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Can You Really Learn How To Be Happy? Apparently, You Can!

by Lareese Craig Published on 20 February 2017

For some of us, happiness is found in the simplest of life’s pleasures: like watching Trolls for the 15th time, or eating a Creme egg without interruptions. But for others, ‘turn that frown upside down’ is a phrase they’re all too tired of hearing. One, because this is our face and that is actually a really annoying thing to say to someone. And two, because sometimes we just need to feel sad in life. The good news? Happyologist© Susan Halonen is here to show us all how we can get happy!

Yes, teaching others how to be happy is actually someone’s job. Imagine! What do you do for work? Ah, ya know, I just make other people happy, no biggie. You can see why we needed to find out more about these happiness classes.

To celebrate the release of the DreamWorks film Trolls on DVD, AKA the happiest film ever made, we sat down with Happyologist© Susan Halonen, (she’s literally an angel, and has the surname to match) to find out all about happiness and where to find it...

What are some of the methods / techniques you use in your classes?

The foundation is definitely always with gratitude and people who can tap into gratitude. They tend to see the world from a more positive light and experience happiness from within. The exercise that I really encourage for that is basically writing down three specific things, every single day, that you are most grateful for and really making them specific points from that day. Rather than say I’m grateful for my family, you’d say, “I’m grateful for the Facetime call I had with my mum because she lives abroad and it was really nice to catch up.” So something really specific, and if you can get three down for every day that is where you start to shift your thinking and the idea is that if you do this for at least 21 days that’s when you start to turn it into a habit, you train your brain into changing how to think. That’s when we actually start to leave the house in the morning and you start to look for things to be grateful for, you think “I can put that in my gratitude journal later, I can put that in etc.”

So you start to see the world in a whole new way and you start to look for things to be grateful for and happy about. The magical thing about gratitude is really tied to, not only positive emotions and feeling good and feeling happy, but also to a deeper sense of meaning as well because when we connect with gratitude and we start to appreciate things in our life, maybe even things we tend to take for granted sometimes, that’s when we start to also connect with the world and humanity in a bigger sense as well. Gratitude is really tied to the centre of purpose and meaning as well which is a key part of happiness. In Trolls, Poppy is the one who is often seen as the most positive, however, my favourite scene is when her and Branch are in the Bergen cooking pot and she starts to lose her positivity and optimism, however, she learns to appreciate Branch and is grateful for his friendship when he helps to bring her ‘happy’ back by sharing his own experiences and opening up to her.

How do you think modern living (technology, the always 'on' generation) is affecting our state of happiness?

It is really, really tricky I think because the relationship that we have with technology does sometimes hold our happiness back because I think if we get really addicted to it – which is really easily done, especially all the social media alerts going on – we miss out on life. We stop looking out and looking up. The amount of times I’ve been at restaurants and seen couples and groups of friends sitting at a table and waiting for dinner and they’re all on their phones. I think that’s really sad and I think that’s really dangerous because we need to be able to connect with each other on a face-to-face level not just through our phones. However, I think it’s great that we have social media and the online world because we have so much access to information and we can connect to people around the world and that’s great and beautiful. But at the same time we shouldn’t see that as something that replaces face-to-face interaction or becomes more important than face-to-face interaction because there’s a whole different energy that happens there. When you’re in the same space, you’re looking at people’s expressions and having these meaningful conversations.

​Social media has been linked to depression, and when we look at people online, it's important to remember that they tend to post their successes, their amazing beach holidays and sometimes we start to feel “okay they’re doing better than me.” It's easy to start to comparing yourself to to others, which is perhaps, one of the pitfalls of life online. We need to give ourselves a reality check there and just remind ourselves that social media is just a highlight reel of someone else’s life. It’s not that their 24 hours a day / seven days a week life is amazing, it’s just they choose to show the successes or what they’re proud of or the great beach scenery. It’s good to share good things; we don’t want to fill social media with negative posts, but at the same time it’s important for us when we’re looking at that social media on our screens to understand that this is not a full representation of their life. It doesn’t mean that their life is perfect and everything is amazing, they have their own challenges and their setbacks and things behind the scene.

What are the different types of happiness and how can we make sure our happiness is meaningful?

Happiness is really divided in to two parts according to cognitive psychology; hedonic happiness and eudemonic happiness. Hedonic happiness is all about short term positive emotions, such as smiling, laughing, joy, savouring food, anything along those lines which is short term and immediate, that’s where your hedonic happiness comes from. Eudemonic happiness comes from Aristotle times, which is all about having a sense of purpose and a sense of meaning, that’s where that fulfilment comes from. That’s why when I always talk about happiness; I make sure that you have both hedonic happiness so you have the short term positive emotions and immediate joy combined with eudemonic happiness, the long term sense of purpose and fulfilment because that’s how you can bring long term and short term happiness into your life. You should ask yourself, “What is my sense of purpose in the world?” As you start to explore it, you start to connect with your life in a more meaningful way. I think by understanding the ‘why’ behind what you do, you immediately connect to it in a deeper, more meaningful way.

Do you see yourself as a counsellor?

I am an accredited life coach. The difference is counsellors tend to delve into the past, and maybe trauma behind a person’s sadness. I tend to look at the present and the future. So I’m looking at how to get people from zero to point five. It’s all about helping people to have a more positive mindset, being clear about what’s important to them and how to embed more of that into their lives. I work with people on how to get to where they want to get to, or of they’re not sure, helping them figure out some clarity on that.

Can we learn happiness from others?

We can always learn really positive habits from the happy people around us. The key thing is to remember is to make sure that you feel connected to the habits you’re embedding into your life. Different things work for different people. You need to think, “What gives me joy, and light and laughter?” “What kind of exercise do I enjoy?” “What kind of food is right for my body?” All these things have a role to play. Then you need to take that a step further and think, “These are all the happy people around me, these are the things they’re doing, these are the things I do relate to and these are the things I want to embed into my life.” I think that’s a way to pick and choose what you want to embed in. Again in Trolls, the moment in the Bergen cooking pot, Branch learns from Poppy that it is okay to open up and talk about your feelings. That’s the positive element he took from her. He then connects to people and let’s people get close, when he’s able to talk about things, he can also get to this happy place. This shows a lot about connecting and sharing and links back to the point about social media. We need to take time away from it and remember to connect to people around us. We are social creatures so we need each other, not only to survive but to thrive. I think by Branch opening up, he finally saw a way to let it out. Then he learnt from all the positivity, that happiness really does come from within. It can’t come from external forces, when you have a set back or a challenge, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be happy, you can overcome it.

What is your definition of happiness and/ or a balanced life?

My definition of happiness is definitely about living a life that has enough positive emotions and also a sense of meaning, so again going back to the hedonic and eudemonic happiness. It’s making sure that you are living a life that is fulfilling to you and has enough moments that really help you to feel good.

What do you say to people that question your job or challenge your ability to teach happiness?

I explain to them how I work and what I do and how it’s based on cognitive psychology. It’s based on a science, not just airy fairy hippy stuff. I also respect that not everything works for everyone, so the happiness coaching might not be for everyone but if you are looking to get into a positive mindset and want to be more resilient against stress, and you need to start enjoying life more, then it really is for you. I think people who do challenge it tend to be the ones who need it the most but they also tend to be the ones who are afraid to open the door there because it is so new and unexpected to them. They’re a little bit afraid of going there because they’re not sure how it’s going to change them or change their life. Being challenged doesn’t faze me because I know the work I’m doing is helping people. That’s what motivates me to make the world a happier place.

If you could give us 5 tips for finding happiness what would they be?

1. Smile more – It’s so contagious, we need more of it. Children smile on average 400 times a day whereas adults smile only a measly 20 times. We have a lot of catching up to do! Smiling gets those positive endorphins and happy hormones, serotonin and dopamine working. It immediately makes you feel good and makes other people around you feel good because it’s contagious.

2. One out of Poppy’s book - give more hugs! – It really helps build those social connections and strengthen them. Again there’s a chemical component with oxytocin (the bonding hormone) being released but also it lowers your stress and calms down your body, relaxes your muscles and makes you feel loved. It makes you feel good in so many different ways so you should definitely try and make the time to hug. If there isn’t a person you can hug you can make do with your furry friends; why not try hugging a dog or a cat?

3. Gratitude again is so important – Say thank you more, both towards yourself and what you’re going through, how you’re coping with life but also to the people around you. Embrace gratitude as a way of life.

4. Connect with your values - When you connect with your values and principals you want to live your life by, that’s when you can start making decisions in your life aligned with your values and you start to build a life aligned with who you are.

5. Understand your sense of ‘why’ – It’s important to find inner happiness through understanding why is it you do what you do. What is it that motivates you and gives you meaning and what is it that drives you?

What part do you think body confidence plays in our happiness? (with regards to our physical appearance and how that can make us feel)

It definitely plays a big part in confidence and confidence fuels happiness. A lot of the coaching work I do starts with the confidence bit. We need to learn to accept ourselves as we are, rather than trying to change or become someone else. We need to learn to say, “this is who we are, this is what we do best and that’s okay.” That’s when we also start to tap into a state of peace and contentment which is again what reduces our stress and makes us more resilient, more driven and also happier. Confidence definitely has a role to play; it’s both happiness that fuels confidence and confidence which fuels happiness. If you think you’re not naturally a very confident person, it is something that can be learnt. Happiness is something which can fuel this.

If we’re not confident in our physical appearance that challenges how we feel about ourselves. This time of year is always very challenging because of New Year’s resolutions and there are new fitness regimes and new diets and all these new things that you want to do to change your life, change your body, change everything. I think before we jump into changing ourselves, we need to learn to love ourselves exactly the way we are because if we don’t love ourselves today, there’s nothing to say that we’re going to love ourselves tomorrow or the day after or in three months time when maybe we’ve lost weight or got fitter. I guess that’s also one of the challenges with media and how it’s communicated in today’s society. The key point for me is to learn to love yourself exactly the way you are. We should work at growing, learning and improving ourselves as much as we can but don’t do it from a place of not feeling enough, or feeling that you’re afraid of what might happen if you stay the way you are. Do it from a place where you love yourself and are happy with the way you are but where you also want to grow, learn and develop yourself. Do it from a place of love.

For some people, happiness is linked to success. What if you struggle with confidence at work - for example speaking or presenting at conferences. This can really affect how successful you see yourself in your career and in turn, cause you to hold back from opportunities that could be fantastic for you. How do you work past that?

Public speaking is one of the most common fears. It can definitely hold us back but also I think we need to start rationalising the fears that we have around that. Even just simply by saying “this is who I am, I’m just here to share what I know to my best knowledge” just say to yourself that you don’t need to be perfect, you don’t need to know all the answers, you’re exactly where you’re meant to be right now, you know exactly what you’re meant to know right now and then you’re going up and doing your best. That’s really the only thing that you can do at that point in time. To work past this I would recommend an exercise called the power pose. It’s from the Harvard based psychologist Amy Cuddy who has done research on when you do the Wonder Woman pose or Superman pose, (when you’re standing really upright with your hands on your hips or wide open) for just two minutes, that’s when you start to trick your brain into being more confident. Just as your mind affects our confidence, our body affects our mind. Cuddy found that by holding this pose for two minutes, people performed better in presentations, interviews and pitches because they were able to trick their mind into being more confident by doing this power pose. So that’s definitely one thing I’d recommend if you feel nervous about presenting in front of people.

What is happiness worth to you?

To me, happiness is the most important thing because without happiness in your life it can be dull and colourless. I always say “live your life in full colour.” To me that means living a happy and fulfilling life because life is too short not to.

For further information on Susanna Halonen, the one and only Happyologist®, visit happyologist.co.uk

Trolls is now available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Do you think you can learn to be happy? Tweet us @sofeminineUK!

You might also like:

What Is Mindfulness? 10 Tips On How To Clear Your Mind

Stress Less: 18 Habits To Harness For A Happier Life

22 Ways To Stop Yourself From Ruining Your Life

by Lareese Craig