Happiness Is A Muscle: Peggy Sullivan Can Teach You How To Train It
Peggy Sullivan has a really cool job: she’s a happiness expert. She wrote the book, Happiness is Your Responsibility, and is also the president and founder of SheCAN!, a non-profit helping women grow professionally and personally. Peggy teaches that happiness is a muscle which, when exercised, can help you reclaim control amid chaos. I spoke to her to find out what small things we can do every day to feel happier and more centred.
Tell me about your happiness rituals, I love the idea of a happiness ritual!
I really believe happiness has magical powers. People ask me all the time, how can I jumpstart my happiness? The first thing is: know your go-tos, the things you go to every single day that provide no other purpose other than to make you happy. For example, every night I take my 28 pound siamese cat, I put it in a stroller, and I take him for a walk. I tell him about my day. It’s just one of my calming rituals. Candles. Happy dancing in my fuzzy pink slippers. Then one of the things I’ve been really big on lately is what I call value-based time management: it forces people to step back and say, what are my core values? Do I really know what’s important to me? What are the things that put me in thrive mode instead of survival mode? Think about the things you’ve done in your life that you’re really proud of, and eventually you’ll come up with your values, your three or four wow moments.
What about the Happiness Tripod?
I have this philosophy, I really believe three things need to be in balance in order to be happy. You need to have a positive mindset, you need to have your health and wellness, and you need professional development. If you focus on one and ignore the others, it just doesn’t work. I call it a Tripod because you need all three things to balance, otherwise —
Otherwise you’re gonna feel very wobbly.
Exactly! I do a lot of market research with women. I love to understand what motivates them, what challenges them… recently, I contacted a couple hundred women, and was curious to see how women were feeling. You know, as we’re sort of pulling out of the pandemic. But unfortunately, 80% of the women I surveyed are still in survival mode. You know, they’re not thriving. Most of them were really struggling. They were saying, just give me a toolkit, I need a toolkit. That’s how I came up with these three things -know those go-to things that make you happy, know your values, and lead a purposeful life. And it’s not just having a toolkit, but making it actionable, checking in with yourself. That’s the space I play in —these easy, easy tools people can use to keep themselves accountable and not get lost. And it’s work! You know, happiness is not a thing you crash into, or a destination. It’s not that. It’s the little micro moments that you get to create every single day. It’s much more attainable, and sustainable for everybody.
And is it? Do you think it’s attainable for everybody?
That’s a really great question. I think when people are going through things, they need to give themselves some time and space. We went through some really hard, challenging stuff. I do think you need to take a step back and say, there are so many things that I can do to create a happier environment. The science is real, there’s lots of research behind it. Things like sleep, a good diet, even dark chocolate or healthy fat –you need fat, you need protein. People need to understand these tools, and for some, it’s harder than others. Happiness is work. When people are going through tragedy and hard times, it’s important to let yourself go through that, because stuffing it down is just not real. We can’t help the way we feel, but we can set ourselves up to be happier. When you know your happy triggers, and consciously put more of them in your day –I’ll see my cat lying there, sprawled out on his belly, it’s just this cute happy moment. I could be frustrated ‘cause I’ve got a deadline, but I’ll see that, and it just sets some endorphins off. What’s gonna work for me is not gonna work for you, you have to really dig deep and figure out those things that are right for you.
Can you tell me a little bit about SheCAN!?
I started SheCAN! about four years ago. I worked in male-dominated industries, I had great jobs and travelled the world, but I reached a point where I was like, I don’t have a lot of female friends. I know there are great women out there, I just haven’t been able to spend a lot of time with them. I wanted to create an organisation that would give women what they need so they could thrive, and I couldn’t find an organisation that focused on professional development, wellness, and mindset. Maybe one, but not all three. What makes us different is we do market research every six months, so you’re always identifying things like, what are your needs, what are your challenges, what do you want to learn, how can I help you. It’s just a community where you go and feel really great. Whatever you need, there’s a touchpoint on a regular basis. It’s kind of crazy, I’ve got hundreds of women –I’ve never met them, but there’s my besties! They’re my Covid friends! Soon, I’m going to meet this woman I’ve been talking to for two years, I absolutely adore her. It's gonna be the first time I’m meeting her in person. It’s so cool.
That’s incredible, I love that about women -when women get together, there’s no stopping us. And is your work with SheCAN! connected to your work as a happiness expert?
I like to think of myself as the happiness rainmaker. I am constantly discovering new things I can do to help people become their best selves. Had the last couple of years not happened, would I be on the trajectory that I’m on? Maybe, maybe not. I wrote my book because I really do believe happiness is your responsibility. My mom died really, really young, she had a brain tumour and then pancreatic cancer. And when that happened, she was despondent, she was angry and bitter, and then the last couple of weeks of her life she was happy. She said, I realised I can choose happiness –this cancer is totally out of my control, but I can choose to enjoy my last days with you. With all the challenges she had, she realised, this is the time I have left and I’m gonna put it to good use.
I love Penny’s story and how inspiring her drive is. Her teachings are purposefully simple, so they’re easy to implement and improve on little by little -like all the best things in life, happiness is not the kind of thing you just stumble on, but a process of improvement and discovery we each have to take part in for ourselves.
Researching our values, having a Happiness Tripod clear in mind and making the most of our toolkit and happiness triggers, they’re all steps in the right direction: knowing ourselves better, getting out of survival mode, and looking for slivers of happiness wherever we can.