“I have never been happier,” said the seventy-year-old man with cheeks more wrinkled than a raisin, turning my world upside down and making my heart jump painfully. How could anyone be happy after losing everything they owned: their life’s work, their ancestral home, their animals on whom they relied above all else? How could anyone live in a shack that didn’t look strong enough to withstand a raindrop and still rejoice? I was too bewildered to ask him at the time so it took me several months to understand.

Following the devastating earthquakes in Nepal in April 2015, I worked extensively on relief work, coordinating relief teams on the ground from my small bedroom in San Diego. When remote coordination wasn’t enough, I traveled to Nepal to help in person. I had no idea what to expect when returning to my country of birth for the first time in six years. It was perhaps better that I had no expectations because I had no idea how much my life, and way of thinking, was about to change.

By my side was my brother, Ishan Timalsina, now a college freshman, and Brandon Reynante, a lecturer at University of California, San Diego (UCSD). The rest of the One Step Projects team, along with our partners and supporters, were with us in mind and spirit. Together, we had a mission: to follow up on completed projects and design customized solutions for communities still in need.

One Step Projects differs from many other nonprofit organizations in that it focuses exclusively on projects that communities request. Instead of assuming what a community’s needs are, One Step Projects involves the community in every major step of the way. One Step Projects is currently focused on constructing a model village in Sindhupalchok, one of the most hard-hit districts that has received the least assistance. We aim to use local materials to rebuild 180 houses, 1 school and 1 clinic and implement livelihood projects such as biogas, waste-to-energy and e-commerce to allow villagers to sustain themselves. We are assisted by Global TIES at UCSD, along with local partners on the ground. We are all driven by our experiences in Nepal and wish to help the shockingly kind people of Sindhupalchok for years to come.

As we traveled through Nepal, we witnessed so much devastation that it’d be impossible to express how we felt even if I wrote a five-hundred page novel about it. Traveling through roads that were half collapsing, we prayed our vehicle wouldn’t get stuck (again) or slide down the cliff into the beautiful but treacherous river below. We were visibly shaken after a small aftershock threatened to collapse the shelter we were staying at for the night. As much as we tried, we couldn’t ignore the pouring rain outside or the insects that threatened to eat us alive. Our hosts, earthquake victims we were there to help, insisted on giving us their beds for the night, despite the number of times we protested. They kept smiling and gushing: “we are so happy you are here,” “if the earthquake hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t even have gotten a chance to meet you,” and so on. I couldn’t believe how optimistic they were, how they could choose to see the silver lining in everything. During one of our interviews, I asked them to compare how they had felt before and after the earthquake. They expressed in detail the fear and sorrow brought about by the earthquake but once again, expressed their joy for being alive, being with their loved ones and being able to experience the beauty of the world for another day. After being through something so terrifying, the values of life were clear to them. They had a clear perspective of their priorities. They were well-versed in the art of being truly alive.

What is happiness? What is the key to obtaining it? Why are some people so happy while others seem forever doomed to gloominess? These are questions that torment every human, myself included. The answer partially involves choice. Some people are happier than others because they choose to be happy, no matter what life throws at them. How can someone “choose” happiness, you ask? It is not only possible but rather uncomplicated. It’s as simple as smiling at every possible opportunity, being kind to yourself and others, loving yourself and forgiving yourself for past mistakes. It’s about dedicating your life to something larger than yourself and never losing hope nor appreciation for what you have, no matter how bleak the situation seems. It’s about finding the silver lining, always. Sometimes, it takes a traumatic incident like an earthquake to appreciate the true joys of life but it is possible to be happy even without an adrenaline rush. Happiness can be found in everyday life by those who seek it. As the people of Sindhupalchok will tell you, that happiness you seek is already within you.

One Step Projects is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. 

EIN: 47-5517778