to do in this world, to love blindly and to smile fearlessly.”
Parida flew out to southern Indiana earlier this spring to shoot the fun, high energy and creative mini documentary called Insta-Grandma Betty, but didn’t expect it to be one of the most emotionally liberating experiences of his life.
“I remember walking up to their house in Jeffersonville—I was super nervous to meet her,” he reveals. “I had no idea if she was going to live up to the hype of her Instagram profile [or] how her family was going to be [and] I remember Zach opening the door—Grandma Betty walked out from behind him, smiling. The first words that came out of her mouth were ‘Come over here and give me a hug’. I swear she could have been 4’11”, but she had the most genuine energy about her. I remember she kept saying ‘I love ya’ to everyone in the room. You would think it’d get annoying, or feel fake considering she had just met us, but it wasn’t. Every single time, I believed her. She shared her love so willingly and so honestly.”
Grandma Betty—or better known as, Betty Jo Simpson to her family and close friends—passed away August 2, 2014. It was a loss that hit the filmmaker on a personal level, but one he found incredibly reflective as he shares Grandma Betty is more than a person to him. He believes she represents an idea of happiness, positivity, love and the simple things in life that still live on.
“When she passed I was definitely sad, but more than anything I found myself reflecting on everything I learned from her. Life is really simple when you boil things down. It’s about loving, your family, the work you do, and what you give to others,” he says. “Everybody has their order of priority, but I think if you can find a balance those are the keys to happiness.”
Of all the individuals Parida is hoping to featuring in The Happiness Project, he believes they are the real celebrities and ones to admire in our society. “Their unwavering strength, unwillingness to give up—I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but I think it’s impossible to overstate [that] these people’s lives can come to an end within weeks, days, hours, minutes. And they’re choosing to smile. Learning to find a silver lining in something like cancer is superhuman to me, and I wanted to share these stories.”
One such story Parida wanted to share with viewers for the video series was of young Achilleus, diagnosed nearly two years ago with glioblastoma multifortume—a condition which is considered the most common and aggressive malignant primary brain tumor in humans. Lovingly known as Killy, he is now 3 years old and has been given a 50% chance to make it past the age of five.
“Killy’s an incredible kid,” Parida smiles. On his first meeting with Killy’s family, he shares how didn’t want to show up empty-handed and greeted the young boy with a ‘Peek-A-Boo Elmo’. “I remember walking into the room and the first thing I saw was this kid, bouncing off the walls, running around—insane amount of energy [and] I remember thinking, ‘There is no way this kid has cancer. He is too pumped.’”
Parida shares that during his initial meeting with Killy and his mother Amanda, he was nervous Killy wouldn’t like his gift, but soon realized that wasn’t the case as the toddler ran around the house for the rest of the night happily yelling , ‘Elmo!’
“[But] the most memorable thing about him happened just after I left,” Parida reveals. “I was on my way home, and he hadn’t said bye to me because he was tired so he was with his grandma. I was on the road for about 20 minutes when I got a text from Amanda. They had sent me a video of Killy saying bye because he was sad that he didn’t get to say [it]. I thought that was the most adorable thing.”
As The Happiness Project hopes to meet countless courageous individuals, Parida has enlisted the help of Grandma Betty’s grandson, Zach Belden. Belden is responsible for the publicity of the project by setting up the interviews for the aspiring director and helping to organize promotional advertisements relating to their venture. “It’s almost as if I’m a sort of a Marketing Manager—something that at 19 years old, I’m proud to say,” Belden says.
While Parida and Belden met through Grandma Betty, Belden shares that he knew Parida and him would be keeping in touch for a long time to come.
“Working with him has a very professional feel with it, but at the same time, he’s a chill guy,” he says of Parida. “He’s open to suggestions, and he’s the type of person who will take risks on other people’s ideas, even if he doesn’t wholeheartedly agree with them. I think that’s important, for him to be willing to try something new.”
And he does. In the next few months, Parida discloses that he hopes to have done three to four videos for the series, along with providing viewers a ton of material for Belden to post up on their social networks, while helping get the word out on their passion project.
“He is an incredible young dude,” Parida shares. “Super passionate about sharing these stories much like I am, and I can’t express how happy I am to have his support on this project.”
While The Happiness Project’s Facebook page has more than thirteen-hundred supporters now, Parida gets continued support from Grandma Betty as Belden tells me he truly believes his grandma is 100% behind the project.
“I heard [grandma’s] voice in the back of my head, [saying], ‘Doll-baby, you’re never gonna stop doin’ good, are ya?’ Belden smiles. “That’s something that she would say, word for word. She would always tell me how proud of me she was, how happy she was to have me and my family there for her through everything. She would fully support the idea of The Happiness Project.”
Belden reveals to me that he as he works further on The Happiness Project, he hopes it will inspire people to become better versions of themselves, to be happy in life no matter what. “We hope to achieve a wave of happiness and inspiration across a huge audience, hopefully creating a tide that will touch the lives of thousands of people,” he says.
As the first video featuring young Achilleus is now available to watch on their YouTube channel, Parida hopes to make as big as an impact as possible with The Happiness Project with a goal to make as many people smile.
“People like Grandma Betty, Killy [and] his mom, Amanda—these are people that deserve all the attention and accolades in my opinion,” he says candidly. “They’re going through hell on earth, but are making the most of it. Again, the rest of us have a lot to learn from them.”
It’s evident the subject matter may be difficult for some viewers to digest, but Parida shares that filming these stories definitely affect him and reveals that it’s certainly heavy stuff to deal with—even for him.
“It’s really difficult because on one hand, I’m trying to be a filmmaker [but] I’m trying to get the best shots that convey what’s going on [too]—handle all the technical aspects of trying to make a great video. But I’m a human being first, and I can’t help but feel something when these people are sharing their stories,” he says. “Knowing that person might not be there tomorrow…sometimes I don’t know whether to smile or cry. Both are probably appropriate.”
The first video in The Happiness Project’s series focuses on the ever-adorable Killy and his brave mother, Amanda (“Killy’s Army”) sharing her story to help educate and inspire others about the reality of childhood cancers. Despite their constant struggles, Parida hopes viewers will take more from the video series than it offers and make a difference however they can.
“I think the key is that, this is education for me,” he reveals. “I’m learning from all these people on what matters in life, how to deal with your problems, how to smile—because at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”
While his interviews aren’t set up in the traditional question-and-answer style, Parida tries his hardest to immerse himself into the other person’s world, sharing how one moment he’ll be laughing and the next be covered in goose bumps.
“I think that’s important,” he says. “That’s how I want people to feel when they watch the final videos—happy, sad, thankful, [and] inspired, so I hope that translates.”
You can see for yourself in Ron Parida’s video series The Happiness Project, by visiting his official YouTube channel or watch the first episode titled, “Killy’s Army” below:
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For updates on the video series, be sure to ‘like’ The Happiness Project on Facebook, follow Ron Parida on Instagram, Twitter and his official website; and Parida’s Marketing Manager, Zach Belden on Twitter.
If you would like to be part of The Happiness Project and share a story of someone you know battling the odds, please direct all email inquiries to Ron at firstname.lastname@example.org.