"What I want, is to give people momentum." And momentum, she has plenty to give. Aurélie Delahaye started a project a year ago which goal is both crazy and necessary: to make people happy. With her red truck and her yellow sign that suggests to passers-by to smile - just for fun - this parisian girl started an adventure that those who come accross her on the road won’t ever forget.
The first step before talking to Aurélie is rather entertaining but crucial nonetheless: you have to help her park her truck. Yes, she learned how to stear her brand new vehicle, but to parallel park backwards with such a big contraption isn’t so easy. However, it makes the bystanders laugh, and they spontaneously start a conversation with the 33 year-old woman, herself merry behind the wheel. "I usually go up to people. Now, they come to me!", she says. To be honest, a truck as red as a tomato with big white letters that say "Ordinary happy people", is hard to miss. That’s precisely why Aurélie decide to buy it.
Start a project
For a year now, she set a goal for herself that is both simple and surprising: to make people happy. To achieve it, she didn’t chose to sell lotery tickets or to be a stand up comedian, she just decided to go towards people. With her red truck, she drives around the south of France looking for those "ordinary happy people" whose story she’ll share and which will, she hopes, inspire others. The project can seem insane at first, and let’s be honest, maybe even a little naive. And yet, when listening to Aurélie talk, one can see it has been thought through for a long time. Aurélie’s head isn’t in the cloud, her feet are very much rooted on the ground, and she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty - literally. She studied the law for 4 years at Nanterre and then studied at ESSEC, a renowned business school, specializing in entrepreuneurship. "I always wanted to set up a project", she admits.
"Ordinary happy people" was first a blog, opened on the 1st of March 2015. Aurélie just decided to buy tickets to travel for 6 months: first London, then Berlin, then Lisbon. To be able to take the plunge, she quits her job in a start up. Her job then was to help young people passionate about computers to define their dreams and to help them achieve it, therefore trying to help them blossom in their work environment. "When they asked me what job I was doing I’d say: 'I make people happy!' So when I left that job I told myself: 'let’s really do that as a job, let’s make people'. I wanted to stand on my own two feet, I felt like I was ready to start something on my own".
Meet ordinary happy people
The idea came to her a month before she left, when she met a stylish stranger in the streets of Paris - where she was born - with whom she starts up an impromptu conversation. He tells her her story, talks about working for Air France and his passion for George Sand. Aurélie is just like that, she goes up easily to people and she makes people want to confide in her. "He was just someone who was happy and ordinary". She smiles.
She decides to share her brief encounter with her friends on Facebook, where she writes a quick portrait of this man and his philosophy. And then: thousands of likes and enthusiastic feedback that surprise her. Many people tell her they’ve been touched by reading her text. That’s when everything clicks into place. "I realized that when it came to self-help, we’d talk about successful people, people who are experts, but rarely about ordinary people. So it’s hard to identify with that. I understood that what I wanted to do was to show that there were ordinary people who were happy and that they could inspire others".
To start her project - she doesn’t know yet what it’ll be - Aurélie decides to go abroad, to free herself from "the way other people look at her" and to get out of her "comfort zone". Even more so because her family wasn’t that happy to see her leave her comfortable job and its opportunities, for a project that wasn’t definite and wasn’t very lucrative (actually, it’s not at all). "At that moment, I changed the rules: I decided to not plan a thing, to not wonder how I’d get money from that project, to not have an objective for 3 months as you usually do". The only obligation was not to stand there and do nothing, but to "do" and follow her intuitions.
She realizes her first street action in Berlin: she stands next to the subway station with her now famous yellow board. On it, it’s just written: "smile before going in". Again, people’s reactions surprise her by how enthusiastic they are. "It started with a guy who smiled seeing the board, then left, then came back two minutes later and said 'thank you, it helped me a lot'. And it kept on going! Some people would hug me. And it was only a board saying 'smile' It’s so easy!".
Those happenings were probably inconsciously inspired by the "free hugs" mouvement that developed some time beforehand. But this idea first came from her passion: improv theater, which she practiced with a company for 7 years. With her sign, Aurélie feels like she’s on a stage from which she can interact with her audience. "I’ve always been passionate about improv, because it’s a popular art, and I feel like art is first and foremost for people. Art must happen in the streets". One of the videos of her street actions in the Défense neighborhood in Paris, has more than 180 000 views.
Three months later, in Lisbon, the project is settled in: every day, Aurélie uploads the portrait of a "ordinary happy person" on her website, and regularly goes down on the streets with her yellow sign. Little by little, "ordinary happy people" develops. "I got great messages from people telling me they cried reading the website, or other from people who left their job to start up something…" Back in France, she gives a few interviews, and is even invited to the European parlement.
Ramdam, her road companion
More than a hundred portraits later, Aurélie starts feeling like the project needs to be shaken up - but she doesn’t really know how. Friends suggest that she buys a truck and to go meet those ordinary people everywhere in France. The idea seems a little bit crazy, to this parisian woman who always lived in a city, who rarely went camping. But she starts looking for a second-hand vehicle nonetheless. "I waited for a month in Paris. I’d look for truck ads from time to time. Then I found this one and I told myself : 'THIS is my truck!' weird, huh?". She laughs.
She makes her decision then. Aurélie buys Ramdam - the name of the red truck was given by its last owners, and she decided to keep it. The truck becomes a true companion. "My mom makes fun of me, she says it’s my boyfriend", says Aurélie. "What great about it, truly, is that it forms a bond with people, same as me with my sign".
To pay for it, she launches a crowdfunding campaign that raises more than 2300 euros. Thanks to others, she set up the back of the truck with a bed, a small gas stove, and a sink connected to a carboy. Once the bed is up, there are two benches facing each other with a cute wooden table in the middle. "My idea at first, was to open up the back doors and to invite people in to talk about happiness", she explains. But as she drives around Tarn and Var (she chose the south of France to be able to sleep in her truck without any heat), Aurélie realizes that to initiate a dialogue in the small villages she drives through is hard. "There’s only one person coming, not 10. I meet less people, but those encounters are more powerful", she says.
For instance, her encounter with Maurice, a storyteller who plays the accordeon, living in the Cevennes. She met him randomly, as she parked her truck next to his house, and they ran into each other several times over the next few days, before she finally offered him a tea. Maurice accepted and in return offered she take a shower and did laundry at his place. "He said : 'in the end, we’re really waiting for someone to knock on the door'!", she remembers.
Today, after driving around for a month and a half, Aurélie grants that she still hasn’t found "the new guiding line of the project". But there’s no hurry. Aurélie gives herself the time to experiment, and she tells her story on her website, so that all those who helped her finance her truck can see where she drives it. And she drives it pretty far. She learned how to live without a shower and with little funds, how to go alone to meet strangers : all those things seemed unthinkable a little while ago. "I think it’s the best decision I ever made, because it took me places I’ve never dreamed to go to", she says.
In the end, because she’s trying to make people happy daily, Aurélie constantly smiles and meets new people daily that she has time to discover. "I also construct my happiness", she says, almost awkwardly. "I never thought it would feed me so". So what is being happy, in the end, we ask. "There are thousands of ways to be happy, and thousands of places to be happy", she answers. "My own vision was completely shaken by this adventure. But let me tell you this: after a year talking about it with people, I can tell you this: no one ever talked about money".