Heather Espana Photography » Portland, OR Lifestyle Photographer

The Authentic Joy Project

I started The Authentic Joy Project to tell the stories of people living intentionally positive lives, with the hopes of inspiring you to be your bravest and most joyful self.

To say The Authentic Joy Project impacted my life is probably the biggest understatement I could make. When I started, I was ten years into a straight marriage. I had a house in the town I was born and grew up in. I had my conservative religious family close at hand, and essentially the same group of friends I’d had most of my adult life. I didn’t have children or pets, but I had the house and the figurative white picket fence. I was doing all of the things I thought were the makings of a happy life, whilst filtering and repressing whatever parts of me necessary to please the most of people around me possible.

Fast forward to now, May 2017. I am no longer in a straight marriage. I no longer own that house I had in the town I was born in. My group of friends has shown me such amazing love and support. I live in an adorable 400 square foot studio dubbed Toadstool 14. Most especially, I am in a relationship with a woman I love more than I thought possible, and I am still friends with my former husband.

My former husband and I were always very open about our feelings. He and I had many long, often tearful but enormously helpful conversations. We all talked about what we really wanted out of our lives, where we had settled and been quietly unhappy, and how we could move forward in the kindest and healthiest ways possible. Creating The Authentic Joy Project during this time helped me ask the right questions, and identify all the ways we were all betraying who we are in the constant pursuit of pleasing the people around us. 

Now, I somehow no longer feel a desperate need to document people who are living authentically joyful lives. . . perhaps because I am full to bursting with living. I am at last able to be one hundred percent myself, and I could not be happier. I may revisit this project again at a later date, in a different format. . . anything can happen. But right now, I am peacefully letting it go.


If you are curious for any reason, there are more details about what this project was below.

What was The Authentic Joy Project was all about?

At its heart, The Authentic Joy Project was born out of a deep desire to meet as many joyful people as possible.

And not just to meet them, but to have the honor of photographing and filming them, listening intently to their stories, and introducing them to the world.

The Authentic Joy Project tells the true stories of people living intentionally positive lives, with the hopes of inspiring you to be your bravest and most joyful self.

I am deeply invested in intentional joy. As someone with chronic pain, I went through a very dark process to find un-circumstantial joy, and it was only after coming out of the shadows that I could look back and see I didn’t necessarily need to take that path.

I regret nothing. I learned so much, and now I can empathize with so many more people because of those experiences. But it also planted a need in me to try to illuminate alternate routes for other people who might be struggling.

The Authentic Joy Project is not a set-in-stone guide to how to bring more joy into your life. It does not dictate what you can and can’t do. It does not intimidate you with scare tactics, musts or shoulds.

It introduces you to people who are living authentically joyful lives, asks questions, and shows you how and why those people are living the way they are.

TAJP aspires to inspire and to explore intentional positivity. 

“Happiness is a feeling based on circumstances. Joy is an attitude that defies circumstances.” — Ashley Hackshaw



Want to read the first blog post I did for this project? Here it is!


Some time ago, I was feeling stuck professionally. There are all these things I love, and I kept getting glimpses of how they all fit together, but not a clear picture.

I wrote all of my loves in little bubbles on a scrap of paper. Travel/Adventure, People, Photography…even the little Shasta Compact travel trailer I’ve been dreaming about for years made it into a bubble. Also in a bubble toward the center was a phrase a colleague gave me when I asked how they would describe what it is that I do: curate a joyful life.

An idea was born.

The idea was this: what if I bought a little travel trailer, and traveled around the country, documenting the stories of people intentionally choosing joy? What if I dedicated my life to what I’ve felt has been my core mission all along? What if I created a community around joy, inspiring and being inspired by?

What if I intentionally chose the things in life that make me happy? People, travel, creating… and shared that with all of you?

At first my brain said I wasn’t allowed. Because, you know, it would be FUN, and I needed to WORK. After pish-poshing around about it for maybe  a day, I told my brain to shut up because my heart is usually right. I started creating The Authentic Joy Project.

I have really big dreams about where this will go. Dreams that make me so happy I feel like my face will fall off.

Besides an immense amount of excitement about beginning this, I have so many fears. I am not Pollyanna. I am not always smiling and laughing [though I do both of those a lot]. I have experienced depression so deep and dark I had no idea if I would ever make it out. I don’t have a picture-perfect life. I don’t have supermodel looks. Hell, I’m missing a front tooth right now [long story].

This project involves intense vulnerability, and I’ve questioned myself multiple times even just in the process of putting this website together. I imagine I will continue to question myself, because I’m a human. The thing is, I believe in this. With my whole being. This project is my heart, and I have confidence it will resonate with your heart as well.

I don’t want this to be a place filled with denial, or a place that glosses over the hard stuff, or puts a rosy filter over anything that isn’t immediately picture-perfect.

I will be sharing allllll the parts of the creation process with you. Because being real is one of the things that brings me joy. Do you know what I’m talking about? That sense of relief when someone speaks honestly about something? That cathartic, deep, pressure-releasing sigh of relief where you think, “Oooooooh meeee toooo! I thought I was the only one!” That’s what I mean.

I want The Authentic Joy Project to be raw. I want it to be honest, sometimes even brutally so. I want to be so real with you that it scares me, and I’m at least a little bit terrified every time I hit publish.

With Joy,
Heather España


Here is the post I did where I interviewed Liz, one of the most joyful people I know.

Liz is an ER nurse.
She’s lived in 18 places in the past 27 years.
She and her husband just bought their first home!

I kind of want everyone to get to meet Liz. Or at least to have the opportunity to show her something you’ve made, or tell her something exciting that’s happening in your life. Why? Because she gets so excited for you, it makes you feel like a billion dollars. No, not just a billion. All of the dollars.

[video has been deleted]

I mean…do you see what I’m talking about? She’s so positive, but in such a genuine way. There’s no BS with her. It’s not a requirement to be in a good mood, or to only have good news to share when you’re around her. That’s the authenticity and the rawness I love.

There is pure joy in being able to be your most honest self.



“I think, deep down…I just need to feel known and loved. I have that in my life, and I’m really lucky for that.“





“As an ER nurse I have the privilege of helping and learning from people in their most tender, unsavory moments. Yep. That gives me joy.“



TAJP_Liz_Feb.11.16_005A slice of quiet in the morning, however that looks, is a form of meditation. You can carry that calm quiet forward with you.TAJP_Liz_Feb.11.16_006TAJP_Liz_Feb.11.16_007TAJP_Liz_Feb.11.16_008

When things get hard, Liz makes a conscious effort to remember all the things that are good in her life.

“You don’t have to be giddy and smiley to have joy. I think it’s this warm feeling that resides within you. The giddiness and the delightful things are like the sprinkle on top of that deep, good joy.“



Many thanks to The Vintages for letting us play on their property!

With Joy,
Heather España