Happiness. I’ve been thinking about that concept a lot lately, ever since my sister, Cheryl, introduced me to the Happier app. Created by Nataly Kogan, Happier has been described by The New York Times as “A Social Network Dedicated to Happy Moments”. But what, exactly, does it mean to be “happier”? And I don’t just mean in the philosophical sense; I mean, did you know that being happy can help reduce stress and anxiety? That it can develop resilience for when times get tough? Or that people who identify as happy are healthier and can lower their risk of having a heart attack or a stroke by 50 percent?
All of this made me wonder: Could I learn how to be Happy(er)? I am not ashamed to be happy when people want me to be sad or hurt; I am eager to be a “beacon” for those in my circle who are in need of guidance, and I am a proud ambassador for Self which allows me to be an ambassador for others. And, as a Woman—the Riveting kind—I figured that I am open to learning, growing and sharing. So I checked out Happier, a place for people to share special moments they were grateful for, and I’m happy (ha!) to report that not only is it a great app, it is also the foundation for Nataly’s upcoming book: Happier Now: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments (Even the Difficult Ones). This is a very exciting development for Nataly and for all of us looking to find the good in times that can often be challenging, stressful, and busy.
The five core concepts of Nataly’s book – Acceptance, Gratitude, Intentional Kindness, The Bigger Why, and Self-Care – are rooted in scientific research and Eastern traditions. A scientist myself, I was drawn in to learn more, take what I’d gleaned and apply it to my own life, and then share my experience with other women and families. I found the exercises in the book to be simple and accessible, and their application to my daily life has had a noticeable effect. Not only have I used The Bigger Why to expand my understanding of my purpose, I have also enrolled the feedback of the people I care most about to tell me whether or not they’ve noticed any changes in me for the better. I also apply these concepts to parenting my 17 year-old daughter in order to give her a sense of grounding and purpose as she prepares to move into her next phase of life: College.
Because my role as a parent has defined so much of my life, and as I watch my daughter speeding towards adulthood, I was moved and inspired to do something for her that I’d read about in the book. On Nataly’s 40th birthday she wrote a letter to her daughter with a list of “ Forty Things I Learned about Living Happier and More Fully”; in my letter, I wrote about 55 things (since I am a bit older) to share with my daughter that emphasize my love for her, express my hopes for her future, and impart some wisdom that could be useful when encountering life’s lessons down the road. What better gift to give.
These simple concepts have had a profound effect on how I view the world around me, and the people in it. I’ve also felt a significant shift in how I interact with everyone in my life. Nataly’s story is my story, is your story, is our story about moving to this healthy happier place; to stop chasing perfection and embrace everyday moments (yes, even the difficult ones). To that end, I interviewed Nataly for this post and am honored, indeed happy(!), to introduce all of you to Nataly Kogan, a “Riveting Woman” with the courage to share her personal story and journey with the world. Her work has been featured in hundreds of media outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, TedxBoston, SXSW, and Dr. Oz. Her new book will be released on May 1st, 2018.
(Sonya): What makes you a “Riveting Woman”?
(Nataly): I only know how to answer this question by sharing my history. Sonya, I hope you’ll add your own answer!
Before Happier, I was a digital media executive, a venture investor, and an analyst with McKinsey & Co. in NYC. I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 13 years old. My family and I were refugees from the former Soviet Union. Starting my journey in the projects outside of Detroit, I reached the highest level of corporate success and became a venture capitalist at the age of 26. I had a lovely family and was honoring the gift of being able to build my life in America. But, I felt unfulfilled and was inspired to learn how to live a truly happier, fulfilling life. My discoveries and explorations of scientific research, as well as Eastern disciplines like yoga and Buddhism, led me to create Happier and dedicate my life’s work to helping millions of people find the tools they need to live their best lives.
(S) Why is your book a riveting read?
(N) Happier Now is a very personal project for me, which grew out of my experience as a refugee to the US and my subsequent journey to find genuine happiness. I took many wrong turns, spent decades chasing the BIG HAPPY through professional achievements and successes, trying to run away from any negative feelings of pain, sadness, or stress. What I’ve learned is that genuine emotional well-being doesn’t come from making everything in our lives perfect and never feeling any difficult emotions; it comes from allowing ourselves to feel it all, to accept ourselves and the world as it is, and from that starting point, to practice our “happier” skills that will cultivate and grow the seeds of genuine joy we all have inside.
I hope that what is compelling about this book is the mix of my journey, the learning that is done along the way, and the practical steps I outline that anyone can take to find more joy and resilience everyday.
(S) What fuels you to write, to teach, to draw, to be the best mom, and to share all of this with others?
(N) Teach: Knowing how these skills and practices have changed my life and the lives of everyone around me, I can’t imagine doing anything other than share what I’ve learned with as many people as possible!
Draw: Doing something that I love, something that allows me to express myself, to explore my feelings, to be in the moment, to experience the world in a fundamentally different way than I usually do — it’s such a precious gift. I have zero doubt that making art a core part of my life benefits not just my own well-being, but encourages me to be a more vibrant, happy, and inspired person around my family, friends, colleagues, clients, yoga class friends, people I run into at the store… you get the idea.
Best mom: I used to think that focusing on becoming happier was selfish; I am now certain that it’s the least selfish thing I can do. Matter of fact, I owe it to my daughter to be happier because it’s the only way I can help her discover her own path to genuine happiness.
I want to thank Nataly for her time. I already have my book and I encourage all of you to get it, too. You will be Happier(!) for it.
Happier Now: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments (Even the Difficult Ones), is due out May 1, 2018.
Pre-order & get free course at www.happier.com
Sonya Hunt Gray is a public health warrior, having spent more than 3 decades of her career combating the devastating effects that HIV/AIDS has had communities of color. She is a community leader and a steward for positive change in organizations on the state-, local-, and international levels.
Sonya began working on the education, prevention and amelioration of HIV/AIDS in Little Rock, Arkansas, under the tutelage of Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders, the 15th United States Surgeon General, who was then-Director of Arkansas’ Department of Health. Sonya served as Principal Advisor to Dr. Elders on issues of adolescent health and HIV. She has received numerous awards, including the 2005 “Woman of the Year” Award from Zonta International for her work addressing HIV/AIDS in women.
Sonya has worked at the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) since 1991. She is currently Chief, Western Branch, Division of Metropolitan HIV/AIDS Programs for the HIV/AIDS Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration at HHS. In 2014, she was a member of the pilot team that developed the HRSA “Roots of Health Inequity” course, for which she is now a faculty member. She also recently completed the HLI HRSA Adjunct Faculty Program. Sonya serves as the Senior Leader for the DMHAP Trainings, is the DMHAP Senior Lead on the CDC/HRSA Integrated Planning Core Team, and is a member of the HAB Learning Council.
Prior to her tenure at HHS, Sonya spent several years developing a global HIV/AIDS program for HHS. She was a member of the team that developed the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and she received the Health Resources and Services Administration “Administrator’s Award for Excellence” for her role in the development of the HRSA Global HIV/AIDS Program.