Once upon a time, two guys were on a pursuit of happiness… and bam – that’s when the Happiness Initiative was born.
What is happiness? It seems like everyone is in pursuit of this elusive emotion, what with the surge of lifestyle mantra books making their way to bookstores (Ikigai, anyone?).
In Singapore, we’re all too familiar with the ups and downs of living in a bustling city where work never ends. Not to mention, burnout is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a medical condition, and in case you didn’t know, Singaporeans are apparently the most stressed bunch at work, according to an international wellness survey by Cigna (so you’re not alone!). Plus, our ranking on the World Happiness Index has been dwindling over the years, from #26 in 2017 to #34 in 2019.
But before we come anywhere close to hitting rock bottom, this is where our search for happiness in the Lion City begins, and wouldn’t you know it, the fates led us right to the Happiness Initiative.
If you’re happy and you know it…
This social enterprise was founded in 2017 by Sherman Ho and Simon Leow, two guys who happened to crack the happiness code (at least, we’d like to think so).
Sherman was a commodity trader, whose extensive travels in West and North Africa exposed him to the other side of the world and gave him a different perspective on life.
‘I wondered, why is it that we, here in Singapore, have so much, yet we are so unhappy?’ he mused.
After working to the bone on weekdays, he spent his weekends volunteering for a non-profit organisation.
‘Every time I had a weekend meeting with the non-profit, I got very excited and passionate, and I would spend hours thinking of new ideas on how to grow the organisation, even though I wasn’t paid a single cent,’ he explained. ‘Yet, at my day job, where I was paid decently well, I dreaded going to work every day.’
This steered him towards a period of introspection, which eventually led him on the journey of starting up the Happiness Initiative with Simon.
A master’s graduate in Applied Positive Psychology, Simon’s story was a little different, having battled depression in the past.
‘I don’t think it was just due to something that happened. It was more likely a case where different factors contributed to my downward spiral,’ he recalled.
So he dropped everything and decided to travel the world for six months. Having met people from different walks of life along the way, it dawned on him that when it comes down to it, everyone just wants to be happy… and the rest is history.
‘Happiness Initiative hopes to help people discover the choices they can make to be happier,’ Simon said.
The duo also mentioned that ‘happiness can be a choice’ – it’s actually a ‘simple idea’, yet it seems ‘very profound’ to many people.
Giving a different meaning to T.G.I.F
Wanna know the key to happiness? Using the science of wellbeing, Sherman and Simon have come up with a formula to spread their knowledge. It’s not the T.G.I.F we’re familiar with though; to them, the acronym stands for travel, games, introspection and film.
While the travel portion is still in the works, the most interesting and interactive medium for us has to be introspection. Delving into complex questions like ‘Why is happiness always short lived and ‘Misconceptions about happiness’, the Happiness 101 workshops offer different perspectives on the choices we can make to inject a little more joy into our lives.
Screwed Up Moments is another one of their platforms that resonated with us. It is a storytelling of sorts where a group of speakers share their struggles and how they overcame them. ‘Screwed Up Moments helps to destigmatise failures. The two key messages are: It’s ok to fail and it’s ok to try again,’ Simon explained.
This series has evolved into a podcast as well, reaching out to a wider audience.
Championing the inaugural Happiness Film Festival earlier this year, with over 1,500 attendees and a sold-out status, they used films to engage the audience.
Typically after a film screening, there will be a dialogue session to create two-way conversations amongst the audience and the speakers. ‘Happiness is from within. Through films, we hope that audiences can gain new insights on what choices they can make to be happier,’ said Simon.
What is happiness?
Now, it’s only natural for us to be curious what happiness actually means to this duo who have made it their mission to spread joy to others. And so we leave you with this to ponder on…
‘Happiness is having these four minds: The contented mind, the compassionate mind, the gratitude mind and the transcendence mind. Happiness is not about being happy. Happiness is understanding that happiness can be a choice,’ Simon explained.
Shedding a little more light on the subject, Sherman said: ‘I think happiness is really being able to find contentment in our lives, to be able to be doing something meaningful and to serve a cause that’s bigger than yourself.’
Having experienced one of their Happiness 101 workshops earlier this year, we were somewhat enlightened.
‘What are the choices we can make to be happier?’ was one of the questions that has stuck with us ever since. We were told to write down our answers, and from time to time, when things get tough, it’s been helpful to look back at that piece of paper and remind ourselves that happiness is actually achievable, even in tough situations.
It’s easy to go back to our way of living after such a workshop, but we’d like to think happiness is a personal, lifelong journey, and the quest to find it never stops. Just like Simon said, it’s a choice.
So if you’re keen on delving deeper into what happiness truly means and how to become familiar with the feeling, check out their Facebook page for updates on their workshop. Alternatively, you can listen to their podcast, Screwed Up Moments, on Apple Music or Spotify.
Follow The Happiness Initiative on Facebook for events and updates.