I’m going to write about happiness today, one particular man’s quest to define and identify what it is and how people find it. Meet Tony Cuseo. A Californian from Orange County; 26-years-old, diagnosed at 13 with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia; in remission since 2001 (after three brutal years of treatment), and currently on the road pursuing not only the answer to what makes people truly happy, but making a documentary to chronicle what he finds. The project is called “Drive for Happiness” and he’s set to conclude his journey on August 26th.
We read lots of inspiring stories about cancer survivors, people who beat their disease and went on to parlay what they’ve learned into something meaningful for others who might find themselves in similar predicaments. What’s unique about Tony’s story is that he’s not documenting his cancer or his treatment; he’s documenting the quest he went on after he survived it. From the Greenville Advocate:
“I tell people that this is a soul renovation,” Cuseo said. “I’m trying to deal with some of my stuff, and in the process turn into the person that I’ve always wanted to be. [… ]
“While I recovered physically from the disease, I continued to suffer psychologically. After stopping chemotherapy, I entered a period of severe depression and continued to struggle off and on for a few years until I finally made a concerted effort to get better. I took an interest in positive psychology and the study of happiness. I read articles and books that focused on happiness, optimism, well-being, and related topics in hopes of achieving greater happiness in my life.
“My interest developed into a desire to not only better understand my own personal happiness, but to inspire happiness in the lives of others. This aspiration has motivated me to take a road trip throughout the United States and Canada to talk to people about true happiness and living a meaningful life.”
That’s his mission statement. How it’s playing out is like a classic road picture. Cuseo packed up his car with a sleeping bag, his video camera and enough gear for a 12-month journey and hit the ground running. He’s been “snaking and winding” his way through various locations, stopping where he’s so inspired to talk with people he finds intriguing. Having the conduit of the documentary has given him entree to those interested in sharing their perspective and insight for a project focused on “happiness.”
“It lets me break through all the shallow small talk you normally get with someone you just met and get right down to what makes them who they are,” Cuseo said. “That excites me.”
Cuseo also hopes that others will be inspired by the documentary.
“In college I was that weird kid that always said I was going to throw all my stuff in my car and drive around and live in my car,” he said. “That always intrigued me, but that wouldn’t have really benefited anyone but me. I wanted to do something that would be more meaningful to others. I think this documentary has the chance to be something powerful for people.”
He’s probably, hopefully, right.
He’s certainly on the track of something that impacts more than just himself; the pursuit of happiness drives every single human being in one way or another, whether a child’s desire for a cookie, a teen’s longing for acceptance, or an adult’s passion for success and a fulfilling family life. Despite a culture that seems outwardly rife with cynicism and snarky disdain, happiness remains the compelling need of most people. A study by George Vaillant, a behavioral sciences professor at Harvard, found that love and family were the main components of happiness for most people. Some find it’s economic security…to put it simply: more money. Still others get as easy as linking happiness to coffee!
What Tony Cuseo will find has yet to be compiled, but it’s likely to have something to do with meaningful work, connection to others, and the purest forms of “intimacy.” At one stop in northern California, he spent time talking to a woman who works as a mid-wife. She told him the intimacy of being there when a family brings a child into the world was one of the most authentic forms of happiness she could imagine.
“That really struck me. I realized that need for intimacy is how I feel, but I’ve never been able to articulate it like she did. What I want is to be able to share powerful experiences with people and connect and understand who we are.” [Source]
I’ll look forward to that. There’s something profoundly refreshing about a 26-year-0ld man who’s been through something most of us would find overwhelming and come out the other side with an optimistic, compassionate and uncynical view of life. We need more of that.
Cuseo has a website up to promote the trip and the documentary, with photos, video clips and other information about the project. It’s called 50,000 Miles to Happiness and it has a link where you can donate to the cause if you’re so inspired. Odds are, he could use it and certainly it would make him… happy.
For more background in Tony’s words, here’s the video: