An Interview With Our Speakers

With Happier World Conference just 10 days away, we thought we would help you get to know some of our speakers a little better. Nipun Mehta, Mark Williamson, Ruth Rogers, Sarah Weiler and Shamash Alidina have kindly shared with us their takes on cultivating happiness for ourselves and others. As you will see in their responses, happiness is a very personal thing, so is the main challenge on anyone’s journey of following the heart. But the one thing they all advocate for a happier world is kindness. Join the discussion - what do you think we need for a happier world?


What is your one tip for cultivating individual happiness?

Mark: Have the courage and self-awareness to work out what really matters to you and then build your life around that.

Nipun: Do a small act of kindness. I personally love using Smile Cards for this practice. When you do something small and anonymous from someone else, there is a shift from me-to-we -- which immediately reconnects us. In that state of deeper connection, even if it is momentary, our minds quiet and then we can accomplish our goals with far greater ease. A very interesting side effect of this practice is that the nature of our goals itself starts to change, and over time, it alters the entire trajectory of our lives. That's certainly how it has worked for me.

Sarah: Make a playlist of songs that never fail to make you dance and jump around like crazy.

Ruth: Be kind to yourself - we are such critics of our own lives, and whilst living a busy, proactive life can be fulfilling and invigorating, it's so important to remember we're only human, we make mistakes, and we need time to rest and take care of ourselves.

Shamash: I think we’re living in a time in society where many people are really self-critical to themselves. Discovering how to stop, rest body and mind, and say words of kindness is one of the most powerful ways of cultivating greater states of wellbeing. From there the kindness and compassion can spread to others. You can simply wish others happiness and peace, and begin taking positive action too - actually doing acts of kindness, especially if that’s out of your comfort zone.

Do you have a daily practice for well-being? If so, can you please share what you do?

Mark: I get outdoors cycling 5 days a week. I sing in a community choir most weeks. I try to make time to be with loved ones every day. I use a bell (on my phone) to remind me to be mindful during the day. I try to notice things I'm grateful for each day. I do a body scan meditation to help me relax and sleep.

Nipun: I think our well-being is a combination our physical, emotional and mental spheres of influence. At the physical level, of course, there's exercise and diet. If you ask my wife, I'm never running enough and eating too many sweets, but I do try to work out regularly :). At the emotional level, having deep relationships is critical and this is predicated by our capacity to listen. As a personal practice, I routinely engage in a "circle of sharing", where instead of lecture format, everyone is listening to each other as a way to till the collective intelligence of the group. And lastly, mental well-being. I arrive at this in two ways -- meditation and service. Meditation is internal service and service is external meditation, and in both cases, it helps shift our minds from a pattern of separation. I spent about 30 days every year in meditation retreat, and try to sit every day. Moreover, I ensure that my days are filled with service work. All that put together helps my well-being.

Ruth: I don't have a daily practice as such - although I try to meditate every day, and I do yoga or go swimming as much as I can. If my timetable allowed, I would walk to work every day as that is my favourite way to feel great.

Sarah: I try to do morning pages every day - 3 pages of stream of consciousness before starting my day. I also keep a gratitude journal.

Shamash: Meditation is my favourite practice. So every morning, I make quite a bit of time to just sit up in bed and practice what I call Kindfulness meditation. Being aware and kind to my body, mind, breath, thoughts, emotions and any silence that may arise too. It’s really fun and for the last couple of years, being aware and kind to my inner and outer world has been my path.

What's your biggest challenge in following through with your cause and how have you overcome it?

Sarah: Practising what I preach. My mission is to encourage organisations to play more, to prioritise creativity and to be more carefree and human in their day to day interactions - yet I still find myself confined to the mindset that I am trying to challenge: I struggle to prioritise my own creativity, feel guilty for 'playing' too much and worry that sometimes I am being 'unprofessional' by being too human. But I am learning to see that it's important we struggle with our own transitions in order to help organisations overcome theirs too - if it was easy for us we wouldn't have empathy, and that is the essential ingredient. So I now see all my challenges as training for my work with clients - going through all the internal battles that they will go through: all the doubts, the frustrations, so that I can lead them through it too.

Mark: Our biggest challenge with Action for Happiness is reaching the people who need it most. We have a wonderful community of people who care about wellbeing, resilience, mindfulness and so on - but we need to be better at reaching the people who've never heard of these things - many of whom are struggling with anxiety, fear and isolation. Helping the people who are least happy is a vital part of creating a happier world.

Nipun: My biggest challenge is getting caught up in the doing and losing focus on the "being". In general, with all my challenges, I respond with the lens of a community. When I was young, I used to carry this bravado that overcoming challenges just required a bit more personal strength and willpower. Residue from my days of competitive sports, perhaps :). Over time, I've realized that if I want enduring change within myself, I should be friends with others who are similarly interested. What you appreciate, appreciates. For instance, to keep focus on "being", every week, I help my parents host an Awakin Circle where people mediate. All our ServiceSpace meetings start and end with a minute of silence. Since we live near a monastery, my wife and I offer food to the monks every Thursday. It's all insurance for my own connection to the values I intend to amplify. :)

Ruth: I used to wear an invisible superhero cloak which meant I put myself in ridiculously stressful situations whilst following my cause. Identifying that, and then forgiving myself enough to take it off and be more human was a big challenge, but it's helped so much in the long run.

Shamash: Finding time to get everything done! There’s so much potential with both Happier World and the Museum of Happiness,  and I and my colleagues have so many great ideas, but sometimes there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day, or energy within me, to get them all done. With the Museum of Happiness, we also have lots of people that want to volunteer and help, and I’d love them to, but so far I haven’t found the time or skill to manage that effectively. I think I may have to find an experienced volunteer to manage the volunteers!

With all these challenges, I feel it hasn’t overwhelmed me because I don’t expect to run things perfectly. I know it’ll always be impossible to get everything done, or even try to. So I make sure I take enough time off, have days or half days off, go on one or two meditation retreat a year, and do what I enjoy.

Learning to trust my gut feelings, and only working with people and on ideas that feel right has been a real joy and saviour. I’m so grateful to my teachers for reminding me this and showing me the way.

What makes for a happier organisation?

Mark: Happy organisations have cultures which meet people's "core psychological needs" - particularly for Autonomy (feeling in control of what you do), Relatedness (having positive relationships with others) and Mastery (making progress on something that matters to you). Unhappy cultures tend to undermine these things by trying to control people, creating toxic relationships and lacking a sense of shared purpose.

Sarah: Making room for honest conversations to happen and for people to be able to express freely how they are feeling. It's when everyone feels listened to and included, and when you know people are leading from a place of real integrity that trust is built and real change can happen.

Nipun: Alignment of values is critical for a happier organization. They say that if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. All too often, we take short-cuts and gloss over the subtleties. Without the invisible roots, though, there is no tree. Today's entrepreneurship typically organizes around impact: identify a place of need, innovate a solution, find people to implement it and hope that some happiness emerges somehow. It's a shot in the dark, and quickly turns into chasing fruits without watering the roots. Instead, if we flip the stack and lead with our values, it naturally builds an ecosystem with an aligned foundation from which lots of projects can bloom. That's a more sure way to go far.

Ruth: Kindness towards one another, respect and trust, and lots of laughter.

Shamash: I’ve just been reading Transcendence, and the leader of the spiritual organisation has managed to achieve great things with over 55,000 volunteers around the world. His secret was service. He completely gave of himself. He also had great faith that God would look after them all. He had tremendous courage. And he had unconditional love for those that served within his organisation, and beyond. He had vision for a more peaceful, compassionate and happier world. And he was willing to listen to new ideas and open to implementing them. With all those within the organisation aligned with the vision and feeling the unconditional love of the leader, I think they’ve created a very happy and powerful organisation as a force for good.

What do you think we can all do to create a happier world?

Mark: We can all join the Action for Happiness movement and take a personal pledge to "try to create more happiness in the world around me". Then we can put this into practice in lots of ways, but most importantly by being kinder to others, being kinder to ourselves and bringing ideas like our Ten Keys to Happier Living into our homes, workplaces, schools and local communities.

Nipun: Do something priceless. Quite literally. Create value that can't be measured by GDP. If we ask ourselves, "What is this worth?" and if we can't up with an easy answer, then we're probably on the right track. A piece of art, our parents love, hug from a friend. Our dominant paradigm has conditioned us to equate wealth with financial capital. Sure, money is a form of wealth but there are so many other forms of wealth -- time, community, attention, nature, culture, compassion. As we engage with the priceless, we just might create a happier world.

Ruth: Be kind to others.

Shamash: Stop running. Take a breath. Notice where you’re going and what you’re doing. Transformation in the world is rooted in self transformation. If we have greater peace, love and joy within our own hearts, we can’t help but spread that love to others. And as every single person is connected to others with six degrees of separation (I think!), global transformation becomes a highly possible reality.

Education is key. If the younger generation is educated in looking after the wellbeing of themselves, those around them and our precious planet, rather than just in maths, english and science, our future becomes filled with much hope. The millennial generation is already showing greater interest in health and positive experiences, rather than just more ‘stuff’, and that’s another very hopeful sign of a better and happier world for us all.

Sarah: Hug more. Especially strangers.